Next month I will return to Northern California where I spent almost 30 years of my life. Both of my children were born in the San Francisco Bay area. My son, my daughter-in-law and my two granddaughters still live there, in Martinez, just across the river from Vallejo, the site of the four-show cluster known as “Woofstock.” The name of the cluster, hosted by the Lake County Kennel Club of Northern California and the Contra Costa Kennel Club, is taken from the 1969 music festival. Woodstock remains the most vivid image of the hippie era, an era that began in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district in 1967 during what is remembered as the Summer of Love.
Like most college freshmen of that era, I considered myself one of the flower children, a true believer of peace, love and understanding. While I was never enamored of the drugs, strange clothes or bad hygiene associated with the movement, I did love the music. One Woodstock musician who mesmerized me was Grace Slick, the bad girl lead singer for a group called Jefferson Airplane. While Grace couldn’t match Janis Joplin for raw emotion, she was a lot better looking. The band was based in San Francisco and lived in a black Victorian mansion with red trim on San Francisco’s iconic Alamo Square. I longed to move to San Francisco. In 1976 my dream came true. We moved to a tiny house with a big ocean view just south of San Francisco. By that time my flower child days were behind me. I had a new son and a serious job working with refugees. The Haight was occupied by trendy, overpriced restaurants and boutiques. Grace’s voice and face were showing the wear of years of hard partying. Hippies had given up selling flowers in favor of aggressive panhandling.
However, the dog game was a beautiful refuge. Most of the venues were beautiful, and most of the people were friendly and welcoming. I think that’s one of the reasons I have stayed with the dog game for so long. While the sport has evolved, the sense of community has remained strong. As we’ve traveled to shows over the years, we have had Jefferson Airplane, the Bee Gees, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Katy Perry on the car stereo. When we reached our destination, we would still see men dressed in a jacket & tie, and women in skirts & dresses. Conversations would be polite & civil, and at an appropriate volume. If you needed help, many would offer to assist. If you were asked to help, you would not hesitate.
Today the Bay Area is full of smug people who believe they have the right to tell everyone else how to live their lives. There are cities where you cannot smoke a cigarette anywhere outside and others that will not allow you to smoke in a zero lot line home you own. The city of Oakland barely survived a weeks-long siege by the anarchists associated with the “Occupy” movement. My wife recently said at a dinner with friends, “I want to move back to California.” I told her, “You can’t. It’s not there anymore. The California we lived in is not there anymore.” I look forward to celebrating my youth at Woofstock, but can’t help thinking that the sport of dogs has aged better than the Bay Area, Grace and I have. And that’s today’s Back Story.