If you want a sense of the degradation of the Haight/Ashbury area of SF, the stores at the intersection provide a superb indication. On one corner, GAP, the quintessential American clothing venture. Across the street, a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop, the faux-hippie enterprise devoted to satiating overweight Americans. The hippie panhandlers decry the very people they seek money from. All in all, a fall from the ideals it once represented.
Not that that should come as any surprise, as the free-love crowd came to seek commercial success. And they have generally found it, as living standards have increased beyond imagination in the past few decades. A fair trade, for some at least. And those flowing skirts and peasant tops make for some very pretty women.
Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the beatnik downtown, I absolutely love the city. The young life, the relatively well integrated populations combined with their cultural and linguistic diversity are all elements that make SF such a unique place relative to so many other urban areas. Sure, the city has its marks. The high rate of panhandling and the expensive cost of housing come to mind instantly. But on the whole the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Which is why, in a few months’ time, I’ll be back here again.