Friday, April 12, 2013

Scott McKenzie -- "San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)" (1967)

All across the nation
Such a strange vibration
People in motion

I recently returned home from a 12-day pleasure-business-pleasure trip that took me to San Francisco, San Diego, and Granbury, Texas -- in other words, all across the nation and back.  It's unusual for me to be in motion that long.

The first leg of this journey -- Washington, DC, to San Francisco -- got off to an inauspicious start.  Just before it was time for my family to board our flight, we learned that two of the three bathrooms on our aircraft were not working.  The pilot decided that he wasn't going to take off on a six-hour flight with 180 passengers and only one working bathroom.

I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that the airline was able to scrounge up a replacement airplane and get us on our way after only a four-hour delay.  (Fortunately, we experienced no strange vibrations on the flight.)

The Golden Gate Bridge
I had lived in San Francisco from November 1980 until March 1982, but I had never returned -- somehow, over 30 years had passed since I left the most beautiful city in the United States (if not the world).

I had always wanted to take my kids there.  But now that three of my four children are grown up and have real jobs (and live with their significant others), I figured I had missed my chance.  But my wife had gotten each of them to commit to going to San Francisco as a Christmas gift for me.

I had to plan our travel to and from San Francisco -- one daughter was coming from Maine, and the other daughter had to take a later flight than the rest of us, so it was a little complicated -- and I had to research the San Francisco public transit system so we could get everywhere we wanted to go in the city.  I also had to research restaurants and museums and cable cars and Alcatraz cruises.  Finally, I had to find a house for us to rent.  (I have yet to see the hotel room that comfortably accommodates six adults.)  And I had to pay for everything, of course.

The San Francisco skyline from Coit Tower
But the key to this trip was deciding to take it and getting the kids to sign on to the idea.  I could handle all the rest of it once that was done.  

This may have been the best gift I've ever received.  Seeing my old neighborhood and the other parts of the city I had gotten to know 30 years ago was an intensely emotional experience for me.  And having all four of my kids there with me -- without fiancées and boyfriends and girlfriends -- was a pleasure beyond my powers of expression.  (Don't misunderstand me -- I have nothing against the fiancées and boyfriends and girlfriends.  It's just that it was very special to have my kids all to myself for four days.)

The first thing we did after arriving was to drive to the Beach Chalet restaurant, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean.  

Ocean Beach from the Beach Chalet restaurant
The Beach Chalet was built by the city government in 1925, and is notable mostly for the murals and mosaics that were funded by the WPA during the Depression.

Depression-era Beach Chalet mural
On the way back to our rented house, we drove through Golden Gate Park, which is 20% larger than New York City's Central Park and is packed with popular attractions -- including a Japanese tea garden, an art museum, a science museum, botanical gardens, a flower conservatory, lakes, windmills, athletic fields, and a bison herd.

An aerial view of Golden Gate Park
The next day, we took a boat cruise to Alcatraz Island and toured the notorious prison.  (More about that in a future post.)  That afternoon, after the obligatory cable car ride, I made a pilgrimage to City Lights Bookstore, which was founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

I've written about going to the University of Missouri bookstore in 1969 and buying books of poetry by Allen Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti that were published by City Lights.  (Ferlinghetti was indicted and tried for obscenity in 1956 for publishing Ginsberg's book.)  

Here's the cover of the Ferlinghetti book I bought in 1969:

City Lights still has a large section of "Beat Generation" literature -- including a lot of books by Jack Kerouac:

The alley that borders the store was cleaned up in 2007 and named Jack Kerouac Alley:

Next, we climbed Telegraph Hill (no mean feat) and took the elevator to the observation deck at the top of Coit Tower, which stands 210 feet tall.

Coit Tower stands atop Telegraph Hill
I never made it up Coit Tower when I lived in San Francisco 30 years ago, which was a serious mistake on my part -- the views from the top are mind-boggling.

Next we caught one of the historic streetcars that runs from Fisherman's Wharf to the Ferry Building.  The city operates antique streetcars that once ran not only in San Francisco but also in Philadelphia, Milan, Melbourne, New Orleans, Hamburg.  (The 14 streetcars from Philadelphia are standardized "PCC" streetcars that were built between 1936 and 1952.  PCC cars were used in many different American cities, and each of the cars in use in San Francisco is painted in the colors of a different streetcar line.)

Historic "PCC" streetcar
The most distinctive of the San Francisco streetcars is an open-top streetcar that originally operated in the English seaside resort of Blackpool:

Blackpool streetcar
We spent the evening at a Giants-A's exhibition game at AT&T Park, then took a trackless trolley home.  Trackless trolleys are rubber-tired vehicles that look just like regular buses, but have electric motors and draw juice from overhead power lines.  They do much better than diesel-powered buses on hills, so it's not surprising that San Francisco has the largest fleet of them in North America.

A 21-Hayes trackless trolley on Market Street
That trackless trolley that took us home that night was the 10th vehicle we rode on our first full day in San Francisco -- in addition to several trackless trolley trips, we also rode a historic streetcar, regular streetcars, cable cars, and the Alcatraz boat.  

Scott McKenzie (who was born Philip Wallach Blondheim) was in a folk group with John Phillips in the early 1960's.  Phillips wanted him to be one of the Mamas and the Papas, but McKenzie wanted to be a solo artist.  (Big mistake.)

"San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair), which Phillips wrote, was a big hit for McKenzie in 1967.  Along with Phillips, Mike Love, and Terry Melcher, McKenzie co-wrote the Beach Boys' #1 hit, "Kokomo."  McKenzie was 73 when he died in August 2012.

Here's "San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)":

Click here to order the song from Amazon:


  1. The boat cars bring back memories of childhood trips on the trams at Blackpool.

  2. PCC car Muni 1075 is in Cleveland colors, so I've nicknamed it "Hello Cleveland" in honor of an Adam Marsland CD from a few years ago. I started calling cars with these paint jobs "tribute" trolleys, and the Market St. Ry. website now uses the term "tribute livery". I borrowed the term from the pop music world, where we have "tribute bands" covering everything from the Beatles to ABBA.