During the day Dave likes to hang out on the wall separating the sidewalk from the sand at the foot of Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach, enjoying the sunshine, and watching, as he put it, “all the little honeys” walking by in their bathing suits. At night, he said he sleeps wherever he can: on the beach, in the alley, on the back porch of some building, or at the homes of friends. He lives off of the few dollars he makes every week selling blood to the plasma center two blocks up Newport, and eats most of his meals free at the Point Loma Methodist Church on nearby Cable Street. His long, sunbleached blonde hair drapes past the shoulders of his lean frame; his nose is blistered from the many hours he spends outside each day in the sun. His wardrobe doesn’t vary much more than his daily activities: a couple of drab T-shirts, a pair of faded Levis, leather thongs, and a turquoise lightning bolt hanging from a silver chain around his neck.
“I moved down here about two months ago from Santa Barbara,” Dave said late in the afternoon o a recent weekday, sitting on his favorite spot right at the center of the wall facing the intersection of Newport and Abbott Street. “I’ve been traveling all over the country for years, and in January I met this family, a couple and their two kids, who were livin’ in their car in the Santa Barbara parking lot. About six months ago they moved down here ‘cause the weather’s nicer and the atmosphere is mellower, and when they came back in June to pick up a welfare check, I came down here with ‘em. I love it here. The beach is great.” He paused a moment to watch a shapely young woman pass by. “Awoo, hon-ey,” he yelled out after her, and then added, “You know, the only problem down here is the cops. They hassle you all the time. They bust you for drinkin’ a beer and take you down to Detox; you just get jacked off by ‘em for no reason at all. Every Friday that the Navy guys get paid, there’s a real heavy drug flow down here, and the cops ride around all day and all night. If you look weird, they stop you and push you up against the wall and search you, just out of the blue. I even get hassled at night when I’m trying to sleep – they come around with their flashlights and tell you to get the hell out of there.”
Dave, who is twenty-five years old and isn’t into last names, used to be called a hippie. Most people today would probably call him a bum, but he’s not the kind of bum you find downtown on skid row. The sandy beach and warm sunshine are his bottle of wine; the memories that keep him alive are not of past accomplishments, but of a recent era of peace and love and rebellion, of turning on and dropping out. Most of the several dozen beach people who spend their time on the 5000 block of Newport Avenue and its adjacent stretch of beach live a lot like Dave does. Many discovered acid and pot while in high school in the late Sixties; they tuned into Jimi Hendrix and Timothy Leary, to flower power and free love; they rejected the work ethic; they let their hair grow. And also like Dave, many have drifted into O.B. for the carefree beach life. But regardless of their origins, the beach people along Newport Avenue remain largely unchanged from the way they and their predecessors were when Grace Slick sang of white rabbits and hookah-smoking caterpillars. No shiny Porsches to be seen; they haven’t put money down on a condo in Mission Valley.
Along the block down to the beach, sights still abound that recall the ambiance associated with the “counterculture.” Dirty Sally’s Boutique is a new-and-used store advertised as offering “colorful bikinis for guys and dolls.” A sign on the window, handwritten and taped in place at all four corners, proclaims, X-rated film sold here.” Inside, Dirty Sally herself – a comely woman in her sixties with long, flowing hair as white as the sand on the beach, and who usually wears a flowered, backless sun dress – waits on her customers. The Black, just a few doors down, is one of San Diego’s largest headshop/boutiques and offers an enormous selection of underground comics, many dating back to the Sixties. The four bars on the block – Le Chalet, Tony’s, the Cavern, and the Sunshine Company Saloon – are dark, tiny establishments where the musty odor of carpet and leatherette mixes with the occasional wisps of fresh salt air that breeze in through the open front doors. The San Diego Police department’s community relations office, which was opened in mid-1969 at the height of Ocean Beach’s social and cultural upheaval, is now staffed solely by Officer Nancy Hawkins, who three years ago used to pump gas at the Mobil station two blocks up Newport. The block’s sole haircutting establishment is called Curl Up and Dye. And down near the water are the ever-present beach people, congregating on the wall, separating the sidewalk from the beach, or at the two west corners of Newport Avenue and Bacon Street, just as they’ve always done.
On a recent afternoon, a burly man with a graying, bird’s-nest beard, faded blue overalls with torn pockets and frayed straps, and an olive Smokey the Bear hat sat on the north end of the wall and plucked notes on a guitar, a scratchy, russet-colored instrument that produced clear, surprisingly resonant tones. As people strolled by he would look up, smile almost leeringly, and mumble, “Have a nice day,” his eyes half closed and his head bopping up and down like an offshore oil pump. Farther south on the wall, a shirtless younger man with tousled blonde hair and piercing blue eyes stared straight ahead, motionless. A short haired man in light blue T-shirt and beige corduroy shorts rode up on a bicycle, an expensive-looking import with raylets of sunshine bouncing off its metallic frame. He butted the bike’s tire against the wall and sat down just a few inches from the blonde youth. “Got any pot?” The blonde continued staring, acknowledging neither the question nor the questioner. After a few seconds, the newcomer shrugged his shoulders and turned away. He looked down at his feet and began tapping his hands against the inside of his bare thighs. Suddenly the blonde young man looked at him – his trance apparently unbroken – and said in a boldly loud voice, “You wanna buy some?” The newcomer nodded his head. “Follow me,” the blonde said, getting up, and the pair walked north on Abbot Street, the short haired man walking his bike and neither of them speaking. At the edge of the parking lot, two teenage girls in string bikinis were walking away from the beach amid whistling from three or four long-haired men sitting on the hood of an old Ford, drinking cans of Lowenbrau. One man shouted, “Hey you wanna beer? Come here.” The taller girl turned toward the heckler and expressionlessly shot him the finger. “Okay, then fuck off you bitch!” he yelled after her, his face red with anger. His companions erupted in laughter. After a moment, he laughed too.