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A Hippie from the 60s – My Pen Pal

My three year conversation with a hippie and the joys of keeping a pen pal

Three years ago, I had written a guest post on a popular personal growth website called Tiny Buddha.

One of the readers of that post, visited my blog and sent me an email.

In my blog I have an About Me section, where I have shared, 15 Random Facts about Me. One of the things I mentioned there was,

"If I had a time machine, I would go back to San Francisco in the 1960s, during the time of the Hippie movement as it’s something that’s deeply fascinated me ever since I first heard about it.​"

Well, it turned out that the reader had lived in San Francisco in the 1960s. To quote him:

"I moved to San Francisco in 1965. I lived in the Haight Ashbury section of the city from 1965 to 2005.

Looking back on those years, it was the best thing I ever did with my life. The friends I made, the music we listened to, it was a wonderful time to discover who I really was politically and intellectually…

When I first moved into the Haight in 1965 from Santa Barbara, the neighborhood was the epicenter for hippies.  Very cheap rents, great coffee houses, head shops, food stores, clothing shops, art galleries and, of course, Golden Gate Park.  


I met some folks on the street and moved in with them.  They had a loft on Shrader Street.  For a year, we slept on the floor, shared each other's clothes, ate together, smoked together, sang and listened to music together.  I found my tribe straight away.  


The Haight Ashbury was a wonderful community in every sense of the word.


If you needed rent money, we had block parties.  We would literally pass a hat around the party and collect enough cash donations to pay the person's rent.


The premiere music spot in San Francisco was The Fillmore. All the bands and singers and musicians played there (and still do).  In the sixties, it cost $3.00 per person and that was a lot of money in those days. 


So, on Sundays, we went to Golden Gate Park and listened to the bands and singers for free.  There was always a free concert on Sundays (even in the rain).  This would be the beginning of outdoor music festivals around the country……..


If you have any questions about the Haight in the sixties, the summer of love, the poets and the writers, send them to me. I was there and because our community was small, I knew many of them."


Well, that’s how our conversation started out.

Since then, we’ve exchanged several mails over the past 3 years, updating about what’s been happening in our lives.

He is now in his 70s, but my experience with Solo travelling and Tuesday Club have taught me that age is never be a barrier when it comes to connecting with people.

He isn’t there on any social media, so our interactions during the past three years have been completely through email.

It’s been always exciting and interesting to read the mails that he sent. For example, in one of his mails he mentioned being friends with a popular Indian writer,

"…I did have a wonderful "house guest" who lived with me for two summers while he went to university.  You may even have read one of his novels.  Indian author Vikram Seth and I were good friends back in the early 1980's before he moved to China. 

Vikram Seth was a second-year economics student at Stanford when I met him.  I was a first-year economics student at San Francisco State. Micro meets Macro and friendship at first sight. We bonded immediately.  Today, I think the word is bromance.

We're both passionate about economics, poverty, and the world order.  The conversations were endless.  And so very stimulating.  As our friendship evolved, our conversations took an interesting turn:  we would discuss economics in great literature:  Charles Dickens (poverty), John Cheever (the middle class), Edith Wharton (wealth)."  


He also mentioned being friends with a wildly popular singer,


"Janis Joplin, who lived on Lyon Street, got evicted from her flat.  Her landlord discovered she had a cat.  Word got around that she had to move.  A bunch of us showed up at her door step and we moved her stuff in a van to her new home in Larkspur, CA.  Janis and I became great friends after that." 


In one of his mails he shared his experience working in the hospitality industry for decades,

"I needed a job when I was a teenager.  I got a job doing menial work at the Sheraton Hotel.  They let me keep my shoulder length hair.  My supervisors soon realized I was overly qualified for the work I was doing.  I told the company I would stay just as long as my hair stays. I worked my way up the corporate ladder, long hair and all. 

The company let me be myself.  I learned to talk to strangers and felt very comfortable doing it.  I've been assigned to some of the most exciting cities in the world:  New York, Chicago, Bangkok, Tokyo, Melbourne, and Hong Kong, and my home, San Francisco.  Finally, I improved people's lives, both guests and the people I had the pleasure to work with.  

In college, I learned how to learn.  Working for Sheraton, I learned how to live."  


Here’s more about my Pen pal reflecting on the 60s

"I ran away from home at the age of 16 and I lived on the streets of San Franciso for about 18 months.  Waves of young people were moving to San Francisco in the sixties and living on the streets, at the beach, and in the parks. 

I will be very honest, Anoop:  Being a homeless hippie in the sixties was probably the happiest time of my life.  I connected with new people everyday. There was an awesome sense of community among strangers that simply does not exist today.  People shared everything without a second thought:  food, drugs, wine, a blanket or a place to stay.  We were family.

Back in the sixties, there were a number of communal food kitchens and pantries for food.  Also, The Haight Free Clinic in the Haight provided medical care.  The clinic still exists today.  I still help out with cash donations every year."  

Steven has got a sense of humour as well.  When he hadn’t heard from me in a while, he had sent me this mail.


Have you been traveling?


Did you get married?


Computer problems?


Discover you are a father and didn't know it?


Call me crazy but because of my obsession and a sense of strange familiarity with the 60s, I had asked the Universe to send me a sign whether I had a past-life back then. A week later, Steven got in touch with me. Coincidence?

Anyways around a month ago, we had mentioned to each other that it’s been three years since our conversations started and we’ve never met. But I am hopeful that down the line meeting up can be a reality.

Exchanging letters / being pen pals can be a deeply fulfilling and meaningful way of connecting with people and it’s something I would highly recommend.


Note: The passages that have been shared in the post has been done so with consent.

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