haight ashbury san francisco

This Day in History – August 10th – Hijinx, Humor, and Insight

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NewsWhistle is pleased to feature Gary Jenneke’s “This Day In History” column.

You can read the original at Gary’s THIS DAY IN HISTORY blog — or scroll down to enjoy Gary’s unique look at life’s comings and goings.

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THIS DAY IN HISTORY… AUGUST 10

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1967 – Summer of Love –  The 50th Year Anniversary 

“If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.”

We had a 1950 Oldsmobile, blue and white. We cut out the back seat, stuffed a mattress into the space, and created our version of a camper. Scott McKenzie and the haunting lyrics of his song accompanied us during the long, empty drive across North Dakota and eastern Montana. Three of us, Darrold, Rick, and myself, took turns driving. The same trio that had lit out for Europe two years earlier. This time our adventuresome spirit was leading us north. Our goal was Alaska, to work in the fishing industry, where good money could be made. Somewhere around Cut Bank, Montana, reality grabbed hold. We had learned in the drive from Minnesota that our car harbored certain peculiarities in addition to not handling adversity all that well. Adversity being anything that involved a steep incline and the peculiarities a gas gauge that registered fictional readings, a propensity to gulp oil almost as quickly as gas, and a Dyna-flow automatic transmission that went through multiple shiftings before settling on a final gear. With 2,500 miles of rugged gravel road facing us, we began to re-think our summer plans. And there was that song that kept beckoning to us.

“If you’re going to San Francisco, you’re gonna meet some gentle people there.”

Darrold had to be in Los Angeles anyway at the end of the summer to be in a wedding, so with Scott’s urging we decided to check out the scene in San Francisco. New challenges immediately arose. Money and mountains. Too little of one and too much of the other. The Oldsmobile’s aging transmission was overmatched by the mountain passes until on one particularly steep incline all forward motion ceased. Then Darrold hit upon the brilliant idea of reverse. The Olds had enough power to back over the mountains. Granted, we were a bit of a strange sight and we did hold up traffic until we could find a place to pull over and let lines of cars and campers, their occupants either amused or peeved, pass.

We slept wherever we could. No campgrounds, never any place official, we’d just pull off the road and try find something secluded. On the open road we would unroll our sleeping bags in a pasture, woods, or mountain meadow. In cities or bad weather we slept in our cramped camper on a rotating basis. One guy in the front seat and the other two on the mattress extending into the trunk. Necessity without comfort.

“For those who come to San Francisco, summertime will be a love-in there;

“In the streets of San Francisco, gentle people with flowers in their hair.”

By this time the staid inhibitions of the 1950s were fading in the rear view mirror. Nowhere was that more evident than in Haight-Ashbury. Upon arriving we were overwhelmed by an explosion of color, motion, friendly young people, and weirdness. Sights, sounds, smells assailed us from every direction. Flowing, brightly colored clothes and costumes, long hair, sandals, beads, headbands, and just a general openness was awash on the streets. Wildly colorful posters hung in store windows and there were head shops with the scent of incense wafting out of them. Darrold occasionally smoked at the time, rolling his own from a pouch of tobacco. As we leaned against the Olds and observed the street scene, Darrold casually rolled a cigarette. A passing hippie smiled and said, “Far out, man.” We realized he thought Darrold was rolling something else.

Darrold was much more pragmatic than Rick or I. The both of us tended to drift toward more idealistic dreaming so we immediately embraced the scene. He was also more impulsive and had lost much of his bankroll during our brief passage through Reno, Nevada. So a decision was made. We would drive to L.A. where Darrold had family and he could find work, and Rick and I would come back to San Francisco. After he was done with the wedding, we would return for him.

On the way back Rick and I spent several days along that magnificently beautiful part of the coast known as Big Sur. Then back to Haight-Ashbury, where we became part of the scene. Our hair was shaggy at best, not long, although I did have a beard. We wondered what length of time some of the guys had been growing theirs, to have it so long. The Olds was parked on a side street and that’s where we slept. We lived on the streets and spent an inordinate amount of time in Golden Gate Park.

“All across the nation such a strange vibration;

“People in motion.”

At the park there would be music, large groups of young people dancing, group meditation sessions, and general gatherings of peace and happiness. There was a small, natural amphitheater at the entrance to the park, where a man named Ashleigh Brilliant lectured daily. Brilliant offered humor, philosophy, and advice about life in the Haight. One day he announced that the pull-off tabs from beer and soda cans fit perfectly into parking meters and operated the same as a quarter. He was right, they did. The park also hosted the Diggers who set up a kitchen to dispense free food. While partaking of that once or twice, Rick and I mostly subsisted on mustard sandwiches. A loaf of bread and a small jar of mustard were barely within our budget.

