Jimbo handed me a few gummy worms as Harpe popped open a tube of Pringles and diligently laid them in a circle around the edge of a paper plate. Danielle poured out a bag of trail mix into the center of our potato chip platter and handed us all napkins. Buddy set a bottle of San Pellegrino I had filled with tap water next to the feast and said “Bon Appetite!”
I had met Jimbo, Harpe, Danielle, and Buddy about 30 minutes earlier outside Larkin Street Youth Services, a care center for homeless and runaway youth ages 12-24 on Haight St between Central and Masonic. I was done interviewing Monica Goa, a volunteer at Larkin Street, and had decided to chat up a few of the people that were there enjoying the free food, accessible bathrooms, fresh socks, and basic hygiene supplies.
Of all the people I talked to, Danielle was the most hospitable and introduced me to Jimbo, Harpe, and Buddy. We talked about my assignment, their lives on the street, and the Haight in general. After about 15 minutes of conversation, Jimbo invited me to have a picnic with them on hippie hill. I didn’t have work for another 2 hours so I couldn’t resist laying in the grass under the sun with some new friends.
If you don’t know, Hippie Hill is on the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park tucked between J.F.K. Drive and Conservatory Drive. It’s an unassuming hill really, where a certain type of people have generally hung out since the 1960s. I resist saying the term “hippie” to identify the people I had my picnic with, or those I saw sprawled out on the grass, or the sketchy guy that walked past our blanket trying to sell us meth. This resistance is mainly due to the conversations I had with my new friends while eating our lunch.
The word “hippie” is something we talked about extensively. Jimbo is convinced they do not exist anymore and the term is an imaginary umbrella term for anyone with dreadlocks. Danielle thinks it’s funny that the same person we call homeless or a junkie at the Civic Center downtown, magically turns into a hippie when sleeping on Haight St. Buddy didn’t like the fact that I needed to label anyone at all and Harpe was too busy eating Pringles to be bothered by our conversation.
Jimbo also broke down the type of people staying on Haight Street into a few categories all with distinct characteristics. To him, “the homeless person” is someone struggling on the street, simply down on their luck financially, who stays in one spot and wants legitimate help. The “addict” is someone who has chosen drugs or booze over a traditional lifestyle. The “traveler” or “nomad” comes to Haight Street to rest, regroup, and resupply before heading on their way. Jimbo admits that these identities can over lap and change overtime for someone, but the “hippie” does not exist.
I had a wonderful experience with these folks and learned a lot about the “traveler culture” they consider themselves a part of. I might camp out with them at Buena Vista Park next weekend, but who knows if I’ll ever actually see them again.