My Big San Francisco Acid Trip started soon after I arrived from Cleveland in 1969. I went straight from the airport to Haight Ashbury to join the Summer of Love amongst the hippies that I had been reading about. I had some money saved up (it turned out the hippies liked that), and upon arriving (at the Haight) I saw about 50 Hells Angels roaring up the street on their choppers (they still rode choppers back then). Duly impressed, I was less endeared seeing a man stabbed on the street corner ten feet in front of me, but I was 19, out for the first time and learning about life.
The only folks I knew in San Francisco were my grandmother, Mama Gisa and her husband, my step-grandfather, both fairly old by then. I gave them a courtesy visit at their apartment on Turk street. As I entered the elevator, two uniformed SFPD officers got in with me, one a big black cop. We both reached for the same floor button, and rode up silently together. When I exited on my grandparent’s floor to find their apartment, I could feel their shadows behind me. It turned out that, although I had only been in the city a few days, my grandmother had filed a missing persons report on me, which is why the police were there. After I greeted Mama Gisa, the problem (missing person – me) was resolved. The big African American cop put his arm around me, and explained that “old people sometimes get nervous, and it’s a good idea to stay in touch with them.” It was sort of a reassuring brotherly hug; I had no idea how it would affect me and the actions that would take place later that night. The cops left, and after a short visit, I left too.
Having no place to stay, I decided to put first things first. Having arrived in San Francisco, I dropped acid and went to a big rock concert. Since I had two tabs of acid, it made sense to me to take both of them. Remember, I was 19 and, well, I was 19. I got into one of Bill Graham’s famed halls, the Avalon, and saw Big Brother & The Holding Company (Janis Joplin) and The Jefferson Airplane. Very high on that double dose of acid, you know that irritating hippy who is dancing erratically, waving his hands in the air and jumping up & down in the front row? That was me!
I managed to get backstage (a skill I have developed in the Cleveland folk clubs – just pretend you belong there). I remember briefly meeting Janis Joplin, who was swigging a pint of Southern Comfort. She said something along the lines of “How you doing, darling” and I was back out at the foot of the stage to hear the Airplane set. After another hour of blissful dancing (if you could call it that) the concert was over, and the hall emptied, and I was standing there alone, all by myself; still blasted on LSD. I still had no place to stay, so I got a cab and told him I needed to go to hotel. He asked me which hotel, and the only thing I could think of was The Hilton, where he dropped me off.
I still remember that night, though 45 years ago, as I walked through the plush lobby of the Hilton. When I got to the front desk and asked for a room, the desk clerk asked me if I had a reservation; I did not. I’ll never forget the way he spoke to me, in an overly formal (and dismissive) way, “I’m sorry sir, but we do not give out rooms without a reservation”. I can only imagine what I looked like, with long hair (I had hair back then) and blasted on acid. I asked why not, I needed a room, and he responded almost by rote: “I’m sorry,we do not give out rooms without a reservation”. I turned around and left, still roomless, and the same cab was still there. I asked him, “Take me to a hotel, any hotel!” So he drove me to a hotel, in Chinatown.
This part of my Great SF Acid Trip I remember distinctly, although it seemed like a dream. A guy in the small lobby took my money, and gave me a key. I went upstairs looking for my room, and saw a door ajar. As I opened it, five old Chinese men were sitting around a hookah, and they looked up at me in surprise. It was literally a scene out of Confessions of an Opium Eater. I felt unwelcomed there, so I continued down the hall to find my room. I don’t know how I found it (because the room numbers were in Chinese characters) but finally I got in my hotel room, a chance to rest off my busy night. Then I discovered a cultural difference I wasn’t expecting:
To say the “mattress” was hard is an understatement. The bed wasn’t a mattress at all; it was a hard wooden box! And the “pillow” was a small, wooden box! I believe there was a piece of fabric covering the “bed”; I guess that supposed to be my blanket. I was tired, so tried to go to sleep, but it was useless; there was no way I could get comfortable. After an hour or so, I just gave up and left my room, found myself back out on the streets of San Francisco. At this point, I did what still must be the craziest thing in my life – I started running around in the middle of the street, trying to flag down a police car. I was trying to get arrested. Why? Remember that big black cop who put his arm around me back at my grand-mother’s apartment - supportive and reassuring, like a big brother, with comforting advice. Now at 3:00 in the morning, blasted on acid, I thought if I could find that cop (or one like him) they’d give me some direction and help in this new city, to a lonely young man away from home for the first time.
Needless to say, I was unsuccessful in flagging down a police car – the few that I saw just drove by. So I walked all the way from downtown to the Haight, arriving at dawn. I still remember how pretty the neighborhoods of SF looked in the morning light. The architecture, pastel houses and exotic plants & trees (to me) were unlike anything I’d ever seen, certainly nothing like Cleveland, Ohio. Everything was new; the sun felt good on my face. Everything was squiggly, undulating in hallucinogenic waves from the LSD – I was still on my acid trip. I had arrived in my new city, to California and my new life. I never really left; I'm still here.