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December 28, 2011

San Francisco Then and Now

Tom McLaughlin

San Francisco – It was place of love, sex and drugs. And I was lucky enough to have been there. Haight Ashbury, filled with wonderful long haired, guys and girls, was the center of the action, crowded with the spirit of anti-war and pro- everything.


I had the long hair, flashing the peace sign, smoking grass, participating in anti-war demonstrations and every other demonstration that came along.


The people were mellow and sublime, studied hard at Berkeley, many of us believed an education was paramount in changing the world. Head shops, crazy posters, pipes, LSD, (I only did grass) and other symbols of anti-establishment pervaded everywhere.


Sausalito, a small village on a peninsula, had incredible views of the Bay and San Francisco. I remember it as being a gay area because it was the first time I had been propositioned by a person of the same sex. My theory was he had the right to ask and I have the right to say no. I still feel that way.


I watched as groups moved up and down the sidewalks trying to attract another’s eye. Some would walk away together and do whatever they do, somewhere, some place; and I felt what a wonderful way to find someone to give pleasure. AIDS had not yet left Africa and a shot would cure everything.


But, I noticed I was different in the sense I was going to do something about my beliefs. I had joined the Peace Corps. I put my faith into action along with my biology degree and did something real and effective. I was dismayed others did not. I felt they were fake hippies, wanting the sex and drugs but unwilling to do something about the human conditions.


Thirty five years later my new wife wanted to visit this city by the Bay. I didn’t. I wanted to preserve those memories I had of that era, still wanting to cling to that experience of long ago. I didn’t want them to leave.


When you love someone, and I hope you do, you do things you don’t want to. Besides, I thought, it was silly not to go when we were so close.


I was scared, like a child hesitantly looking under the bed to see if a monster from a dream was lurking. Instead of a flop house, we stayed at the Marriott on Fisherman’s Wharf. I now could afford a bed in a nice hotel.


We have acted like tourist, as we are now, visiting the tourist places with a one year old in tow. I felt I would avoid the Haight Ashbury district. But, I hesitantly asked a taxi driver if it was worth visiting. He said he would swing through the area on our way back to our hotel. And I nodded, feeling a trepidation; a strange curiosity. I knew something would either flame or die within me. And I didn’t want that.


Nothing was recognizable except the street signs. The place has become a tourist area, no signs of the revolutionary era of years ago. I guess many people walk those roads seeking an explanation of what was there and why the feelings cling so strongly.


I flashed the peace sign and watched a memory disappear through the back window of a taxi. The strong emotions remained.


Some say you are a liberal in your 20s because you have a heart and a conservative in your 50s because you have a mind. I realized then that I never grew up.




…Life is good


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