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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

There we were: Triple OG Hippies Reminisce

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Some of you may remember a joke from the ’80s: “There wasn’t anyone out there who said they remembered the ’60s.” I was never so sure about that, because we always talked about “acid flashbacks.” And certainly, my most vivid memories of that time are from my acid trips and from when I was stoned hard on pot—the daily drug—which was most of the time.

You were born in the right place at the right time. I was only 12 years old in 1967, but I was already fascinated by the influx of hippies into San Francisco, my hometown. I wrote in my diary at the time what a conscious decision it was: would I become a nun or a hippie? The Catholic school instilled a spiritual nature. However, when I smoked my first joint at the age of 14 in 1969, it was clear within a week: The hippie track had won.

Two weeks later, I was buying weed in Mexican mega blocks and selling them in “caps”—old-fashioned plastic sandwich bags with about an ounce of weed in them. Much of the weight was seeds and stems, and I sold them for $10-12 each. Mostly, I did this to get my cannabis for free and have enough to share. While William (now Swami) would drive around delivering deliveries to hikers, I would hitchhike and show off charms to those who picked me up – often turning into a full day adventure.

I almost feel guilty describing the good old days, when the pill was a new invention that offered incredible freedoms; when Acid was performed at Golden Gate Park’s Wild and Free Concerts every weekend; And when the huge Victorian flats were inhabited by lively hippie communities. It was a time of free speech, a time of questioning authority. And, of course, it’s time to smoke a lot of weed.

Swami William in July 1967 (left) and in 1971 (right).

Before he met Swami Nikki

I [Swami] I smoked my first joint on the second floor of a house on Dayton Street, in the University of Wisconsin-Madison student ghetto, in the spring of 1967, and listened to “The Mysterious Mountain by Alain Hovhannes. During this Summer of Love, I drove to San Francisco in 1965 in a blue Volkswagen 1300 with three friends. We all stayed in a house two blocks from Haight Street and the first thing we did was smoke a joint on Hippie Hill. We are still friends to this day.

At the end of that infamous summer, we literally stumbled back to Big Sur before heading back to Madison for our senior year of grad school. I switched from European History to the Art Department. The university was abuzz with political protests against the Vietnam War, and I was arrested for protesting on Election Day. Oddly enough, the arrest came 50 years later when she applied for a cannabis cultivation license in California. I had to provide fingerprints to the state and county, and a subsequent FBI search discovered the statue. In the end, people had a good laugh about the state license.

I started doing light shows, photography, and filmmaking in Madison before I dropped out and moved to San Francisco the following summer, in 1968. Then, in 1969, I got a job at KQED in the Special Projects Film Department, but then while I was working at Films about Fidel Castro, the Merce Cunningham Dance Troupe, and Krishnamurti, she dropped out again to focus on art and photography.

OG hippies
William (pre-Swami) in the Indian Himalayas, 1970. Photo by David Macmillan

The dazed hippie

Our tribe had a light show in late 68-69 called LSD (Light Sound Dimensions). We were like a little commune and shared a house while doing light show gigs. We also acted as a “holding company” for some merchants on the other side of town, which meant they left their herbs with us for safekeeping. We stocked up to thirty kilograms of Mexican herbs at one time. Because the light show contains 18 slide projectors in boxes and many slide cases, we can load and unload Mexican bricks in and out without arousing suspicion. At least that’s what we told ourselves.

We didn’t make any money keeping it. We could roll up as many joints as we liked, which quickly got out of hand, so the arrangement didn’t last long. We would get in the car every morning and “walk around town”. This meant driving to North Beach for a morning cappuccino, then heading to Big Beach, cruising through the park, and then maybe hopping over the Golden Gate Bridge to hit a coffee shop in Sausalito. All the while we picked up hitchhikers and stoned them while we took them where they wanted to go.

For a while we had a studio on Haight Street, where I had a dark room in the back. We installed the light show in the remainder of the straight stage, at the corner of Haight and Cole. We have performed at Family Dog on Great Highway and at the Fillmore West during rock shows, as well as other great venues.

In 1970, a friend from college invited me to be a cameraman for a movie called Sun master Which was making various spiritual teachers very popular at the time with the hippie generation. It was to be the beginning of a long journey, taking us through Israel, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Nepal, including encounters with many profound spiritual teachers. I returned in 1971, taking a road trip from Europe to India, also known as the “hippie trail.”

Nikki in Malvinas in 1971 (left) and Santa Cruz 1979 (right).

