One Summer of Love
The summer of 1967, known as “The Summer of Love” to those not familiar with some of the jargon from that era, is remembered as the supposed seismic center of the hippie / counterculture experience. What happened then affected nearly everybody in some way and has people from every walk of life still trying to take it all in. I believe very few people in 1965 would have had a clue as to what would unfold from 1966 to 1969. It has been romanticized, demonized, trivialized and as the Chambers Brothers would put it: "psych-o-delicized". Many others had far more interesting adventures than me that year and far from being a time of carefree youthful abandon, that year for me contained moments of abject misery. And not really any real love in it.
But that made it no less life-changing. This story is one person's summer of self-discovery.
I graduated high school in 1966 in Hermosa Beach, a charming beach town, quite different in the 1950’s than it is now. Back then, it was a great little city for families with the beach, wonderful schools, Boy Scouts, Little League and events like “1912 Days” and the Pier Avenue Carnival with a full size Ferris wheel. Yet even then, it had real vestiges of something iconic—and was somehow different than its larger and slightly more mainstream neighbours, Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach. It had the legendary jazz club, The Lighthouse, and also a great representative of the Beat Era, the Insomniac Coffee House and Book and Art Fair Annex, which featured performers such as poet Allen Ginsburg, who read “Howl” there, and beat-era comedians Lenny Bruce and Lord Buckley. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Dave Van Ronk and a young Van Dyke Parks also played at the club. By 1967, the Insomniac had been closed for two years due to run-ins with the law, but now just up the road was the five-tiered very counter-culture Either-Or Book Store.
The fall of 1966 found me majoring in Math at the University of California at Riverside. I had previously known Riverside only as a hot rest stop, 60 miles east of Los Angeles, on the way to the infinitely more interesting Palm Springs and other scenic communities of the lower desert. Although there were a few surrounding hills that were decent, particularly the one sporting the large “C”, emblematic of the university there, the city was largely lacking in any significant atmosphere. One exception might have been the picturesque Mission Inn, where Richard Nixon was married. The Riverside Raceway attracted auto racing enthusiasts but I wasn’t a car guy.
It was a fun and eye-opening semester, making new friends, living the dorm life, enjoying a pre-hippie beer culture, and attempting to pursue romance, with a bit less than checkered success. I started decently with a 2.75 GPA—although my one C was in Math, which, being my major, definitely portended something. By winter quarter, the various distractions dropped me to a 2.0.