Exploring Haight Ashbury these last few weeks has been fun, interesting, and frustrating. I admittedly had a little too much fun mindlessly wondering around Upper Haight my first few days “on the beat”. I spent a couple hours at Bound Together, an anarchist collective bookstore, failing to wrap my mind around Foucault and Marx and signing up for a Communist Party newsletter. I also spent too much time at Recycled Records, a used record store, digging through boxes of old cassettes. Finding a Marvin Gaye’s Greatest Hits tape made it all worthwhile. I think I may have had too much to drink one night at Gold Cane, one of my favorite dive bars in the whole city, because I lost the bar napkin I was writing contacts down on.
My visits since losing that damn napkin have been a lot more productive. Meeting new people was rough at first. I kind of have to prove that I’m not a tourist in order to have real, heartfelt conversations with business owners, shop keepers, and residents. I think they are used to people asking for directions or the “hippie” history of the neighborhood, so getting their real opinions on the neighborhood takes some time. Talking to transients and people experiencing homelessness is a lot easier and sometimes more insightful. But if you are like me and can’t say no to someone asking for money, make sure to wear headphones when visiting. I gave away about 20 bucks before I figured this out.
I’m excited to get to know Haight Ashbury better over the course of the semester and to start seeing the neighborhood as more than a tourist attraction. I’m especially interested in the growing tension between the people holding on to the neighborhood’s 1960s reputation and those embracing the higher end shops and eateries that have opened up in the last few years. There’s also a strained relationship between residents, tourists, business owners, and people living on the street that I’d like to explore more.