I was lucky enough that my love of the sea and the constant need for freedom morphed into a few years of bumming around the world as a commercial fisherman. I started my trade somewhat Biblical, launching off the shores of the Sea of Galilee fishing for sardines, then after a few drops of the seine in the Mediterranean and Alaska, I ended my career of long hours and doing my best to keep as many fingers as I could trolling and swaying in the soup in the choppy waters of San Francisco. I can actually say I fished out of Fisherman’s Wharf when there were still fishermen working the docks there.
The reason I bring this up is…Who cares? I mean who really gives a flying fish whether there are real fishermen at Fisherman’s Wharf. If you go to Williamsburg, you’ll see the ersatz colonists thumbing their phones during their lunch breaks. A break of reality? I don’t think so. Does that stop you from getting a group snap with the kids and the Blacksmith de jour?
No, of course not. It’s a tourist trap. We love to take historical places, erect a gift shop, put in alpha-numeric parking lots, and build gates and river walks, then charge out-of-towners for the privilege of seeing what once was. We will retain our personal history, as long as it is cost effective.
I have lived in the Haight/Ashbury for half of my life. Growing up in the Middle West, I had a map of San Francisco on my wall. At fifteen, I collected Rolling Stone magazine not only because it spoke to me but I loved their address was on Brannan Street, San Francisco. I loved all things hippie and knew one day I would be living there.
Well, that dream came true for me, but dreams sometime don’t last. That is, if you let someone else take them away from you…us.
Last Christmas the Haight/Ashbury suffered financially, like many of the country’s merchants at the time. One of our crack columnists from one of the local daily papers wrote an attacking article about the Ruffians of the Haight/Ashbury. We have a huge homeless problem in the Haight. As you can imagine, every day of the year, there is some lost soul or some misguided Jack Kerouac-wanna-be who arrives in the Haight with a guitar, a dog, bed sores, fleas, and a small bong-hit of hope that things are going to change for this particular urchin’s story.
They come because we are the Haight. There’s nothing more I can say about that. As far as I can tell, they wanted to be here as much as I did.
Back to the Chicken Whittle columnist, in his article he basically scared the dollars out of your average I’m-afraid-of-the Haight San Franciscan from ever wanting to venture to the Haight again, because if you do, there will be hooligans with spiked collars and doped-out pit-bulls (might have that backwards, don’t think so though) there to shake you down for spare change and dog food.
Oh, even our politically rising mayor got into the act. Taking his precious one-year old daughter on his tour of the spit-coated, dog-poop infested heroin-using concrete jungle that we affectionately call, Hippieland. It was written in the article, that the Mayor actually saw some vagrant smoking crack on the street.
In twenty-six years, I’ve never seen a glass pipe being used on Haight Street. Off of Haight Street in the alleys, up Cole Street, and in the back of McDonalds’s, sure…I’ve seen tweakers and crackheads hitting the pipe. But have I ever seen anyone smoking the bad stuff on Haight Street in daylight, never. But the Mayor did on his ONE walk through the Haight.
Between our Mayor’s foray into his neighborhood and the columnist, Chicken Whittle, clucking, the City was swept into a panic. And you know panic brings politicians to quell the uprising with their own agenda oriented rhetoric. Soon we’re voting on laws on whether it is legal to be homeless and if sitting on Haight Street or in the panhandle demands fines and jail time.
More arguments pro and con about what to do with the Bad Kidz of the Haight produce meetings downtown in Government land and in the public libraries of the Haight.
Oh My God, nobody knows what to do. Debates rage and mud is thrown. Our lameduck Mayor decides he’s leaving town on a political wave and no longer cares about getting wet in the swamps of the local issues. The columnists decides to actually move to San Francisco to see the effects of what he’s been writing all these years about from his East Bay outpost. All of a sudden his Caucasian fence that surrounded him out in the ‘Burbs is down and he’s quiet now about the Haight.
The City voted down the law that could have required our police to arrest anyone sitting on the sidewalk or looking like they were ready to take a squat or a knee.
