SAN FRANCISCO — The conference was billed as "The Sixties," and that's exactly what happened. Like the decade itself, the weekend seminar sponsored by the University of California at Berkeley Extension was marked by crisis and controversy, of a sort.
A grass-roots protest ignited over the $75 price of admission. One of the 10 speakers refused to give his speech and walked out. Two audience members were ejected from the lecture hall by a university policeman for being disruptive. A couple more were asked to leave. In fact, all the elements of the '60s were there--except the sex and drugs.
And, as during the '60s, everyone came away with something. Some people found the seminar boring--"a drag with a capital D," in the words of one former flower child. Others were moved to tears.
"I got emotional several times," says Charlotte Doyle, a 35-year-old nurse. "I was just sitting there, flashing back on everything, rehashing what I was doing then."
She and her sister, Jeannie Fulton, 40, learned about the '60s seminar by accident. They were visiting San Francisco for the week, and "we were just driving through Berkeley when we saw a poster for it," Fulton marvels. "We knew we just had to go."
To look at them now, it's hard to believe these middle-aged moms had once been hippies. Doyle, a frosted blonde who drives a Subaru, lives on a 5,000-acre ranch in Oregon with her husband and seven children. She described herself as a free-spirited child of the '60s tooling around ultra-conservative Lubbock, Tex., in a 1946 van painted with red, white and blue stars and stripes to resemble the American flag. Her sister had her first child at 17: "I was taking an active part in the sexual revolution," says Fulton, who now leads the quiet life of a housewife in Texas.
"What's so weird," said Doyle, "is that we're both pretty normal now."
For them, the '60s seminar was a poignant reminder of the way it used to be. "There was a feeling of closeness and camaraderie back then," Doyle says. "We had a lot of friends, and we all believed in the same things." Like being against the war in Vietnam, which prompted Doyle to sew a patch on her infant son's Levi's that said, "War is not healthy for kids or other living things." Looking back, she says, "I wish I'd bronzed those jeans."
The memory makes her eyes water again. "I miss it," she says. "That's what I was crying about, I guess."
"Gee, no black lights."
"Yeah, I didn't know what to expect. I guess I thought they were just going to pass out drugs and let us sit in the dark for two days and have everyone think it was great."
Timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of "The Summer of Love," when the San Francisco district known as Haight-Ashbury became the flower-power capital of the world, the seminar reunited many of the Love Generation's most outspoken gurus.
The speakers were chosen not just because they were symbols of the era but primarily because they have remained active in '60s-like causes.
So Jerry Rubin was not invited, since the one-time king of the Yippies (Youth International Party) is now king of the yuppies. But his fellow Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman was, along with authors Ken Kesey ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest") and Tom Robbins ("Even Cowgirls Get the Blues"), anti-war and now anti-nuke activist Dr. Benjamin Spock, psychedelic drug guru Timothy Leary, feminists Betty Friedan and Deirdre English, sociologist Harry Edwards and musicians Mimi Farina and Country Joe McDonald, among others.
Naturally, because of the gathering of these many "names," the seminar received considerable advance publicity, not just in newspapers around the country but also by media in Australia and Britain. It also became the most widely anticipated conference ever organized by UC Berkeley Extension. An audience of 400, nearly as many people as had been expected, paid to attend.
The Love Generation has matured. So have their Certificates of Deposit: There was a palpable sense of affluence about the seminar's audience. Their beat-up VW Beetles had given way to European luxury cars. Indeed, the Palace of Fine Arts parking lot looked like a new auto showroom what with all the Alfa Romeo Spider Veloces, Saab 9000 turbos and Nissan 300ZXs.
Instead of the telltale '60s smells of incense or marijuana, the hall was filled with the overwhelming scents of Giorgio perfume or Polo cologne. Army flak jackets and Indian cotton dresses were replaced by Burberry raincoats and Italian leather bombers. Historian Peter Carroll, the seminar's moderator, tried hard, too, by wearing a psychedelic tie with a suit.
Margaret Ganahl, a 33-year-old film editor from Berkeley, said she was "bummed out that no one dressed. I was going to wear my old Indian bedspread dress. But my friend said I had to take a bath and wash my hair, and I thought that would ruin the look."
She looked around at the audience and despaired. "This could have been a Young Republican meeting," she said. "Or maybe they're all lawyers."