Keep Off the Grass
I remember the exact moment when I heard Dolores Park would be closing. I was in my kitchen, just back from an LA extenda-stay and hungrily catching up with friends on all I’d missed during my Bay Area starvation period. My best friend had her nose in the fridge, pawing at its contents with her back to our lounging friends, the lot of us wrapped, draped, and slung lazily around the table. We’re in mid-irreverent dialogue, no big deal, when she turns her head casually, looks at me hazy-eyed over her shoulder and says, “You know they’re closing Dolores Park for a year, right?”
If I had had a Pabst in my hand, I would have dropped it. “But, but where will all the hipsters go?” I stammered. “And what about Gay Beach?”
“A whole year,” she said. “The entire thing.”
While obviously stunning, the timing of this news seemed almost predictably serendipitous to me. It was only weeks before that I’d found myself sitting in Golden Gate Park after a yearlong hiatus, simply because I was in the mood for nostalgia. It was a Tuesday, unseasonably warm, and I was pacing myself with a Havarti sandwich from Say Cheese mostly because I was going to be sad when I finished it.
Throughout my GGP linger that day, I’d became distinctly aware of a grand shift that had taken place in my absence. Gone completely, 100% missing, were the be-plaided, fine arts educated, social drinking, social smoking, some-
what gainfully employed youth of Hippie Hill’s past; in their place were more Marin County runaways, more mutts, more dingy djembe players, and of course, all of the resolutely homeless.
It seemed undeniable that over the course of the last seven years or so, there had been a great exodus of upwardly mobile urban youth from GGP. Now, with the impending closure of DP (and with it, the possibility of another grand migration), I had to find out why we had all left GGP to begin with, and where we might be headed next.
I jump in the car and head west on Fell. It’s a Wednesday, 1 p.m., and I get a parking spot right in front. Jumping out, I can’t help notice my outfit – very clean, slightly little – and seriously question my judgment. Too late now. I loop in toward the hill, passing street kids sprawling en masse under the trees. In possession of as many mangy pit mutts as they are of uni-dreads, one shouts “Hey, you! I love your shorts!”
As I suspected – wrong outfit...
But I continue, walking the path heading west, the hill of the hour swelling to my right. Trying to find the “perfect spot” would be overstating things a bit, but I am looking for something tufty, with a nice radius of space between the methheads. Jackpot. I settle in mid-hill, slightly rightish, above the drum circle bench that is noticeably absent of regulars: the burnouts playing – on loop – the mono beat they learned at that party that one time. I am pleased for a mere moment, until the girls to my left begin to speak.
“I can’t believe we’re chilling here on this hill with a bunch of bums.”
I don’t disagree, until I turn my head to see who’s talking. Noting a few Huffys in varying shades of purple strewn across the grass, watermelon earrings, an unused Frisbee, and three small white hands clutching three 32s, there is only one conclusion: USF.
Just as a dogfight breaks out in runaway central, a human fight breaks out behind me on the hobo shelf. Two missionary-type girls are passing out lunches and there don’t seem to be enough to go around. I’m overwhelmed by my fight-viewing options – dog, human, dog, human – so I opt to instead stare straight ahead and avoid making any eye contact at all.
My eyes settle on a blind woman being led up the hill toward me by a young, do-gooder passerby. He drops her off well within my personal space, irking me at first, until I regroup and realize that here in GGP, versus, say, DP or even Duboce, personal space is something of which you are not in possession of. The irritation passes entirely, just as the woman’s growling begins.
It’s kind of a throaty grunt-snarl, loud but intermittent; something you would laugh at if it came out of the mouth of a friend. But seeing as I don’t know this woman, and that she’s blind and meditating (a perfect recipe for enlightenment, right?), I say nothing. But she does.
“Hey, you guys got any weed?” she asks the startled USF gaggle.
“Nah, just these Heinekens, but there was a guy that came by selling just a little while ago,” offers Watermelon Earrings. “Yeah,” Dark Purple Huffy chimes in, offering useless visual cues. “He has a shaved head and black bandana.”
“What?” says the blind woman.
