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Haight Before the Lovers Moved In

I lived in the Haight because it was a cheap, lower middle-class neighborhood, and a step above the Tenderloin. In 1963 it was a working-class neighborhood with a grocery store, hardware store, magazine store (yes there used to be many more than now), a couple of tailoring shops that did alterations, our own newspaper, The Haight Ashbury Independent, much like your own but with more advertising, a few columns, and local BS board news.

At the Haight hardware store I met Willie Brown my one and only time. He had on black rim glasses, a continental to the bone suit, like he was some earnest colored man interviewing for an accountant position. He was running for the first time for State assembly and Haight was in that district. He had a taste of the dandy in him. I think only Wilks Bashford saved him from buying a walking suit. I voted for him.

The Haight had a piroshky shop that catered to the White Russian colony and the Orthodox Church, a West Indian place, Connies. It was like a village set in a city, like the Mission District used to be and parts of the Richmond that still are. The city was like the main court and the neighborhoods its principalities.

And then, of course, there were the bars: the Golden Cane Cocktail lounge, a dyke bar with motorcycle bitches clinging to the BullDyke of the month, who, it was rumored, shot animal testosterone in those pre-storied days. The gay guys hung out at the Golden Cask near the panhandle and used the bowling alley as a pickup spot. The Haight Theater showed cheap movies weekdays and drag shows on weekends. All us poor students and yes, most were poor in those pre-student loan days, would gather at the magazine store on Saturday night and watch the drag queens roll in from the Castro. Our favorite was the three pink Cadillac convertible stuffed with pink poodles, yapping hysterically, badly shaven transes in prom dresses, ill fitting wigs and preposterous protuberances for breasts that had a distinct torpedo shape aimed wildly at any destroyer in sight. From our site out of the sight, the street cats catcalled, laughed and cheered them on to rehearsal. The only straight bar was Romeo’s, which, in grand SF tradition, opened at 6am. The hard-core alky crowd would already be lined up for first call. Some neighborhood bars lasted until the dope arrived which followed the gay culture and then came the Hells Angels, the mob with heroine, the bikers with meth, the hippies with acid and weed.

I lived there in 1962, 1963 and 1964. I lived on the corner of Haight and Ashbury in 1962, then on Beulah off Stanyan, then Fredericks, and finally Waller. I got locked out in a strike for pension benefits and couldn't make enough to get back to school so I dropped out after my junior year and took myself and my tools back to the Central Valley, Modesto, and went to work on the California Aqueduct for two years.

It was known then as it is now as Brown's folly. Seems old Pat and his family had a lot of cheap real estate land in the LA basin that couldn't be developed without water. I lasted two years of grinding labor, travel, exhaustion, heat strokes for my fellow workers of which four died and two were left mentally impaired. Two of them I watched it happen: delirium, no sweat, the gasping and the quiet. I rode that ditch from the Tracy pumping station to the O’Neil forbay. I got my first child out of it and enough money to finish my senior year. I hope Jerry "The Kid" enjoyed wealth. He didn't fall far from the tree as his latest attempt to grab water proves; that's the trouble with the rich: you give them a drink and they go to stealing so they can drink more. When Jerry left the seminary and became Guv Moonbeam with the blue Plymouth, I knew he was playing at being poor. He still hasn't figured out how bad it pisses off the real working poor. I quit the canal in 1968 and went back to school, into the dramas of delusional movements. I graduated in 1969, the year of the riots. But that is yet another story.

A good historian could find all the lunacy of American culture in the decade of the Haight. From working-class to yuppie ass, with a few revolutions tossed into one lifetime. I saw early what dope could do. I left the Haight with its runaways hanging onto parking meters weeping hysterically, friends committing suicide from bad trips, independent dealers thrown off a cliff in Bolinas with a grand in their wallets and holes in their heads. But I prefer to remember it as one of the few integrated places in San Francisco where we could sit out on the stoops and shop at night without fear. The Haight couldn't outlast the love that got imposed onto it. It was proof of the butterfly effect: tie-dye one t-shirt and all hell breaks loose.

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