Between January and April 1967, the following albums were released: the Doors’ first album (January), Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow (February), Donovan’s Mellow Yellow and the Grateful Dead’s first album (both March), and the Electric Prunes’ first album (April). Four of those albums were recorded in California, and as a group the albums helped define the psychedelic scene of the Bay Area; just a few months later San Francisco would be immersed in the Summer of Love.
Something was brewing in the city, and the word had gotten out. The Human Be-In took place in Golden Gate Park in January; for the April 26, 1967, issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, reporter J. Campbell Bruce and photographer Art Frisch collaborated on an article by embedding themselves (to use much later terminology) on a tourist bus that would cruise by the Haight-Ashbury district so that regular folks could see real hippies in action. According to Brian J. Cantwell, the bus was called the “Hippie Hop.”
In the pages of the Chronicle, legendary columnist Herb Caen sniffed with bemused contempt at the tour buses:
What’s striking about the pictures from the perspective of today is that the ostensible “hippies” seem indistinguishable from most young adults today. The “little old lady” cited in the original article as saying “You’re sure they’re not beatniks? WE have beatniks in Cleveland” surely had a point. My guess is that the intervening 48 years (!) have made it difficult to see what was so gawk-worthy about these young people; also, by the end of the summer, things were likely looking quite different on Haight-Ashbury.
The tours were well known at the time. Just two weeks later, Hunter S. Thompson wrote about them in the pages of the New York Times Magazine, in an article titled “The ‘Hashbury’ Is the Capital of the Hippies”:
The only buses still running regularly along Haight Street are those from the Gray Line, which recently added “Hippieland” to its daytime sightseeing tour of San Francisco. It was billed as “the only foreign tour within the continental limits of the United States” and was an immediate hit with tourists who thought the Haight-Ashbury was a human zoo. The only sour note on the tour was struck by the occasional hippy who would run alongside the bus, holding up a mirror.
That article appears in HST’s collection The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time. The first thing I thought of when I saw this story was Renata Adler’s 1976 novel Speedboat, which is mostly set in New York; it includes the following passage:
At six one morning, Will [the narrator’s boyfriend] went out in jeans and frayed sweater to buy a quart of milk. A tourist bus went by. The megaphone was directed at him. “There’s one,” it said. That was in the 1960’s. Ever since, he’s wondered. There’s one what?