I’m back on a Friday at noon and I’m looking around for someone who might know things. Someone with a graying beard, perhaps; a penchant for public gatherings; someone with long hair and a penis? I find him, wearing a black Kangol hat backwards, not-ironically oversized glasses, and white tennies. He’s reading Time magazine, and his name is Charlie.
Charlie’s been coming to Hippie Hill (he doesn’t call it that but understands why people do) for well over 30 years, ever since he moved to Hayes and Stanyan back in the early ’70s. (He won’t give his exact location because his rent’s pretty good and he’s not sure what kind of person I am yet.) When I ask him what he thinks of the current scene he tells me it’s no Summer of Love, but that’s just an assumption because he was still in the Carolinas when all that went down.
But yeah, Charlie does think things have gone downhill (ahem) around here over the last few years. For starters, he says he doesn’t see couples anymore, and when he does, they’re usually “bonking in the bushes.” And that’s not all – now it’s “the gangsters selling the weed,” which is in stark contrast to what he’s used to – more burnout dealer types of decades past is what I gather from his mutterings. And the “fellow with the copper pots” – Charlie mentions him and we realize we have a mutual penchant/friend, but he hasn’t seen Copper Pots around for at least two years. “Maybe because he has at least 10 Yelp reviews now,” I say, but this qualifier is lost on Charlie.
I’m telling Charlie about the way things are shaping up at Dolores Park these days, with Copper Pots frequenting the area weekly, all those couples, and even some hairless designer dogs. It’s just getting good, or at least less awkward between us, when we’re interrupted by a large group of rapping dreadlocked hippies with guitars. What’s taking place downwind was like a car accident – you just have to look.
Rapping “pasta” with “Mt. Shasta,” the gentleman on the lead guitar is clearly feeling it. He’s got a Mickey Avalon-y white way about him (clearly, a generous comparison), and his next line is pure gold: “My voice is deep like the roots of the redwood trees. I eat feta cheese...” Charlie doesn’t say much after that, except to reiterate that he doesn’t come to the park too often these days, and with that, bids me adieu.
My musical enjoyment must have been too obvious because the next thing I know a tie-dye enthusiast named Angel has separated from the rap pack and is in my face. He’s giving me a high five, then a low five, both of which culminate in something called a “stick shift,” which is not as dirty as it sounds. Before I know it, we’re hugging and Angel is offering to smoke me out. I politely decline, although, in reflection, it may have served as a good research tool.
Considering my current loner state, swept up in furious observational note taking, I suddenly feel overly judgmental and non-participatory. A good enough time as any for a visit to the Hippie Hill psychic. Equipped with a card table, two folding chairs, and a friend who doesn’t say much, Claire Voyant (she insists it’s her given name) charges $10 a pop. Considering I am the only patron I’ve seen at her table all day, I feel this is reasonable.
Claire tells me I get three questions. I make a genie joke that she doesn’t think is funny, or relevant, so it’s time to begin:
1. Why did most folks abandon Hippie Hill?
2. Will HH ever return to its glory days?
3. Where will all of the Dolores devotees go when the park closes?
The answers are predictably vague, but still, more illuminating than nothing. She partially blames me for not spending enough time here; that I’ve “skewed the energies” toward darkness by my non-participation, and that “darkness breeds darkness.” Claire anticipates a return to the good ole days of decades past, specifically mentioning the Human Be-In and Allen Ginsberg, but insists that it will take many years before that time comes because things are always in a state of flux, “like a river is always moving.” (At this point I suspect LSD, but I say nothing). Thirdly, she anticipates an eastward migration for the Dolores Park-ophiles.
When I check my map later, I’m guessing that means Jackson Park.
If you want to make Hippie Hill look good again, show up on a sunny afternoon and give her some lovin’. (GGP is closed to cars on Sundays, so if it’s Sunday and you’re in the mood, don’t drive there.) If the mere thought of Dolores Park closing for up to 16 months makes your heart anxious and your life purposeless, consider joining the Facebook group: Don’t close ALL of Dolores Park for the whole time!!! – 1,433 members and growing. I’m not sure what kind of difference your membership will make, but it can’t hurt much. And finally, if you have ideas as to where the next gathering spot will be in the post-Dolores Park era, please share.