A visit to the anti-Hagerstown

August 28, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

SAN FRANCISCO - Ever since Fox News conclusively reported in April that Saddam Hussein had been killed (along with who he had been talking to when he was killed, what he was eating when he was killed, who was with him when he was killed and what he was saying when he was killed), I have had a hard time believing 100 percent of everything I see on television.

So I set out for the West Coast to see for myself what is transpiring in the California recall election and hopefully to score a couple of Arnold for Governor buttons. There was also the matter - per the insistence of the Travel Agent in High Heels - of visiting a number of the quaintest, quiltiest, cinnamon french toastiest bed and breakfasts along the northern California coast, but the less said about that the better.

To get my finger on the pulse of California political activism, I figured what better spot to visit than San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, scene of the Summer of Love and innumerable government protests.


I'd always thought it odd that the Summer of Love was held on a street pronounced "hate," but I was still excited to see the home of free love, free thought, free inclusion, free rides - in short, the anti-Hagerstown.

I wanted to see the wildness and the radicalism, hear the erudite discussions of California governmental policy, feel the energy of a charged political debate.

But it was a disappointment.

I tell you, what passes for a hippie these days must have Timothy Leary spinning in his biocasket.

You know what's at the center of Haight-Ashbury right now? A McDonald's restaurant - that temple, to hear the lawyers tell it, to corporate greed, poor nutrition, animal cruelty, urban sprawl, unlivable wages and dehumanizing capitalism.

I shivered with disgust and hurried up the street to one of those "alternative shops," where I expected to find all manner of political literature and contraband bordering on the illegal.

Imagine my shock when I saw that the predominant cultural icon on all the wall posters, novelties and keychains was none other than Norman Rockwell's famed World War II factory worker, Rosie the Riveter. An ode to female empowerment and the proletariat perhaps, but is she not also a tribute to America's military-industrial-imperialist complex?

Here's what now passes for radical behavior on Haight-Ashbury: Smoking cigarettes. Kids stand on the street corner smoking cigarettes, with this faux rebellious look in their eyes like they're Ken Freaking Kesey or something.

Oh, there was one girl who was engaging in the wild public behavior of drawing faces on potatoes, but by this time I couldn't take it anymore. I got right in her face.

"You think you're 'hip' or 'mod' or having a 'freak out' 'cause you're sitting there on an open street corner with a Sharpie and a spud? You think I, or anyone else, is impressed by that? You think you can fight the Man, or change our capitalist pig military industrial complex or bring down our intrusive, neoconservative undeputized army of conceited elitists intent on the repressment of the urban bourgeoisie just by sitting there doodling on produce? For shame."

With righteous indignation in my eyes, I turned away and left her sitting there in her stroller.

Needless to say, I was depressed. There is far more buzz on the East Coast about California politics than there is in the West. There were no political debates in the salons, no debate of mob democracy vis-a-vis a republic, not even so much as a stinking campaign button. The most serious public discourse you hear from these people is who they saw that morning at Starbucks. Even the panhandlers, I swear, beg for quarters "so I can get a cup of coffee, man." Heavens, if you're going to be destitute, what's the point of being awake?

So I can't tell you what Californians think about Ah-nold, or Gary Coleman, or Larry Flynt. Although a Frisco cab driver did tell us people in that city don't mind Larry Flynt much because his club there "serves liquor - so it's not so bad."

Pressed on that curiosity, he elaborated that in strip clubs that serve hooch, and only in strip clubs that serve hooch, the ladies must keep on their underpants.

In a state with laws such as that, who needs a governor at all?

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

You can phone him at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324; fax him at 301-714-0245 or e-mail him at

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