Learning to Haight’s main character, Jack is a rather naive young man, who—bored with his P.R. job back East and hoping to find himself—leaves to become a journalist at the San Francisco Daily Mirror. Jack is put on the obituary beat, working next to icy Bea, who’s been there forever and is full of self pity.
While waiting for a one day cab, Jack literally “trips over” Dean Simmons. A talkative, barefoot man, Dean has been involved in myriad protest movements since the sixties and is one of those colorful story-telling characters who everyone knows of, but no one actually knows. Jack convinces his editor, Dillon to let him profile Dean as part of the paper’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of the 1967 “Summer of Love”.
Much of Learning to Haight focuses on their interviews, with Jack trying to get behind the façade and present the real Dean Simmons. Dean plays cat and mouse with Jack, refusing to reveal details of his life and Jack gets increasingly frustrated.
In between interviews Jack meets a woman, Nadine, at a Laundromat and they begin seeing each other. At one point Jack joins Nadine at an Iraq war protest. When he is photographed being beaten, stripped and thrown in jail, the newspaper fires him for what they perceive are his politics. The powers that be expect their employees to adapt to their conservative views, at least in public. Jack comes away feeling not much better about this job than the PR gig. “From a flack to a hack”, is the way he puts it.
Williams does an effective job describing the Haight Ashbury district and the many cultural references included are spot on. The one complaint would be the lack of tension and drama in the story. Dean’s secret is confessed to without a fight and much of the book reads as safe and unchallenging. Nadine and Jack’s romance is sweet, however, and does lead the story to a happy ending.
Reviewed by Merle Holman for IndieReader