SIXTIES TOUR … I had the good fortune to come of age in the most vibrant city in America during its counter-cultural apex. San Francisco was a magnet for kids from all over the country, come to find new sets of parameters, to experiment and experience, to discover new rules of life. For me it was home, or had been … My folks had deep roots in the City. I’d been born there, and my mother and my grandfather. Even my great-grandfather was buried there in one of the few cemeteries not dug up and moved, wholesale, down the Peninsula to Colma when urban land prices grew too dear … I’d been promising my oldest that I’d take her on a little magical mystery tour of the City of St. Francis, sharing some of the stories from my times there – from birth to 4 years old and again in my twenties and early thirties (’66 to ’79). Originally, I’d suggested it as she was ferrying me around Vientiane (Laos) on the back of her powder blue motorbike, reminding me of all those years I navigated Baghdad-by-the-Bay, as (pre-Hearst) Chronicle columnist Herb Caen dubbed it, on the back of a Honda 250, my trademark bird’s-nest basket nestled over the headlight … As it worked out, this was the year to do it. With my youngest Mountainschooler joining us on spring break. Ever resourceful, Iris rented us a transformer-like Volkswagen Eos hard-top convertible for the day. The weather cooperated (in fact, blue skies the entire trip). And so the three of us went on pilgrimage, from the Presidio to Bayview, from the Mission to Noe Valley.
THE PRESIDIO … Although the military is long gone from its onetime base, its cemetery remains. Lookalike marble tombstones. Neat numbered rows. Clipped green grass. It was a Tuesday, and federal maintenance crews were in evidence … And so I made our first stop a surprise, paying homage to my mother’s father’s father – Frank Wilson. A civilian employee of the fort, buried there almost a century ago. Only his name and the date of his death, no birth date, writ on his marble. A mystery man. Story was that his dad (great-great-granddad) had married a señorita of the Santa Cruz clan and his English/Scotch-Irish lumber company poobahs had disowned him. Mom had called Frank a “muleskinner” and that’s all I knew (plus where he was buried). Certainly my ne’er-do-well grandpa was the son of a hard-driving man. I only met grandpa once, but from all the stories I imagine him a charming scoundrel hounded by the past, while drinking his way into the future.
NORTH BEACH … The Co-Existence Bagel Shop on Grant and Green. The Savoy-Tivoli. For me, Jack Mueller country. Oh yeah, and Micheline, Ferlinghetti, Hirschman. And before them Ginsberg, Snyder, McClure … I remember sitting with Bob Kaufman of Golden Sardine fame at one of Jack’s parties, as Kaufman riffed and recited Pound and Blake from memory, going on be-bop non-stop, a cigarette dangling from his lips the whole time … Kaufman was one of the City’s legendary Beat hipster bards, thrown out of Spec’s for ranting his elegant improv and surreal jazz koans. Caen called Kaufman and his ilk “beatniks” (after the recently launched Russian Communist “Sputnik”). Clever with a vaguely derogatory Cold War sneer, the name stuck. As a Vista in Montana in the mid-Sixties, folks there were still calling suspect out-of-towners “beatniks”. I came home to San Francisco in the Summer of Love, and suddenly I’d become a “hippie.” And, for me, that name stuck.
SPEAKING OF HIPPIES … The Week crowed this week that a French researcher’s study has found that wearing brassieres actually weakens supporting tissues and makes breasts sag more than those of Sixties sisters who dressed au naturel ... And to be honest, all the beautiful women of my generation went bra-less.
THE HAIGHT … Almost a caricature of itself. All the hip boutiques and bongs in shop windows. And yet the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic seemed still opened for biz, like in my day. Forty years later and I still remember prompt and attentive service, for free. Maybe what’s why hippie is a good word in my dictionary – it’s that freedom ethic that infected so many of us who rebelled against the consumerism of the Fifties. Even when the Diggers buried the hippie in ’69, the love generation vibe continued, and continues to this day in the annual summer Rainbow Gatherings.
AND BEYOND … Next week we’ll journey on, top-down, from the Mission to Bayview, Excelsior, Lakeside and Noe Valley.
THE TALKING GOURD
a cool ocean breeze
balloons the sunny curtains
at Iris and Bert’s
Mission District loft
with its 25-foot ceiling
eclectic urban decor
& the homeopathic scent
of Blue Bottle lattes