We walk along Ashbury Street and are about to enter one of its many alternative shops when a girl runs out the door and crashes to the ground.
Screams sound both male and female and, soon after, a man in his fifties appears who grabs her by the long blond hair and expels her for the walk, despite the detaining action of another client who we quickly understand to be his partner and accomplice.
"You didn't steal anything did you?" He visibly interrogates the owner of the boutique nervously as he removes objects from his coat and suitcase pockets. “You have to explain to me where all this came from! Coincidentally, they are only products that I sell here in the store”. We can no longer see you ahead! Bunch of unprincipled useless! Disappear once and for all!”.
If it's not for one reason, it's for the other. Conflict set in at the beginning of the 70s, when the Haight became a kind of California Shangri-La for dreamers, vagabonds and the outsiders of society at large. Since then, it has only gotten worse.
The Beat Past of Haight and Ashbury
In the XNUMXs, members and supporters of the Beat Generation flooded North Beach, illuminated by the restless, nomadic spirits of Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac.
At a certain point, there were no more vacancies in the houses from this neighborhood and many took advantage of the fact that Haight-Ashbury had entered into decline – with countless houses abandoned after World War II – and proved to be a very affordable option in the city.
The Beat Generation set the tone for liberation from false morals because they ruled the nation, and by the mid-60s, Haight-Ashbury was about to become the seat of the Summer of Love Council.
It was to its streets that John Phillips of Mamas & the Papas called the country's hippies and non-hippies to converge with flowers in their hair. Janes Joplin, the members of the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead all lived within walking distance.
They knew the local community and welcomed the newcomers with their psychedelic and demanding rock music, and so did the Diggers, a local anarchist community famous for its street theater and providing meals to needy residents.
The Flower Children Disqualification in San Francisco
Times have changed, like San Francisco and the Haight. Frisco has confirmed itself as one of the freest and most creative cities in the country. And the neighborhood is all that and also one of its really valuable historic areas in terms of real estate, where a mere Victorian house can cost more than two million euros.
But money is only easy for part of the population of United States. The growing prosperity achieved through unbridled capitalism has given rise to a more than obvious socio-economic disparity.
If, in the 60s, it was easy for Flower Children to survive on almost no income by dividing rents of a few tens of dollars, sometimes with dozens of other sympathetic tenants, today, as we walk along their sidewalks, we are forced to meander to avoid the crowd of marginalized and homeless youth who camp there.
We are told they are known as gutter punks (Gutter punks). Wear dirty dreadlocks and nose rings or mohawk colorful and lush and spray-painted faces. A few hundred meters away, several clans are calling us to ask for money with more or less creative approaches, but always determined.
We read on their little cardboard posters “Please help us to be sober (un-sober)” or “We also accept beer and weed”.
These second-rate Americans often become aggressive towards passersby. They block the passage while playing their guitars and jambés, as the clock at the intersection of Haight St and Ashbury St that always reads 4:20, the International Bong Hit Time, sends.
And they intimidate those who dare to try to break through or simply insult those who have no intention of satisfying their requests. "Die yuppie!" and “Where has the spirit of the Summer of Love gone” are frequent offenses and complaints.
If, for the new rebels, the past they never lived continues to serve as a justification, many of the true protagonists of the Flower Power era no longer have the patience to feel compassion.
Flower Children vs. Flower Children. The Growing Conflict in Haight-Ashbury
It is something that should be forgiven them if only because, among so many other mischiefs, part of the vast outlawed community of Haight uses the flower beds of their homes as a bathroom and throws used hypodermic syringes into a small lake nearby which they now call Hep-C lake.
“Many of us who still live here were Flower Children…” Robert Shadoian, a 58-year-old retired family therapist, complains to the press. “… then we grew up. That's what they should do. At some point, there are responsibilities that must be taken on. You can't be high 24 hours a day and expect the world to take care of us.”
The Power to Denigrate the Causeless Rebels of Haight-Ashbury
The presence and extreme attitudes of the community misfit cause other, less visible damage. Residents and entrepreneurs have invested serious money in businesses that they deliver a lot of energy to, but part of the potential clientele is driven away by the feeling of inconvenience associated with the neighborhood.
In 1977, Dr Sami Sunchild, an artist and environmental and social activist, purchased an old hotel with Victorian architecture and renamed it “Red Victorian”. Its objective was that the place would bring together the main ideals and historical movements in that area.
Today, the hotel's Peace Café hosts the World Conversations held on Sundays. Right next door, at the same time, it is common for groups of irreverent skaters to roam the surrounding roads, delaying and provoking condescending drivers.
Owners decorate and supply boutiques, shops and cafes to revolutionize fashion and create creative and welcoming atmospheres. But it only takes one of the marginal clans to elect the entrance to one of these places for their perch for their financial viability to be threatened.
In one of the most libertine cities of the USA., the authorities have difficulties in dealing with this situation. It's just one among many others. The various local medical marijuana clubs, for example, require a prescription and a 30-day waiting period.
Still, they continue to offer smiles to many false patients.
Constructive Resistance and the Hope of Some
Despite its shocks and disappointments, the Haight inspires the most persistent. Further on, we enter a curious hat shop where we meet Frankie Zmetra, the angelic-looking maid who serves customers.
We ended up photographing her and then, during a long conversation with several interruptions, we heard her view of the problem. "They may be ragged outlaws but they have a right to exist and to their revolt." I, for my part, do not use them as an excuse.
I love this neighborhood and I bet what I can on it.” Now I work here at the store, but at the same time I'm launching my own clothing line. I'm also a model and I'll have everything for sale through a blog that I'm developing.”
At first glance, none of the gutter punks seems to have conditions to pursue dreams of the kind.
In the same play in which ex-Flower Child Robert Shadoian witnesses, a beggar named Jonah Lawrence complains that it should be the residents who civilize themselves. “I'm always told to get a job. And I answer: "do you happen to have clothes that you can find me or a place to take a shower so that I can look for a job?"
It is common to find teenagers who do not adapt to the white collar world in which families live, who flee from sexual abuse and parents with drug and alcohol problems.
As common as the fact that many cannot escape similar fates. Some arrive from other states of the USA hopeful of finding the famous solidarity of the 60s.
But they quickly realize that, barring one or two exceptions, in the Haight, the people who care about them are the rest of the homeless.