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