The Summer of Love
by Rosie McGee
At 710 Ashbury, there were fifteen of us, or twenty,
depending on the day. The rent was
cheap, the ceilings high, the kitchen tiny, and the front steps a great place to
hang out on sunny days. It was a couple
of blocks to the store, and it always seemed to take a real long time to get
there and back, what with stopping to talk to friends who'd divert you from
your mission at every opportunity to go have coffee, smoke a joint, or just sit
on their front steps for an hour or two.
Most of us living
there didn't work at any regular jobs - we paid our rent with a combination of
endeavors. The mainstay was the band
around whom we'd gathered as spouses or friends, each of us contributing what
we could as managers, technicians, equipment handlers, or bookkeepers. The household chores fell to the women, and
maintaining the household was no small task. Dinner for
twenty was a daily occurrence, and so was food shopping. Doing laundry was a nightmare monopolizing twenty-two machines at the laundromat,
and it didn't take too long for the women to restrict that chore to their own
nuclear unit. It was very rare to
find peace and quiet; also elusive was real privacy. For while you could close your bedroom door to be alone, you
always had to encounter people on the way to the bathroom, or in the kitchen,
or on the steps, or in the hall - it was dense. You couldn't really keep any secrets, but on the other hand, you never had trouble finding a friend to
share them with.
During the day, one of the bedrooms became the band
office, and the carpet became worn with people coming and going. Add the constant traffic to the notoriety
the band had already achieved, and it's easy to see how the house became of
particular interest to the authorities.
So it wasn't a shock that when they came to bust
the household for alleged use of pot, they'd already alerted the TV news crews - in fact, they gave some of them a ride to the house. The narc in charge was up for a promotion, and he wanted to get
full coverage on raiding a prominent household, and as it turned out, the
entire neighborhood as well. Eleven
households had been turned in as a result of one very busy informer, and while
it was frightening going downtown in the police wagon, when we got there we found a
hundred and thirty-five of our friends! Many of the charges were dropped overnight for a variety of reasons, but the Chronicle's presses weren't stopped while they waited for the outcome. Despite the fact
that I was safely home in Diamond Heights after a crack-of-dawn release from jail, my father read
of my arrest while he was having his first cup of coffee and reading the morning paper.
It didn't help much that there was a photo of me coming down the 710 steps, handcuffed to Bob Weir, a photo that later appeared in the
first edition of Rolling Stone.
Best of all were the glorious free concerts in the
Panhandle, a long strip of park extending east from Golden Gate Park. All it took for a fabulous day was a flatbed truck, makeshift electricity, food, wine, friends,
sunshine, and some wonderful bands who hadn't hit the big-time yet. At first, it seemed amazing that we knew by name so many of the hundreds gathered at those events; but as the months went by, our awareness of a larger community grew until it peaked that fine day in January of 1967, the day of the Tribal Stomp at the Polo Fields to be known as the Human Be-In.
We heard about it through the grapevine, and a half dozen
of us started early that morning to walk the couple of miles to the park. As we walked along Lincoln Avenue, we noticed other groups of neighbors walking in the same direction. More joined in from side streets, and by the time we turned north into the park, we were a large, laughing group. A half-mile later, we were a horde, and as the Be-In took shape through the day, we were awed and thrilled as the Polo Fields filled with over 20,000 people. It was a day of innocence and hope, and in many ways the last moments of naiveté for a neighborhood that, unkowingly, had just gone public.
Stories about the Haight-Ashbury sold lots of
magazines and newspapers in the spring of 1967, the more sensational the story, the better. Many
people from around the world planned their summer vacations around coming to see it for themselves. In the ensuing crush, the neighborhood people quietly retreated to the background or just moved out, or stayed and went commercial. As for the crowds of seekers who had been
promised the Summer of Love, they were a year too late.
(© Rosie McGee. First version published in The
Grateful Dead Family Album by Jerilyn Lee Brandelius, Warner Bros. Books,