From S.F. to D.C. in the 70s
I came to live in Washington DC in 1975 after living and working on two different daily newspapers in Northern California for ten years. Looking back from the vantage point of the intervening years of four decades, it seems to me now that I had landed squarely in the middle of a railroad juncture one coming from the 1960s and the other chugging forward to what lay ahead. It’s impossible not to think of two times and places—the 1980s and Ronald Reagan’s coming America and the roiling, revolutionary 1960s of peace and love, war and anti-war, Washington, D.C., the political and policy capitol of the United States and the San Francisco Bay Area, the epicenter of what comes next, the caretaker of hip, cool, rock and roll and protest politics, where the Pacific Ocean made up one of the seas to shining sea—more different and more connected at the same time. Neither city was typical of the makeup in function and population of the great majority of this country. Being there, and then here, felt like an exercise, at least initially in straddling not only the center of the 1970s, but two contrarian attitudes of what was important. By 1975, things had already happened here that we did not quite pay so much attention to out there. Californians—the explosively liberal North and the entrench conservatives of the South and mid-state—had always seen Washington as the city of government, monuments, not as a place where real people actually lived. Things had happened there—very big 1970s things like Watergate, which we saw, often as the fall of the despised Richard Nixon and his ilk. He was one of us, after all, and after an ill-fated gubernatorial run, had blasted the press and said “You know have Richard Nixon to kick around any more.” As far as we know, somebody else had kicked him around.
In Northern California, protests against the war, against the government, for women’s rights, seemed common place as if everything leftist and worthy was invented in Berkeley. Turns out they hadn’t.
In California in the early 1970s, you were inured to a lot of things—the presence of drugs (pot, cookies laced with acid and hashish) at certain parties, the decline of the hippie movement in the Haight, and the rise of the dominantly gay Castro district). We saw the end of the Vietnam up close and personal as transport planes full of children rescued in the last days of Saigon landed in Oakland. On that occasion, I interviewed a man over coffee as he talked about his son, who had been killed in the last month of the war.
Ronald Reagan was elected president of the United States—now it was official, I had come full circle. I lived in the Bay Area during all eight years that Mr. Reagan was governor there. I had met him once, and he had remembered my name in five minutes, after answering a question of mine about Watergate by not answering it. He had followed to what was now: Home.
The 1970s were over.