The wave of fear is over, for now. But the damage is done. The Haight/Ashbury various merchant associations have complained about the loss of revenue and that the foot traffic is not there like in past years.
Well that can all change folks.
Tomorrow, June 13th, 2010 is the world famous Haight/Ashbury Street Fair. This will be thirty-third time that the freakiest street in America is allow to be…itself.
From roughly 12 noon to 5pm, upwards of some seventy thousand people will take in the freak festival that we call the Haight. Parents with kids lounging in baby bjorns sucking on bottles of baby-chai formula will mix with Gogol Bordello crowd sucking on joints while the bands play on. Hippie chicks in twirling peasant dresses will cradle wicker baskets full of magic potions. Costumes will be worn but it is hard to tell the straights from the freaks, so never assume who is a costume wearer and who is just a Haight St. freak. For one day, it is safe for everyone to come to the Haight.
And why is this Fair different than all other fairs? Because it is Haight Street. San Francisco has many street fairs, all with their own flavor and odors. But ours is still free. Ours keeps with the spirit of the street. We know, us keepers of the flame going on the eternal joint, that it is our job to keep the hippie spirit alive, or what else is the choice.
Reenactment shows every two hours, showing the crafts of Hippietown to the tourist; how the kids used to tie-die their t-shirts and how they balled their women to the tunes of this band they called the Grateful Dead, now being replayed by the New Haight St. Singers.
There is no place like the Haight in the World. I lived on Portobello Road in London in the Seventies, close but without the Dead, Airplane, Janis, and Charlie Manson, sorry Brits, you don’t have the history. East Coast, c’mon, Boston, New Hampshire, yeah you got woods and forests, Phish, Jamaican weed, still, you can’t touch the West Coast laid-back vibe that we can’t shake, even if we wanted to. We are magic. We are golden. We are immaculate in jeans, blue work shirts and Red Dog Saloon vests that barely has ever been near Tide, the Euphrates, or a washing machine.
No, we are the Haight for good or bad. The stories the media and the government try to spin, can’t stop us. We are freaks and freaks live for freedom. We have what most people search for their whole lives.
The problems we have and what confuses the City is, we still believe in helping our fellow men and women. That’s why the kidz come, they know they can get a free meal somewhere and sometimes, the cops look the other way unlike in your small town where all that is different is frowned upon . So they come, for good or bad, but like that bar in Boston, they feel someone out here might know their name. Or worse, they come because they all worship the same God, Jerry.
I am a freak. I am a Hippie. I believe in Peace and Love. I want to get some WEED and do my thing. Where else in America does that happen?
Remind me again why it is a bad thing to have one town out of thousands and thousands that strives to be different, and in that difference prove that it is inclusiveness that makes a society strong, not the fear of another human because of their appearance and sometimes, their smell.
No, it takes a lot to live in the Haight. You have to step over sleeping bodies and be spared changed from block to block by kids or sometimes elderly adults who feel they deserve your coins and paper. Sometimes walking on the street you receive a roaming lecture because you’re perceived as the Man because you happen to have a job and bus fare. Living here is very interactive. Many people can’t handle that. I can. I love my neighborhood.
I’ve lived many places that were almost variables with the malls and the freeways and turn-off that lead to the usual spots. It’s not like that here. It is special here, rough, sometimes a little smelly, sometimes a little archaic, but all the time, the Haight. We’re definitely 24/7.
It’s not a show. We’re real people with real lives, it just so happens that we don’t believe in a dress code. We question everything. We’re a tiny band of freaks that keeps the message going.
The sad thing, we never know what we have until it’s gone. And then sometimes, that doesn’t even matter. I dare you to go to Fisherman’s Wharf and find a real fisherman.
Tomorrow is the Haight St. Fair, come see all the freaks in their natural habitat. See us with our illegal smiles and non-matching wardrobes. See us in our entire splendor.
Do it before it gone. Tell your friends. Tweet it from the highest mountain top. Join us for one day of orange sunshine and good vibes. Stop by California Grow Mugs and say high.