SAN FRANCISCO — Forty years have come and gone, and here I am, back on a three-day mission to stir up memories of a dream Air Force assignment.
As hostilities raged in Vietnam in 1973, I was stationed for seven months among the peace-and-love crowd a short drive north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I spent weekdays in the medical supply unit at Hamilton Air Force Base, a virtual country club among military outposts. Music and sports held a fair share of my free time until the Navy took control of the scenic airfield, and off we went into the wild blue yonder.
Gone now are some of my old haunts, including Hamilton as an active installation. But many of its Spanish eclectic-style structures remain, from the striking arched entryway to the abandoned hospital some believe is inhabited by spirits. I’m not convinced, but I maintain a safe distance as I snoop around in broad daylight.
Back in San Francisco, I wonder again if I’m being watched as I snap photos of the century-old Victorian “Painted Lady” whose lovely exterior was the face of the Hillard family home in the 1993 comedy “Mrs. Doubtfire.” I feel better when a tour bus pulls up and equally intrigued folks join me on the steep sidewalk outside 2640 Steiner St.
Some things last 100 years, others do not. Down at the intersection of Post and Steiner, I find apartment buildings occupying the former site of Winterland Arena. Four dollars was once enough for me to catch multiple headliners on the same concert bill here. For a charitable donation of $1 million today, a music memorabilia dealer is offering the back door used by many of the biggest names in rock ’n’ roll history.
Also history is Kezar Stadium, the shooting location of a famous scene in the 1971 thriller “Dirty Harry” and the longtime home of the San Francisco 49ers. My one visit there — for a Led Zeppelin concert — was memorable despite the peculiar second-hand smoke that shrouded the Haight-Ashbury district that early June afternoon. The neighborhood now blends a fresh generation of hippies with a host of their predecessors along bustling sidewalks lined by head shops, clothing boutiques, music stores and more.
Kezar was demolished nearly a quarter-century ago, and a smaller stadium now stands on that corner of Golden Gate Park. I sit down in the vicinity of my original spot in the bleachers and, if only for a moment, I’m 21 again.
Next up is a peek inside antiquated Kezar Pavilion, which somehow escaped the wrecking ball. My first trip to this cozy venue was for a glimpse of the original Roller Derby circuit. The joy in that occasion was reminiscing about my mother in front of our old black and white television set, cheering on the New York Chiefs against the Bay Area Bombers.
Among the baseball games I attended during that bygone season was the classic on May 1 at Candlestick Park. I was heading toward the exit in the bottom of the ninth inning with the San Francisco Giants down 7-1 to the Pittsburgh Pirates, when something moved me to stay until the bitter end. That moment never came for the San Francisco faithful who hung around to see sparingly used Chris Arnold cap a seven-run rally with a two-out grand slam — his only home run that season and one of only four in his six-year career — for a dramatic 8-7 victory.
The Giants since have relocated to picturesque AT&T Park along the waterfront on the outskirts of downtown San Francisco, and I show up three hours after my plane lands in Oakland for a doubleheader with an unusual twist. The visiting Cincinnati Reds are designated the home team in the second game — the makeup for an Independence Day rain-out in Ohio — and the Giants wear gray road uniforms in front of their home crowd.
Across the bay at Oakland Coliseum, perhaps the most exciting contest in the summer of 1973 was one I selflessly decided not to attend when given the choice on my birthday. Instead, I celebrated with a cheap double date — tickets were only a buck apiece for a Joan Baez concert at the Cow Palace in Daly City — while Texas Rangers right-hander Jim Bibby was pitching a no-hitter against the host Athletics.
Almost four decades to the day, I’m back for another game. This one isn’t for the record books, but it’s stirring up some fond memories for me.