Saturday, December 27, 2008


In high school I dated someone who's single parent mom worked as a professor at San Francisco State. Even though employed in the "City" she lived in what was then a small town that was less than an hours drive away.

During the several years we dated, the girl friend and I accompanied the mother on more than a few weekend outings in San Francisco's North Beach. It wasn't unusual for me to arrive home around 3 or 4 in the morning.

We'd do lots of things but the most exciting was to head to North Beach's coffee or espresso houses to check out the beatniks, listen to their poetry and groove on the scene, man.

Coffee House Beatniks kind of looked like Alfred E. Newman here: Glasses to make them look smart and a beret, usually black or blue in color.

Poetry readings were fun. Someone would read poetry and sometimes twang on a guitar or bop on the bongos in between verses. That's when someone would shout out, "Groovy, man!" or "that's sooooo bitchin!", and even "far out!" Hipsters were called "cats". He's a cool cat, man. That cat found a groove, man.

Being 15 or 16 I ate this shit up like there was no tomorrow. I wanted to be a beatnik when I grew up. Write poetry. Be a hipster. Own a couple of sets of bongos. Have a bitchin' girl friend who always wore a blue beret, glasses, a dark sweater and a tight, short skirt. Be part of the scene, man.

The girl friend's mom knew all kinds of people that we'd run into at North Beach. I met beat poets Alan Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and even actor Errol Flynn (actor with underage girl friend on his arm) . . .

On our way home from North Beach one evening we stopped at San Quentin prison to join a midnight vigil for convicted rapist/killer Caryl Chessman. He was to be gassed around midnight. We sat on a hillside, sang songs, carried signs and even met Marlon Brando who stopped by for a few minutes as a showing of his support. What we did must have worked because at the last moment old Caryl was given a reprieve. A few years later the reprieves ran out and old Caryl got what he probably should have gotten years before.

There were and still are lots of coffee houses and cafes around North Beach. The food in the cafes is to die for. It's that great.
And then there's the architecture of North Beach. You can get a neck krink from constantly admiring the beauty of the buildings.

There was a time when Wifey and I thought long and hard about moving to San Francisco, a city that we've always loved and enjoyed so very much. Long story short, practicality won out and put cold water on the leap of faith we were about to take.

I still think it would have worked out.
Back in the day there were lots of stories about what Beatniks would do behind closed doors. Pot. Sex. Reciting poetry naked in tune with someone beating on bongo drums. When I heard about "that!" I wanted to be a Beatnik more than ever. Bring on the Beatnik parties!

Unfortunately a bunch of things got in the way of becoming a Beatnik after high school. Uncle Sam sent one of those letters that begin with "Greetings!" and I was off to support the war in Viet Nam by supervising the maintenance of B-52 bombers and KC-135 airborne tankers.

Fresh out of the military I found that the beatniks of San Francisco were being overrun by the Love Generation/Hippies. Exercising good sense the hippies took up residence in the Haight Ashbury and left North Beach alone.

Not that there would have been a turf war or anything but there were only so many chicks and crash pads to go around in North Beach. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention which is why the hippies moved to the other side of San Francisco.

I'll just bet there's more than a couple of old Beatniks who still recite their poetry in one of North Beach's cafes or coffee houses. I've got a set of conga's and still can turn out anti-establishment poetry. It's never too late to buy that North Beach flat and become part of the scene.


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Anonymous said...

I kinda wish I had moved to San Fransisco. I like that town. Always something going on.....

Bob said...

Fox: I regret not doing just that. It's a happening place.

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Whiskeytown Lake, Very Northern California, United States