232 San Francisco, CA: Haight Ashbury

Just off Golden Gate Park lay Haight Ashbury, famous as the home of 1960s counterculture. At the People's Café, the first man I saw had a gray ponytail poking through the back of a cap labeled "Haight-Ashbury." A rose tattoo graced his thumb, and the top of a butterfly tattoo sprawled across his chest and peeked above his T-shirt collar. He wore a single large black button as an earring, a leather jacket riddled with chrome buttons, and leather clogs. A hefty young woman sat across from him donned in knickers, thick black shoes, and a flowery red shirt.

"I wasn't here for the 1960s," he balked. "I arrived in the 1980s. I came here after studying Art at Michigan."

"You're an artist?" I asked. "A painter?"

"I carve ancient ivory," he muttered. "I was in the hoity-toity art world. The older I get, the more I've had a change of heart about what represents art."

When I asked his opinion of Hopper, he said he had none, then grumbled without further explanation that Hopper was racist. As he answered, his watery blue eyes peered out above a gray beard, bent nose, and small lips.

"When I moved here, there were always people selling things and musicians on the sidewalk. Now you can only buy boutique stuff. I don't need to buy used clothes; I have used clothes; I need new ones."

"There's a lot of broken hearts and broken people in this town," he rued. "There's a lot of recovering people in this neighborhood. A lot of people in San Francisco and in this particular neighborhood are cyclical. A lot of people move away because they get priced out. But they always come back. The neighborhood is where people feel a community. For years, I lived out of my van down at the park. I've been renting from the neighborhood's biggest drug dealer. Normally, I wouldn't have anything to do with this guy, but it's hard to find a good place to rent."

"You get to know your roommates well in this town," the girl finally chimed in, "because the living spaces are so small. The neighborhood used to have a lot more character, a lot more soul. San Francisco was invaded by dot-commers who made it much less spontaneous and fun. Now they're all leaving again."

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