Thursday, October 06, 2005

Golden-Gated Community: A Letter from San Francisco

From Fullerton College Hornet:

The Block of Haight-Ashbury

by Daniel Hug Special to The Hornet

October 05, 2005He may have died ten years ago, but I’ve been seeing Jerry Garcia a lot every time I visit the infamous Haight-Ashbury district.

The warm, bearded face of The Grateful Dead is all over the place: on T-shirts, posters, and even little dolls that smile from the windows of the umpteen gift shops on Haight Street.

Wavy Gravy’s here too. Available at Ben & Jerry’s (along with Cherry Garcia) right at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets. Then, if you’re looking for something different, The Gap and Stussy stand ready with designer clothes, among the 44 clothing boutiques in the neighborhood.

The last bit of evidence regarding the death of the 1960’s is at 708 Ashbury Street. At the house next door to Jerry’s old digs, a BMW sits in the driveway.

I have to cover events and other issues regarding the Haight-Ashbury district every week as part of my reporting class. I figured the place would still have interesting stories, and it does. The Haight has also been swallowed up by the raging tourgasm that engulfs much of San Francisco, from the Golden Gate to Candlestick Point.
I always hear a great number of British accents from people on the street there. I’ve also encountered Germans, Japanese, and assorted gawkers from around America and the rest of the world. Also roaming the neighborhood are large groups of homeless people. Some of them just live on the sidewalk; others panhandle for money or booze. Too many of them appear to be teenagers or younger.


Then there are the street performers. They include the fat, bespectacled man who performs a puppet show out of a hollowed out television set, the kid who plays bongos and sells photographs, and the couple who performs guitar/kazoo duets.

I can’t continue without mentioning the stereotypical hippies I encountered during one visit. They wore headbands, had faces painted by mascara pencils, and they badmouthed my interviewing techniques while passing around a nice, big joint.

I walked away from these amusement park flower children, seeing as how they had nothing of real worth to say and that there are enough sober people at home to act as my own personal media critics. They have all come looking for what’s left of the 60’s, with emphasis on “what’s left”.

I spoke with Burt Tessler, a resident of Haight-Ashbury since 1974. He said that much of the central business district (the main tourist draw) was boarded up during the 1980’s.

“Now,” he says, “it’s gentrified. What is here today is about that way [of life in the 60’s].” You can find a number of smoke shops in the neighborhood (run by rude individuals who belligerently refuse interviews, despite being in the chill-out business), as well as some stores and cafes touting “free trade” products and “vegan” specialties.
I went into Bound Together, an anarchist bookstore on Haight Street, where I found a nice, elderly couple minding the store. “You don’t find this everywhere,” store volunteer Jean Pauline said of Bound Together. “There may be four stores like this in the entire country.”


“In the 70’s, [The Haight] was more like this,” she said. “Now, it’s a little more gentrified. People who come [to Bound Together], are looking for honesty and excitement. I can’t say they’re looking for beauty, but we have a beauty of our own in this store.” “The Beats,” she said, “they’re either dead, or they’re just not aware. A lot of Punk people come, but they’re not on the same level. In general, they’re mostly young.”

Her husband, Tom Brown, had his take on the past residents. “They came to turn on [in the 70’s],” said Brown, “to more than just grass. With the proximity to [Golden Gate] park, people had a lot of time to camp out in the park.”
The friendly, knowledgeable, anarchist couple actually represent a simpler time in Haight-Ashbury. A time when the people who flocked here really thought they could change the world. When people like Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia, and Alan Ginsburg roamed the neighborhood.


Then, the message was about looking at the world from a different perspective during a changing time. In 2005, Haight-Ashbury is barely more than a drug and homeless plagued combination of South Coast Plaza and Disneyland. It's Uptown Whittier for stoners, if you will.

It’s now about passing the broken-down kids playing for spare change as you head for one of the many trendy shoe stores, where loud techno blares from the loudspeakers, and Janis and Jerry are nowhere to be found.

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