Summer of Love

Who over 60 doesn’t remember the summer of love and remember what it meant?

In the summer of 1967, I was twenty years old. I was sort of “in between” things in my life. I had dropped out of college, mostly from exhaustion, only to have a serious car accident that kept me in a full-leg cast for almost a year. I wanted to get back on track, but hadn’t found my track yet. I was living in El Cajon with my cousin and working for Admiral TV in downtown San Diego, in what is now the Gaslamp District.

I had a friend in Viet Nam who was coming home and needed a ride from Travis Air Force Base in Northern California back to San Diego. I volunteered. I had a ’52 Chevy in top condition that I could drive even with my cast– but I had never driven that far by myself before. I took Friday off work and set out from San Diego early in the morning , north on Pacific Coast Highway, my map on the seat next to me.

I listened to the car radio; just about every 10th song was “If you go to San Francisco, be sure to wear a flower in your hair.” I remember stopping for gas a little north of Santa Barbara. Seeing some wild flowers along the road, I picked them and put them in my long straight hair. I sang along with the radio, feeling the summer wind on my face from the open windows and a new sense of freedom.

I spent Friday night in San Jose with a college girlfriend. I had to be at Travis on Sunday morning, so I left San Jose on Saturday. I drove on Hwy, 101 along the southern end of the San Francisco Bay singing “Walking with my baby down by the San Francisco Bay.” Seeing the sign for downtown San Francisco, I made a quick impulsive decision to take the exit. I think I was on Market Street, near the downtown area. I found a place to park my little Chevy and sat in a café near a window drinking tea and watching people walk by. I thought I had landed in Mars. Where was I? I had never seen anything like this. Everyone was so animated, colorful, and  . . . well . . . different. I felt like an alien plopped down in a strange land. Who were they? I had seen hippies before, but this was different. Country bumpkin that I was, I just sat there amazed. Funny, I didn’t have a camera then. What interesting snapshots in time they would have been.

I didn’t stay in the city long; I wanted to get the airbase and rent a room before dark. But I wanted to return and explore this strange land. After I picked up my friend, he wanted to stop in San Francisco for lunch. We ate at Fisherman’s Wharf; I had the best seafood of my life. He was familiar with San Francisco, and I let him drive my car. I asked if he could drive to the Haight-Ashbury district. He was in his military uniform, and didn’t really want to, but I persuaded him to change his mind.

If I thought I was on Mars sitting in a café on Market Street, was I now in the Land of Nod diving toward the Haight-Ashbury district? There was a large grassy area many blocks long between two main streets filled with people. A sea of people–hippies in all forms. Some had on very little clothing; almost all had flowers in their long hair. Music was everywhere. Guitars, flutes, drums. People danced with abandon in the sun, while my friend in his military uniform,  and I, the country bumpkin, just stared. Driving through the neighborhood, I was astonished; it looked like slums; fallen-down buildings with people pouring out of them. What an experience; we couldn’t wait to get back on the road and back to San Diego.

Photograph courtesy of the Arcadia History Collection, Arcadia Public Library (#1013). Photograph by Milton Bell of Monrovia.

I don’t drive to San Francisco with flowers in my short hair these days; I fly using Southwest Airlines super savers discounts on the internet. And I don’t pick up friends coming back from war; I go to see my grandchildren where they have lived for over six years. They go to school on Ashbury Street, just three blocks from Haight. The neighborhood is renovated with the classical historical San Francisco look, family friendly. The grass that was crowded with hippies, is now the park between Fell and Oak Streets in the Panhandle. Again, it is a lovely, safe, upper middle-class neighborhood.

When I was there recently, my grandkids and I decided to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, something I’d always wanted to do. We left my daughter’s house in the Duboce Triangle and walked north on Steiner Street, up and down some steep hills. We passed along the edge of Alamo Square Park with its historic view of the financial district of San Francisco.

Alamo Square

We stopped along the way when we saw a pretty garden, or urban flowers sneaking up from the pavement.

From a flower box in a sidewalk cafe

Also from a flower box on an outdoor street cafe.

Poppies on a corner in an empty lot. Practically coming up through cement.

We walked until Steiner St. ended and wound our way around to Marina Blvd, turning west, walking the length of Crissy Field to the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, climbing up some steep wooden stairs to get to the bridge.

A city garden along the street. This photo was taken thru an iron gate.

Sun coming through the red leaves on a lovely March day.

Daffodils on a porch step.

Our view of the Bay on a crest of a hill - and a long steep walk up to this crest. We still had a way to walk at this point.

We had picked a lovely day–clear blue skies, white puffy clouds, and March temperatures in the mid-60’s. The wind on the bridge was a gentle breeze and I was totally overdressed, having thought the wind would be cold and biting.

Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Field.

By the time we got to the bridge I was so tired I wanted to quit, but I couldn’t. I had a ten-year-old grandson and an eight-year-old granddaughter egging me on. They were so excited to be on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Getting close to the Golden Gate Bridge.

We walked the bridge and back, stopping occasionally to take pictures. This part of the walk was easy and relaxing. The pedestrians and the cyclists share the same space, trying to avoid one another; but everyone was friendly and enjoying the beautiful San Francisco day. I gladly called a taxi for the ride home.

Before walking up the wooden steps.

Taken from the bridge.

Alcatraz from the bridge.

On the bridge, looking north to Marin County.

Grandson and me on the Golden Gate Bridge

Granddaughter and me on the Golden Gate Bridge

Walking back (south).


Were we mad to walk so far? According to Google Maps, we walked 9.3 miles.  I made wonderful new memories that day on the Golden Gate Bridge with Dietrich and Eva. No, it wasn’t March madness and it wasn’t the Summer of Love, but a full circle of my life—my life now and the love that I have for the life I have lived, where I am now, and the grandchildren that exist because of me and the love in their eyes when they look at me as we walk in the sunshine.

Where were you during the Summer of Love and where are you now?


5 comments on “Summer of Love

  1. Anonymous says:

    Dear Geri,
    you are the poet laureate for our generation! thank you for your beautiful words! I hadn’t met my husband yet, but by the fall of that year, he had taken me on first plane flight to Haight-Asbury. I experienced the same feelings – he still in active duty naval aviation (soon to get out); both of us somehow feeling part of this generation, as wild and free as it was. I was a bumpkin, too-45 yrs later, we are proud parents of 7;grandparents of 10. Is a return to this culture on the way, as we cope with unnecessary wars (as then), stressful economies and high gas prices? We “turned on, tuned in and dropped out”, but somehow, life seemed simpler. wonder what the icon for 2012 is?

  2. Jan Maynard says:

    Love this, Geri. And I love SF. Some day we will go, together

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