Chapter 14 Hotel Universe

Susan, Hippie No. 1 and I grabbed our jackets and headed for the door. Despite the heat of the day, it would be cool by evening.

We left the 4700 and walked the few blocks to the Hotel Universe. The 4700 had none of the hip cachet of, say, The Blue Moon or The Sandpiper but it was half way between the Universe and campus, whereas the Moon was a destination hangout, way out of the way unless you were going to catch the Grey Rabbit to San Francisco. The Moon had become a way point for the Grey Rabbit, a sleeper bus service between Seattle and San Francisco. It had also become something of an underground mail and package delivery service like something out of Thomas Pinchon’s “Crying of Lot 49.” It was dirt cheap. Many of the Universe’s residents used it.

“The Moon” was a University District watering hole frequented by the likes of writers Tom Robbins, poets Theodore Roethke and painters and owed it’s existence to a depression-era law requiring bars to be 1 mile from campus. It beat the restriction by 10 feet or so. It was, and I suppose still is, a haven of tolerance. One night at closing, my dear departed friend Paul was too drunk to kick-start his Harley and too heavy to drag far when he passed out after the effort. So the bar tender and a couple of us hoisted him onto the pool table, found some blankets and covered him up to sleep it off. I heard he was still sawing logs when the janitor came in the next morning. But I digress.

The Hotel Universe was an outpost of the Hippie diaspora that began drifting away from San Francisco after the Summer of Love in 1967. It was named after a residence hotel in San Fransisco whose hispanic residents refused to move when developers wanted to raise it to make way for a more profitable building. There was a public uproar and much support for the residents including the sale of tee shirts emblazoned with No Es Moveral in red letters with a raised black fist. Universe resident and artist, Carl wore one occasionally. And Black Duck Motors business manager, John wore one to rags sitting behind the desk at the cooperative garage where I worked a few years later.

In 1967 the powerful media eye focused on San Francisco as the world center of all things hip. There were network TV news features and Scott McKenzie’s “If you’re Going to San Francisco” topped the music charts. The hip movement initially had been supported by San Francisco’s Digger community who had established a newspaper, a free store, a medical clinic, and generally supported free spirits in the city experimenting with new modes of living with a strong focus on the arts. In their search for authenticity and disdain for capitalism they shared values with the beat community that had existed there since the end of WWII. In 1967 some 100,000 youth from around the country arrived for a taste of life as a free spirit. At that moment, hippie became a fashion statement as much a philosophy. North Beach burlesque and beatnik jazz gave way to Fillmore psychedelic rock and with Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” went mainstream. “Go ask Alice…………..”

The diggers didn’t have to ask anybody, they knew what was happening. Some of the philosophers and activists landed at the Hotel Universe and one of them had gone to the Moon just before dinner to pick up a package from Los Angeles that had come in on the bus. After dinner, there was a film showing in the great room off the kitchen. Susan was urging me upstairs to her attic room when her housemate and friend of the film purveyor said, looking hard at me, “This is something you should see.” We stayed. This Friday night someone with film connections in LA had arranged for shipment of a 16mm print of a documentary that had been released a couple months before after a long legal battle but was not yet in distribution. It had to be shipped on the QT because one of the interviewees, National Security Advisor Walt Rostow, had filed suit with the distributor over how he was portrayed in the film. And not to forget: The war had officially ended only days before but for many of us it wouldn’t end for another decade.

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