San Francisco: Love on Haight

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The Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco is not so much a neighborhood as a state of mindlessness. The Erewhon of America's "pot left," a 10-by-15 block midtown section, has over the past year become the center of a new utopianism, compounded of drugs and dreams, free love and LSD. It is a far cry from the original Utopia, envisioned some 400 years ago by Sir Thomas More, whose denizens demanded six hours of work each day: the 7,000 mind-blown residents of San Francisco's "Psychedelphia" demand a zero-hour day and free freak-outs for all.

Speed & Acid. Utopia on the Bay is bounded at one end by the greenery of Golden Gate Park, split down the middle by the fragrant eucalyptus trees of "The Panhandle." Tourist buses have already made The Haight-Ashbury (its residents insist on the definite article) a regular stop. Down the center of Psychedelphia runs Haight Street (which hippies hope to have renamed "Love Street"); the region itself—once the residence of such formidable families as the silver-mining Floods and the couture-vending Magnins—is studded with steamboat-Gothic mansions and psychedelic gathering places like the "I and Thou" coffee shop and the "Print Mint." Its inhabitants wear everything from Elizabethan motley to Judean beards. They preach every gospel from the 19th century socialism of France's Charles Fourier to the all-purpose caritas of St. Francis. Most of them—perhaps 80%—are steadily high on drugs ranging from LSD to such synthetic stimulants as Methedrine, Dexedrine and Benzedrine, which are known collectively as "speed." Gaudily painted trucks and buses thread with somnambulatory leisure through The Haight-Ashbury's sunny streets like evocations of an acid dream; the sickly scent of incense fills the air to mask the reek of marijuana.

Strollers wear jingle bells at their ankles, beads or flowers at their throats, and strum guitars or tootle flutes. It is not rare to see a Haight Street hippie put a dime in a parking meter, then flake out along the curb for a legal dose of sun tan. Wall posters, in the style of China's Red Guard movement, abound—most of them signed "Love" or "Peace" and bearing such timeless messages as "Gypsy come home—your mother is pushed out of shape."

Illogical Extension. The Haight-Ashbury is an illogical extension of such 1950-style scenes as Los Angeles' Venice West, New York's South Village, and San Francisco's own North Beach, where the beats of the Kerouac-Ferlinghetti-Ginsberg generation gathered in delicious despair. What has been added is a vague sense of mission, drawn from the ideals of the New Left and the new lotus-eaters. Central to that new theme are "The Diggers," who run a sort of psychedelic soup kitchen providing free chow to hungry hippies.

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