“Well, let’s walk,” said George. We got out of the limo, all wearing our colorful clothes, smiles, bells or beads and feeling the psychedelic effects of the acid. The smile on my face felt hollow. I had an ominous feeling as our beautifully dressed entourage, a sight that would have stuck out in any crowd, wandered down the street, Pattie and George leading the way. I felt as though everything I’d held dear during my time in San Francisco was about to be put to the test. Would it be the same for Pattie, George, and their friends now as it had been for me when I came here in the spring? I didn’t think so. I felt wholly responsible for their presence and lagged a few steps behind, observing the reaction from the surrounding hippies.
We had walked fairly anonymously amongst the crowd for all of a few seconds, and then as one person after another recognized George in his denim jacket, red, black and white swirling colored pants, beads and heart-shaped sunglasses, they began following us. My sense of dread was well founded as the word got around and crowds behind us grew. I could hear snippets of conversation spoken in wonder, George Harrison, George Harrison’s here, one of the Beatles. At first, they kept a respectable distance, stopping as we walked into a few of the shops. I heard one girl say, as she looked at Pattie with her long blond hair, her calf-length purple suede sandals, mini-dress, and a long row of beads and dark glasses, “They’re the best dressed hippies I’ve ever seen.”
Someone gave George a crown of flowers that he put on his head at a slightly tilted angle, all smiles and obviously still enjoying the walk. ‘Where are we going?’ he asked Neil at some point. Neil guided them towards the Panhandle, known as Hippie Hill. George sat down on a grassy slope, surrounded by masses of adoring fans who were obviously thrilled at having a Beatle in their midst. A guy with a guitar appeared and pleaded with George to play it.
“It’s your guitar,” George said with a smile. “You play it.”
Although he looked reluctant to play in front of a Beatle, George persuaded him and so he did, which was probably the bravest thing he ever did!! Everyone seemed to be having a good time. I watched from a distance, slowly unwinding and relieved to see George laughing and answering questions. Then the guitar player stopped singing. “Please play us a few chords,” he said, handing George the guitar again. The crowd joined in, “Sing us a song; play us some chords.”
I looked at George, knowing what state of mind we were all in and wondered how he was going to pull this one off. He placed his fingers on the frets and while strumming the strings with his other hand, he said, “This chord is G, this is C, and this is E.” He gave back the guitar, stood up, and began walking towards the street. The crowds were stunned into silence!
We headed for the limo. The walk back seemed to take forever, as the crowd got thicker. One voice from the back kept repeating, “Hey George, let me lay some acid on you, let me lay some grass,” the voice got louder and more insistent. I could feel waves of fear emanating from Pattie and George. “I’m cool, man,” George replied, and quickened his pace. “You’re our leader,” someone else yelled. “You have to lead yourself,” George shouted back.
The last few steps, once the limo was in sight, seemed like an eternity. Neil and Derek snapped into protective mode, something they were not unused to, while they urgently ushered us along like mother hens. The atmosphere in the crowd had quickly changed from adulation to anger and I could see and feel the fear mounting in our little troop as the crowds pressed against us and we walked faster towards the car. Their ‘hero’ hadn’t delivered sufficiently as a fellow member of “Love, Peace, and good Vibes,” and he hadn’t accepted the grass that they so willingly wanted to “lay” on him. This was not what I had envisioned all those months ago; I had wanted their walk along Haight-Ashbury to be peaceful and inspiring, but here we were, virtually running away from a situation that looked as though it could easily get out of control.
With the engine running and the door open we dived into the cool back seats of the limo. As fists banged on the roof and smiling, tearful or angry faces pushed up against the darkened windows, the driver moved slowly through the crowd and on towards the airport.
I looked at everyone leaning back in their seats, staring ahead as if in a trance or eyes temporarily closed with a sigh of relief. I wanted to tell them, “It didn’t used to be like this.” I wanted to say, “it was different before and they wouldn’t have done what they did today.” But instead I just closed my eyes, thankful for the blast of air-conditioning against my body, leaned back, and joined the silence.