A hip­pie-trippy trip on the Magic Bus tour of San Fran­cisco

The Hamilton Spectator - - TRAVEL - AN­GELA HILL

I’m on a hip­pie bus. A rolling com­mune on a road trip to the Sum­mer of Love.

No, not in 1967, but just now in 2017, on a two-hour, time-warped, phan­tas­magor­i­cal jour­ney with San Fran­cisco’s Magic Bus tour. It takes guests through S.F.’s hip­pie his­tory — the mu­sic, the flower chil­dren, the Haight — and back to that fa­mous, hal­lu­cino­genic sum­mer. All with­out drop­ping any (real) acid. They give you pep­per­mint can­dies for pre­tend LSD.

This trippy trip be­gins on a grey, drab Satur­day morn­ing in Union Square. In the shadow of Macy’s, herds of huge, shiny, mod­ern tour buses — tools of The Man, no doubt — hud­dle to­gether, vy­ing for curb space and the all-mighty tourism dol­lar. But soon, our tran­scen­den­tal trans­porta­tion ar­rives — a funky, bub­ble-spew­ing bus of many colours. Some­body must have to­tally spilled Elec­tric Kool-Aid all over this thing!

Bus driver James “Tipsy Love” Fis­cher — his eyes tinted by rose-coloured glasses — parks the ride and tour guide Jes­sica “Moon Babe” Risco floats out the door in that happy, hippy-dippy, Goldie-Hawn-on-“Laugh-In” kind of way, greet­ing the dozen guests with open arms.

“Wel­come, my broth­ers and sis­ters! This is your fam­ily now. Your tribe,” she coos as we climb the steps. “We’re not just com­mut­ing, we’re a com­mune!”

While there are other tours of the city’s coun­ter­cul­ture past, this one comes from a place of au­then­tic­ity. For one thing, it’s re­ally on an old school bus, a 1995 Car­pen­ter, all dolled up in pri­mary colours in­side and out, with full-blown hip­pie vibe — like the fa­mous bus of nov­el­ist Ken Ke­sey and his group of Merry Pranksters.

And it’s a rolling piece of per­for­mance art with pro­fes­sional ac­tors (Risco and Fis­cher) and cos­mic ef­fects — not only with tunes from Joan Baez, the Grate­ful Dead, the Free­dom Rid­ers, The Bea­tles and more, but with movie screens that drop down over the win­dows dur­ing parts of the ride. It’s a full im­mer­sion of im­ages, snip­pets of news footage from back in the day and swirling blobs of psy­che­delic colours (if you get mo­tion sick­ness, this may not be the tour for you).

The tour — cre­ated in 2008 by Chris Hard-

man of An­tenna Theater, a small, non­profit, ex­per­i­men­tal theatre group — is su­per pop­u­lar right now be­cause of this year’s 50th an­niver­sary of the Sum­mer of Love, and it books up fast. So get on the web to get on the bus, now.

With ev­ery­one seated, Tipsy Love turns on the mo­tor, Moon Babe tunes in to Scott McKen­zie, and we all drop out of the 21st cen­tury into the Age of Aquar­ius, the os­ten­si­ble nir­vana of the coun­ter­cul­ture ‘60s.

“If you’re go­ing to San Fran­cisco, be sure to wear some flow­ers in your hair. If you’re go­ing to San Fran­cisco, you’re gonna meet some gen­tle peo­ple there ...”

Our happy bus draws stares, glares and smiles as we rum­ble through the city.

Moon Babe rolls down a win­dow, “You’re beau­ti­ful!” she calls to be­wil­dered by­standers. “Peace! Love! Have a beau­ti­ful day!”

The screens come down, and we see scenes of ‘50s juke­boxes and bowl­ing al­leys, then the chang­ing times — sol­diers in Viet­nam, moon land­ings, flower chil­dren. “We were care­free,” a recorded voice says, “ready to do any­thing.”

