Shopping Spree On Haight Street

In September, 1966, at age seventeen, I moved to San Francisco from LA, perportedly to attend San Francisco State College. A few years before, I had walked around North Beach, salivated over City Lights Books and the Hungry i, realizing that my vision, birthed at age eleven, of being a bohemian artist in Greenwich Village (fanned by reading my mother's copies of The Village Voice Reader) could be realized much closer to home. By the time I showed up on the scene, beatniks were wearing brighter colors, ingesting wilder stuff than poetry readings, bebop, chess, and Zen Buddhism. This incarnation of bohemia encompassed a much larger percentage of the population than the beats did, perhaps because it was less intellectually rigorous. The hippie thing was not entirely to my taste. I preferred jazz and folk music to rock and roll. I got much higher from the Transcendental Poets than from Transcendental Meditation. But I reveled in the lack of angst and the unmatched altruism. You could hitchhike for fun then, and not before or since.


In 1966, Haight Street was much as it is now--two rows of creative small businesses serving both resident boho and tourist populations. The major difference I noticed today was the absence of loiterers asking for money (we called them "panhandlers".) Even three years ago I saw many here. Perhaps the constant presence of police patrol cars has changed all that.


The Psychedelic Shop, probably the first of its genre, offered pot paraphernalia and drug-inspired art, plus a community bulletin board upon which, at age seventeen, I advertised for a position as housekeeper in exchange for room and board. I scored, too--I worked for three artistic young bachelors in a cottage overlooking the sea in Bolinas. I wonder where they are now. The inside of the Psychedelic Sun, above, recalls the old Psychedelic Shop quite strongly, perhaps most by the olefactory stimulation delivered by the incense collection on the left.


I saw few other baby boomers on Haight Street; what I saw were ghosts: Grateful Dead t-shirts, these posters of Led Zeppelin, the Doors, Pink Floyd, heroes from before the current denizens of the Haight were born--sort of like me worshipping Charlie Parker. It reminded me that periods of history find permanent homes--World War Two at Pearl Harbor, for example, where machine gun strafing on the sides of the old buildings on the base has been preserved, and sixty year old planes and bombs stand enshrined at intersections.


Ultimately, what makes communities thrive is the spontaneous art arising from the residents. This wonderful mural coalesces the myth of the Haight; no one passing by is not affected by it. We see beyond traditional time/space conventions into the realms of the magical, it says to me.


I remember exactly when the myth was born. I visited my cousin Diane in Ann Arbor, Michigan during the winter of my seventeenth year, and, although I met hippies galore, none had heard of the Haight Ashbury. In March, 1967, Esquire Magazine published its write up on the scene, and, by the end of April, the longhairs were all packing their cars. Multiply this times every town in the nation. Result: the Summer of Love, a chaotic non-stop party/bum trip, for which the San Francisco Diggers volunteered as resident social workers. They provided daily free food, staffed a free store, organized free concerts, and quite possibly were involved in the establishment of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic. I'm a little hazy on that time; by then I lived on a houseboat in Sausalito and had my art studio in the Industrial Center Building. I hardly ever went into the city.


Not all of the action on Haight street is at ground level.
Larger-than-life legs between the bay windows tickle one's sense of the absurd,
and Che Guevara stares from the third floor.


The Wasteland, a second hand clothing store with another branch
on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, caters to the Gen X and Gen Y shoppers
who comprise the typical clientele of Haight street at the millennium.


In four hours of browsing the shops on both sides of Haight Street between Masonic and Stanyan, I realized the truth in John Gray's assertion that women love to shop because the process is one of recognizing one's identity. This is me; this is not me. I have not pleasured myself this way in some time--since November, when I bought performance clothing for my tour in Los Angeles. I still needed a top to go with my bright purple cotton floor length skirt, and I needed some warm weather tops for the summer (although, in San Francisco on June 7, I was very happy to wear a down jacket.) The challenge for a baby boomer on Haight Street or Melrose Avenue is one's attachment to wearing natural fibers exclusively. I even wonder whether the Gen X and Y people embrace synthetic fibers in reaction to our dogmatic approach to fabrics. Still, I came away with a cache of great hippie clolthes and accessories.


The front of the new mate to the long purple cotton skirt...


...and the back, which features a map of what appears to be somewhere in Africa.


Purple suede lace-up ankle boots!


The hot weather halter top for the same skirt, patchworked of embroidered fabrics from India


Another embroidered patchwork halter top, this one to wear with a blue jean skirt.


A lightweight black cotton tank top from India, embroidered with gold thread plus tiny mirrors.


A bracelet of beaded woven trim, and an elasticized wristlet of opalescent beads
I have the same manicure now as when I attended kindergarten.


Postcards reproduced from the cover of a 1967 porn paperback