Tracks collide

It was late 1969 when (Nikki) met Swami for the first time. We were in Washington Square Park in the North Beach section of San Francisco. Swami was hanging out with a group of old, cool hippies (in their mid-twenties). The guys were all in bell bottoms and beads and had long hair, and the girls were very pretty, decked out in flowing, strapless Indian dresses and flowers in their hair.

I was a little flower girl. My eyes were huge and my curiosity was at its peak. I became friends with the group who were all so nice to me, teaching me about their unusual lifestyle and what medicines to take, how to draw an astrology chart, and what posters on their walls were of the mysterious Hindu gods and goddesses. Catholic school didn’t prepare me for any of that!

It wasn’t until 1980, after Swami and I separately traveled overland to India on a hippie trail and lived in other parts of the globe, that we became a couple. In 1985, we got married at San Francisco City Hall on Valentine’s Day.

Times had changed dramatically by then, and while we stuck to the hippie ethos, I spent my days working for the San Francisco Chronicle while the Swami continued his art and also worked in construction for extra income.

Of course, we always had the lids on the side and some coke and dope, too, but fate always had our backbone. In the 1980s it was mostly cheap Mexican, although some delicious Thai food and even some local fare from Northern California were available when we were lucky.

OG hippies
Nikki at the Kumbha Mela festival in Hardwar, India, 1998.

Ex Pats in India and Mendocino

By the end of the 1980s, it was time to drop out again. Enough of that straight stuff. We went to live in India for several years, exploring and photographing ancient temples and living in small villages, while naturally smoking a lot. charas They also call hashish there.

We spent the summer in the Himalayas where weed grows like weed. The seeds are used to cook the protein in addition to the stickiness charas is produced. In the winter we migrated south to the beaches of Goa to join the crowd of ex-pats and smugglers where we rented a big house. We partook and danced to the beats all night under the palm trees, living the ‘hippie rag’ life to the max.

But by the end of 1996, I felt the need to move back to San Francisco. Swami felt called to retreat to a Himalayan hut for study and meditation. Even after we broke up, we remained best friends

Back in the city, the entire world of dealing had changed dramatically by then. No more cheap Mexican—everyone wanted 400 ounces of “kind” Emerald Triangle. It seemed terrible to me, coming from a $10 land Tolas (10 grams of rolled sticks of 10 grams charas) in India. But people wanted it, so I fueled it, and scored from my new friends up north.

It’s a long story, but this brings me to the rendezvous Tim Blake, founder of The Emerald Cup. Tim had a funky piece of land on Highway 101 where I could throw psychedelic trance parties on the weekends, like we did in Goa. This place soon became known as the famous AREA 101. Before long, I was living in Mendocino, helping Tim grow.

OG hippies
Covers in the old days. Photo by Bob Zorn

Plant the roots in the Emerald Triangle

William Swami Chaitanya was ordained in 1998 at the Kumbha Mela festival in India. His new vows to renounce himself as a Swami included celibacy, restriction in eating, giving up earthly possessions, and wearing one colour. Even though our love for each other continues, those vows will change our relationship forever.

Around 2002, I visited him in India. When we went to see our old spiritual teacher, Swami Chidananda, it became clear that it was time for Swami to return to California. Swami Chidananda instructed him to “help Nikki” in creating his dream of creating a safe haven in the hills of Northern California. Doing so did not mean that the Swami had to renounce his spirituality or his vows. In fact, Chidananda encouraged him to pass on the teachings to more people as an American Swami.

Swami and I were ready to build a future together, while staying true to our authentic selves. It was a beautiful and exciting next step.

Within two months of our return, we had discovered our beautiful ranch in the hills of Mendocino, and embarked on the greatest creative project of our lives: being stewards of a sacred piece of land. Besides installing giant stone statues weighing a ton each and building temples and sacred engineering structures, by 2004 we had the first cannabis garden to grow on Earth.

Nikki and Swami at their Mendocino farm, Swami Select’s home.

It’s been a really long and strange journey. Here we are now legal in a business that has been a taboo for generations. It’s a challenge, after so many years of being outlaws. We lose direct contact with our customers – seeing their faces and shooting nonsense. We miss enjoying those lazy summer afternoons after hours of gardening all day. Now, instead of heading to a hammock or a shady tree, I’m at my desk, working on passes and bills. We miss the luxury of enjoying free time.

But it is worth getting the best medicine in the world to the deserving customers and patients. In the meantime, we continue to keep the hippie spirit going, and who knows – we might be leaking again soon!

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