Screens up, and we’re trans­ported to Chi­na­town. It’s a chance to learn how East­ern cul­tures in­flu­enced young Amer­ica, in­tro­duc­ing things like yoga, Bud­dhism, sitars and Nehru jack­ets. We’re blocked for a mo­ment by a dou­ble-parked truck un­load­ing boxes. But hey, we’re chil­dren of the uni­verse, float­ing on the hap­pi­ness ride! So we don’t mind.

Tipsy gets out and helps lift boxes to speed the process, and Moon Babe gets a game go­ing, be­stow­ing hip­pie names upon all of us. I’m Gos­samer Dew.

Fi­nally mov­ing again, and we’re in North Beach for a bit of Beat­nik lore, pass­ing City Lights Book­store and Ve­su­vio Cafe. We hear Jack Ker­ouac’s voice: “It’s the beat gen­er­a­tion, it’s beat, it’s the beat to keep, it’s the beat of the heart, it’s be­ing beat and down in the world and like old-time low­down ...”

Ooh, a bum­mer storm — we’ve hit the Fi­nan­cial District. But re­lax, it’s just to get to the other side.

“Use your third eye, my peo­ple,” Moon Babe says as we near the Tran­sAmer­ica Pyra­mid. “You can see all the peo­ple slav­ing away and the big man at the top mak­ing all the money.”

“Yeah,” one rider chimes in, “but he was prob­a­bly a hip­pie!”

We roll along Mar­ket Street. Screens are down again. We see Viet­nam protests march­ing here, civil rights demon­stra­tions. We hear the Free­dom Rid­ers:

“Ain’t gonna let no­body turn me ‘round, I’m gonna keep on a walkin’, keep on a talkin’, keep on a marchin’ on to free­dom­land.”

Near South Van Ness, Moon Babe tells us about The Carousel Ball­room, a big-band dance palace that be­came the Fill­more West in the ‘60s. “You’d get to hear groovy bands for $10 a night,” she says. “Jimi Hen­drix, San­tana, Mama Cass and a lit­tle band called the War­locks — you might know them as the Grate­ful Dead.”

Wanna see what the place looks like now? It’s a Honda deal­er­ship. Bum­mer storm, man.

We not only travel time, but space, ex­pand­ing our con­scious­ness. The win­dow screens are down as we mo­tor up the foot of Haight with moon-launch im­ages timed to the bumpy ride.

Screens rise, and we’re at the in­fa­mous in­ter­sec­tion: Haight and Ash­bury.

“This is the mother land. The cen­tre of the uni­verse,” Moon Babe says. “Use your third eye again. In­stead of those hip­sters eat­ing at Ben & Jerry’s over there, see this street filled with our sis­ters and broth­ers, play­ing mu­sic.”

We pass head shops, record stores, mu­rals, Ti­betan gift shops. Moon Babe points out places that used to be com­munes, or one of Jimi Hen­drix’s “crash pads.” She tells of the Free Stores, where fur­ni­ture and cloth­ing were free for the tak­ing and giv­ing. And the Haight Ash­bury Free Clinic.

“They had a room where, if you were hav­ing a bad trip, you could just go in and hang out,” she says.

We swing through Golden Gate Park and glimpse Hip­pie Hill in the dis­tance. Screens come down again with footage of the Hu­man Be-In, and voices talk about run­ning bare­foot through the park.

We’re trip­ping on na­ture, man, and na­ture’s call­ing. So Tipsy stops at the Con­ser­va­tory of Flow­ers for ev­ery­one to stretch and take a bath­room break. Then we head back down­town. We’re briefly bummed, but our con­scious­ness is suf­fi­ciently ex­panded, and the sun is fi­nally out.

Our groove re­turns with a fi­nal sin­ga­long:

“When the moon is in the Sev­enth House, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then peace will guide the plan­ets and love will steer the stars ...”


The psy­che­delic Magic Bus tour makes a stop near the Con­ser­va­tory of Flow­ers in San Fran­cisco’s Golden Gate Park. The two-hour tour takes peo­ple through Haight Ash­bury, North Beach, Golden Gate Park and other parts of the city in a vin­tage bus as his­toric videos and mu­sic of the era play.

Tour guide Jes­sica “Moon Babe” Risco, of Oak­land.

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