Every time the guests from Japan ask me to take them to Height-Ashbury, I jokingly tell them, "It's unlikely that you'll get free LSD, nor will you see naked hippies on the street."
There are still traces of the 60's there. In front of the psychedelic shop windows, you may still see young people squatting on a curb or an elderly homeless man suddenly screaming and then calming down to stare like a philosopher into space for a while. Could he be still watching the Summer of Love?
Many who witnessed San Francisco in the late 60's still talk about it with nostalgic zeal. It was a time when one could easily find a place to crash without knowing a soul in the city. The frequent Be-Ins, poetry readings, anti-war demonstrations, and the experimentation with drugs and free-sex of the youth made it seem like one endless festival.
It was the Beatnik writers who planted the seeds of this culture. Their "naked" words burst forth as expressions of freedom against the repression by a culture manifested in the hollow American Dream and supported by unfettered mass consumption. The reckless story of cross-country journey written non-stop over several days, a howling voice releasing a long-buried homosexuality, and sincere soliloquy of a person embracing Eastern spirituality ignited San Francisco sending sparks to various parts of the world.
After the Vietnam War began, their words resounded even more deeply in the younger generation. The youth of the day were forced to confront the dilemma of going to war to kill or be killed or to completely drop out from society. The voice for freedom taken up by young people forced into this dilemma by the war grew even louder. Of course, the center of this movement was Height-Ashbury.
Young people flocked to Haight Ashbury, but in the shadows of this never-ending party were the ravages caused by drug abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, and domestic violence. It was not all love and peace in Haight Ashbury. Dr. David Smith, a local doctor better known as Dr. David, recognized the need to treat the young people in town. After his request for support from the city was rejected, he established the "Height-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic" with his own funds and support from a local church. His community-based activities were widely welcomed by the residents from the beginning. When the clinic faced financial difficulties, local musicians stepped in to organize charity concerts.
Now, forty years since its establishment, the clinic continues to serve the community in its original location in a Victorian building on a corner of Haight Street. This medical institution, kept alive by the support of many volunteers, has a significant presence in the US where the social service system is barely functional. Who would have known that San Francisco's Hippie movement would give birth to a model for free clinics in the US?