20 August 2012

San Francisco and Genuine Hippies

This morning I learned that Scott McKenzie died. I had no idea who Scott McKenzie was until the news played a sound bite from the song, "San Francisco." Suddenly I was in mourning for someone I cared so little about I never knew his name but I knew the song. That song was the anthem of my childhood. I grew up listening to it. I grew up believing that being a part of the "Generation of Love" meant I could change the world.



San Francisco was that time period's Mecca for all things weird. Every self-gratifying desire was pronounced good. Self-restraint and conventional morals were an "Establishment idea to keep you down, man." I longed for the freedom they promised but I was too young to run away and join them. I had brief moments of freedom in San Francisco. I remember being on a field trip in Golden Gate park and a group of us making a chain of flowers out of the chamomile growing there. We placed it around the neck of a horse being ridden by a officer. I thought we were being extremely symbolic and profound. I was wearing a floppy leather hat and a poncho. It was my best attempt at being a hippie. Japanese tourists took our pictures and gave us each a Japanese coin. I thought it was evidence that freedom to be and do what you want really was going to change the world. By the time I was a few years older I began to see freedom like that wasn't all it portended.

My father had a truck driving business in "The City" and took my older sister, Linda, her boyfriend, Tom, and me to see the "Haight" better known as Haight-Ashbury District in its hey-dey. We drove from the East Bay across the Bay Bridge and into The City riding in the bed of his 1964 Chevy four wheel drive. We saw lots of San Francisco sights and then cruised the Haight. It was everything television news showed us. Lots of people dressed in outlandish attire all hanging out and/or hanging all over one another. I thought it was cool. I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to be one with them. That's when something happened that I will never forget.

My sister's boyfriend, Tom, was a clean cut All-American young man. He was respectful to my father and step-mom. He was respectful and protective of my sister. He was kind and inclusive toward me, the little sister. He was so happy to be with us. My sister had that uncomfortable look you see on the faces of people who are being adored by someone they want to break up with and never see again. She longed for freedom too and the first chain she intended to break was connected to Tom's heart. I could tell it was coming and I didn't want to hear it. I liked the guy and wanted to give him the freedom to react with tears no one would see if my sister dumped him. They sat leaning on the cab of the truck and so took my place leaning on the tailgate. The wind battered me and kept me from hearing anything. Occasionally I would steal a glace at Tom to see if he was OK. I could tell he hadn't been dumped yet. He didn't appear to get that he was going to be. When we started our scenic hippie tour I could also tell he didn't get what was going on in the Haight. We were at a stoplight with what seemed like hundreds of hippies buzzing around when suddenly one of them put his German Shepherd in the bed of our truck.

My father saw an opportunity; a genuine hippie hitchhiking, a hippie with his dog no less, and told him he would give him a lift and to get into the back of the truck. None of us in there were aware the invitation had been issued. The hitchhiker was overjoyed to have a ride and put his dog into the back of the truck while issuing salutations to us. Tom jumped up, scooped the dog up and placed him right back into the confused man's hands. It seemed Tom's worst fears were real and he was prepared to stop the hippie invasion at any cost. Words were exchanged using two disparate vocabularies; hippie and protective conservative nice guy. Then my father added his voice.

"Tom! It's OK! I told him we'd give him a ride!" With that Tom had an incredulous look on his face and this conversation followed, the conversation with my dad that I will never forget:

"Dominic??!! You're going to let a strange man get in the back of your truck? With two young girls back here?! Your two young girls??!!"

He was truly astonished. My father assured him it would be OK. Tom respectfully disagreed with my father and then helped the man put his dog back into the truck. Tom gave him a hand into the bed of the truck as well. Once the man and his dog were in, Tom grabbed my hand and quietly escorted me to where he and my sister were sitting. He put an arm around both of us. He never said a word but we in the bed of the truck knew the man and his dog could occupy the space by the tailgate and that was it. That is the one and only time in my childhood I felt truly protected by a man.

I have no idea where Tom is now. I never saw him again and the only time he was mentioned was in association with that day and comments of what a nice guy he was and too bad Linda had dumped him. I hope he grew up to be an adult version of the young man I saw that day. I hope he's happy. I hope he found someone who appreciated the type of man I imagine he became. I owe him a debt of gratitude because from that day forward I had reservations about my beloved "Generation of Love" and all its ideals. I was young but had an internal war going on with my own worldview, one that would last for years.

It's easy to look back and see God's providence. It's uncomfortable to listen to the lyrics of "San Francisco" now. I still sing along with the song but get stopped if I really listen to the lyrics. Decades of experience and settling into the only thing that makes sense to me, a biblical worldview, make that time in my life seem unreal and shameful. From this vantage point I see the fruit of the Generation of Love. The Generation of Free Love and "finding yourself" begat the Generation of Entitlement. It reminds me of "Everyone did what was right in their own eyes." It's a familiar theme throughout history and it always begets something more sinister than good. Always.

The fear of the LORD prolongs life,
but the years of the wicked will be short.
The hope of the righteous brings joy,
but the expectation of the wicked will perish.
The way of the LORD is a stronghold to the blameless,
but destruction to evildoers.
The righteous will never be removed,
but the wicked will not dwell in the land.
(Proverbs 10:27-30 ESV)


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