"Where do you run?" The question was propounded by the editor of one of San Francisco's most distinguished underground newspapers, and as I struggled to sort out the language, he amplified: "I mean, where is your turf, man, your terrain?"
The editor was a presumably clean minded young man, about 24, who happened to be wearing a very dirty shirt. Not revolting, more a symbol of revolt, I should think. His hair and manner bristled, and he couched his question in the faintly hostile tone characteristic of what may or may not be the New Left. The matter has been explained to me by a Berkeley psychiatrist: "The reason the New Left shouts down a Ted Kennedy, say, is really quite simple. They drown him out for fear he might say something with which they could agree. That they could never bear."
"Where do you run?" Well, it was a good question. The reply I tried to put together sounded vapid: "Oh, you know, the north side of town, I guess." I've never been asked that question before. "Uh— North Beach. Telegraph Hill, Russian, Pacific Heights, downtown." Pause. Then, too brightly: "I get out to the park once in a while. The zoo. The beach."
There was a silence and we regarded each other across a chasm. Not a communication gap exactly. It's just that we live in two different worlds in the one world of San Francisco and the realization grew on me that I was running in a pretty constricted circle.
We were on his "turf," a hamburger and coffeehouse near 14th and Valencia in the Mission. The Mission. What did I know about that? To me it was a vast and even mysterious section of old Irish and Spanish families with an uncommon number of churches. Tree shaded streets, some of them quite pretty. Desolate valleys and old frame houses and a large black population.
"Rather a conservative part of town," I ventured remembering the sturdy god fearing native San Franciscans I'd encountered in the Mission over the years. "Not anymore, man," said the young editor with finality. "All sorts of wild and beautiful things are happening in the Mission. Lots of Hashbury people make it here now. Communes all over the place. Whole new scene."
It was only 20 years ago that one of my mentors, the late Joseph Henry Jackson, talked daily about "the singular homogeneity of San Francisco." (He lived in Berkeley which might have had something to do with it.) He had me convinced that the people of the Marina cared desperately what happened in the Mission and vice versa. "San Franciscans are one people, bound together by their devotion to the city and each other," he would say with pride. As he headed for the East Bay hills.
Forgive me, Joe Jackson, but San Franciscans no longer know their city. Put it down to fear or apathy. They go to Hunter's Point about as often as they go to Cypress Point at Pebble Beach, which is never. Car doors are locked, they circle around the Fillmore; in the past they at least used to go "slumming" to the Jazz joints there. In Pacific Heights rent-a-guards patrol apartment house entrances. On the mansions are iron gates, barred windows…
"It's a sick scene, your part of town," said the young editor equably, "but we will change all that after the revolution." The words "what have you been smoking, buddy?" crossed my mind, but then I remembered Susan Sontag's conclusion that America (read San Francisco) "is in its prerevolutionary stage." It's young versus old, tradition against outright rejection of same. The editor's dirty shirt is a symbol as are bare feet and costumes (castoffs) instead of straight clothes. ("Cheap is in! And the merchants are nervous.) Pot? It outsells Pall Mall.
"A revolution is unthinkable," I said, picking up my hamburger. "The establishment won't give up without a fight. The streets will run with blood." I bit fiercely into the burger to underline my conviction, but the young editor was unruffled. "It will be peaceful," he said. "We are winning already. Our people are moving in everywhere. We will take over by sheer force of numbers. We will just be there. Money will be out of the window. One big commune. Right now we are handing out free pictures in your part of town. Beautiful. Don't buy pictures, get them free. We are turning on the world." He displayed a photo of a little girl smoking pot. "How old is she, maybe eight? They are starting at six now. Your values are dead. What do you think of ours?"
I finished my hamburger and arose. "Not bad at all," I said. "Really an excellent hamburger." He gave a tiny smile as I left and that was something of a victory. I forgot to tell you — the New Left is humorless, maybe because they think the joke is on the rest of us. But who gets the last laugh?