C’mon people now,
Smile on your brother
Ev’rybody get together
Try and love one another right now
The Youngbloods, “Get Together”
Our tour was also going to take us by the Grateful Dead House and would end up at Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park. Along the way we would pass the 4:20 clock, the monument at the corner of Haight and Ashbury, commemorating the International Bong Hit hour. The Haight-Ashbury is seven or eight blocks of head-shops, Indian import stores, tattoo, piercing and henna parlors, cafes and organic eateries. On one corner there were dudes selling buds, and on the other, they were smoking away. The smell was enough to set me off. My daughters were interested in buying some bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and t-shirts. I couldn’t help but notice the large selection of incense and novelty smoking devices along the other side of the wall. There were bongs, pipes, hookahs, gravity bucket bongs, cigarette rollers, zeppelins, bud-bombs, six shooters, smoke bubbles, chillums, dug outs, hand pipes, screens, adapters, ash catchers, diffusers, vaporizers, gas masks, expansion chambers, click pipes, ice bongs, digital scales, triple beams, meerschaum pipes, and a plethora of Zippos, Bics, roach clips, and rolling papers. The place was packed from floor to ceiling. I had never seen half of this stuff before. Whatever happened to toilet paper roll and tin foil pipes?
It reminded me of a visit to my grandmother’s apartment when I was about 19 years old. She had been in assisted living for a few years, and was getting along well. She was a solitary person; she spent her days watching CNN, the Weather Channel, and Court TV. She preferred to be on her own. We sat down to dinner, and low and behold, in the middle of the table was a small black flower vase. It was large enough to hold a single flower. It also had a pipe bowl near the bottom. Inside the pipe bowl were some brand new metallic screens. Yes, it was obvious: Grandma had bought herself a bong. For her, it was a flower vase.
I wondered what kind of person she would have been had she used the thing. She definitely would have been more relaxed: she was a compulsive worrier. She would have had a better appetite. Even though Grandma had lost interest in men by the time she was forty, she still maintained her figure. If she had been a stoner, she would have ditched the whole Slim Fast gig and broken out the Oreos. Also, she wouldn’t have been so chatty. Instead of a four hour, semi-paranoid rant about the government, she would have just sat back in chair, giggling about something. She might even have let her hair go back to its natural color and donned one of those Mother Earth tie-dye blouses and a pair of sandals.
After we bought the t-shirts, we decided to have lunch at a restaurant named Cha Cha Cha, a little place on Haight and Shrader. The place serves tapas and Sangria, but the food was too spicy to be Spanish. It also had a nice selection of chicken wings with guava sauce, fried calamari with aioli, creamy black beans with fried plantains, Cuban sandwiches, Cajun shrimp with peppery cayenne sauce, sautéed mushrooms, warm spinach salad, and mussels. The place is as quirky and festive as the Hashbury itself. There were old Beny Moré boleros playing in the background and Santeria altars in the dining room. The place was also grungy, bustling, and packed with stoners, bikers, and a few yuppies with infants. My wife received her order about ten minutes before my daughters received theirs. Mine came out after all three were about half way through their lunch. The big hit was the sangria, which kept us occupied in the meantime.
Immediately after lunch, my wife flagged down a taxi and said Nordstrom to begin her detox from the freak insanity. We still had to do some clothes shopping for school. A crowd had formed in front of the department store: a wiggy street preacher was giving a sermon against sex for pleasure. Things didn’t improve when we entered Nordstrom. The cosmetics and perfume section sent me reeling: too many fetishes. I had tunnel vision as the freak show carnies in white lab coats started asking questions: “Would you like a sample of this? Are you afraid of aging? This new cream keeps your face from sagging. Is your ass too big? This lotion will make your cheeks clench? People don’t notice you? Let’s do your eyes with bright green and blue!” Overload of straps, straps, belts, push up bras, and power suits, and “be-somebody’s-plaything” underwear. Too much! The idiots selling prescription drugs on the radio, the stoners selling weed on the street, the street preacher humping the Lord, and now the mad-scientist cosmetologists were coming after me. I had to get out, and if I didn’t I was going to pop.
I told my family to call me when there were finished, and I headed for the streets. Things had gotten too weird for me. I had to walk it off, chill out, get some air. They could call me on my cell phone, and we would meet up later. I headed for Chinatown in search of green tea, anything to take me mind off the insanity. I walked down Market Street and then all the way up Stockton, taking in the architecture on the way. Walking relaxes me; lets me forget about the hassles; it’s almost like taking a nice long shower. I’ve done it in Madrid, Paris, Rome, New York, Mexico City, and Bogotá. It even works if I am driving. I drove from Chicago to Mexico City and back on two occasions. Nothing clears my head like seeing the world go by. I found a small place just beyond the Dragon Gate on Grant Avenue. A lady was working the counter. I ordered green tea. She asked, “Is this your birthplace?”