The scene wasn’t all love and flowers. Even in this youthful, idealistic, so-called paradise there was ugliness. Overdoses and runaway kids too young to fend for themselves. One early evening two young men ran recklessly past me, obviously running from something. Then up the block I saw an elderly man, 80 years old maybe, staggering with blood running down his face. A teenage girl had witnessed what happened. “Those boys hit him and took his money.” I saw a knife fight between a black guy and a white guy. The Hell’s Angels roared in one night and definitely did not have peace and love on their minds.

At night in the Olds we covered up the windows so nobody could see inside. The cops would have rousted us if they saw us sleeping there. One night I woke up to the car shaking. Being in California I thought earthquake. I sat up, pulled away the bag blocking the back window, and found myself looking at two guys with a crowbar trying to shimmy open our trunk. Their surprise at seeing me surpassed mine at seeing them. They turned and fled into the night.

There was a dope scene of course, one that Rick and I didn’t enter into. Our finances rather than our morals dictated that decision. A number of times we were offered a lid for five dollars. That would have busted our budget. Neither did we completely drop out. There was fall quarter to attend and Rick had a girlfriend at home, so we needed enough money to get back. For myself, I was more an observer than part of the scene. At 23 years of age, with the military as part of my history, I wasn’t sure I belonged. That doesn’t mean I didn’t appreciate where I was, however. Or that I wasn’t affected by it. Established thought patterns were being challenged and new avenues opened. I watched, and absorbed.

“There’s a whole generation with a new explanation;

“People in motion, people in motion.”

One enduring memory is of a kid selling dope pipes. Thin, long scraggly blond hair, headband, he was the epitome of a hippie. He sat on a colorful blanket spread out on the sidewalk, surrounded by his handcrafted dope pipes of all sizes. Trying to sell his wares he called out to passersby, more of a chant than a carnival bark. “Dope pipes, dope pipes, weird, weird, dope pipes.” He repeated it over and over. He sometimes punctuated the chant with a little laugh. That laugh seemed to capture the wonderful absurdity of where he was at, what he was doing, and acknowledge all the strange people surrounding him. There sometimes was a different inflection on the “weird weird” part, a philosophical recognition that we had all stepped away from the normal, into this weird, strange wonderland.

Despite the negative moments, the scene still vibrated with peace and friendliness. A generation willing to look at the world in a different way had gathered that summer. I’ve read articles and books disparaging what happened that summer in San Francisco, focusing on the negative. Critical articles even scornful of the participants. Why? I guess for believing war, greed, materialism, discrimination had no place in their world, and peace, love, and harmony did. It doesn’t matter that the attempt eventually proved to be too quixotic to be sustainable. For a moment of history magic existed. And I was there.

“If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.”

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ABOUT GARY JENNEKE

At various junctures of his life, Gary has been an indifferent grade school student, poor high school student, good Navy radioman, one-time hippie, passable college student, inveterate traveler, dedicated writer, miscast accountant (except for one interesting stint at a Communist café), part-time screenwriting teacher, semi-proud veteran, unsuccessful retiree and new blogger.

You can reach him at gary@newswhistle.com.

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CREDITS

The above information was sourced from the following sites and newspapers.

Sources:

Gary

Rick

Darrold

Scott McKenzie

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We’d also thank to the following photographers and videographers for the use of their images:

*  Lead-In Image (Street Signs, San Francisco) – Michael Urmann / Shutterstock.com

* Scott McKenzie’s “If You’re Going To San Francisco” (video) – Mitchell Price / YouTube.com

* Outro (Man-In-Museum Cartoon) – SkyPics Studio / Shutterstock.com

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OTHER DAYS IN HISTORIES…

December 18 

December 28

January 3

January 7

January 11

January 14

January 19

January 24

January 27

February 1

February 5

February 9

* February 15

February 20

* February 25

March 2

March 9

March 14

March 19

* March 23

March 29

April 3

April 13

April 18

April 23

April 28

May 2

May 6

May 10

May 15

May 19

* May 26

June 1

June 8

June 13

June 18

June 24

June 29

July 3

July 9

* July 13

July 17

July 23

July 30

* August 3

* Stay tuned for more!

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