SAN FRANCISCO – Act One: The door is wide open, so the man in the black suit walks through and begins shaking hands.
His button-up shirt is gold, same as the hoop earring in his left ear, and he arrived at the Palace Hotel from his Mill Valley home, a slightly more lavish estate than the one he lived in at Olema Ranch commune.
He lived in Olema in the 60s and 70s, in the past.
Today, that man, Peter Coyote, the son of Morris and Ruth Cohon, turned English student at Grinnell University, turned counterculture actor, turned commune resident, turned arts council president, turned actor, author and voice-over specialist is sitting at the head of the table. His role?
He's talking about the media. Coyote says the press has lost its muckraking abilities, and that he wants to try and change that.
The writer in Coyote is coming through. He's a lot like the Hollywood guy, the one who's appeared in 90 films and done various voiceovers for companies like Buick and Chiquita. He's not entirely like the one who became part of the Diggers anarchist group in the 60s and lived in the communes.
"The 60s are long ago," says longtime friend and Hearst Newspapers executive Philip Bronstein. "And Peter has evolved like a lot of us."
Bronstein has known Coyote for 12 years. He met him on the set of the film, "Sphere." Some of the people who knew Coyote in the 60s don't have the same feelings.
"You know the chameleon right?" says Peter Berg, a Digger in the 60s with Coyote… "They aren't so much who they are rather than what they represent."
Act Two: The old wooden sign outside the door reads Haight-Ashbury Medical Clinic. Inside, up the stairs, a bucket of condoms rests on the waiting-room table, and collages of photos remind everyone of the free clinic's past eras.
The Diggers belong to the place's past. They used to work here, answering phones. The group was an offshoot of the radical-activist Mime Troupe acting club. Coyote, Berg, Judy Goldhaft, David Simpson and others were involved.
They had a goal, getting people to live according to their own personal choices and impulses rather than worrying about profit and property. They attempted this by providing free food and goods at free stores in the Haight-Ashbury area.
The members of the Diggers would be life actors, imagining the best they could be and trying to act that out in everyday life in hopes that others would catch on, leading to social change.
Coyote fit right in.
"We considered it kind of a good acquisition as a life actor," Berg says, "because we knew he could perform in public."
In the late 60s, the Diggers disbanded. Coyote broke away from Haight-Ashbury and lived the commune life, once sharing a single toilet with 30 people.
By the mid-70s, the counterculture movement had died, and Coyote was around 40 and he had a child and he had no money. All of a sudden, a job sounded like a good idea.
He earned a spot on the California State Arts Council and later became the chairman. Then he got his next break. A Hollywood agent saw him at a Magic Theatre performance.
The hippie would appear in movies.
Coyote acted in E.T. as the sympathetic doctor, writing in his book that he helped director Steven Spielberg rewrite a major scene. Hollywood rarely called for major starring roles, but he's appeared in 90 films and does voiceovers for documentaries.
San Franciscans know about this Coyote.
"I love his voice," says a cab driver.
He didn't know anything about Coyote's past.
Final Act: Peter Berg is holding the smell of Northern California in his hand. The piece of sage comes from his sidewalk garden, 100 feet long, the largest in all of the Bay Area, he claims.
He planted the garden, full of sage and other green species, outside of his house on 30th and Harper Streets, where he lives with his partner, Judy Goldhaft, another former Digger. They've run Planet Drum, a regional ecological organization for 35 years.
Berg and Goldhaft were in the Mime Troupe and the Diggers before Coyote. David Simpson was another. He's also involved with ecology.
"A lot of people have maintained some sense of integrity from where they started from," Simpson says.
Simpson and Berg both say that very few people who were involved in the counterculture movement took the same route as Coyote.
And that's why Berg has a problem. He believes the media and the public have portrayed Coyote as an activist, as a face of the 60s generation.
"I'm not saying it's a travesty," Berg says, "I'm just saying, it's a little weak."
Berg lost contact with Coyote long ago, but he's had indirect meetings with the man's voice. He's heard it talk about staying away from drugs. Coyote used to walk around with a cocaine spoon sewn to his shirt, Berg says.
He's heard it on Chiquita commercials and Buick commercials. Those are major corporations.
" This is not a representative of the generation," Berg says. "This is somebody who is very good at representing anything."
Coyote admits that doing those commercials and certain movies are inconsistent. But he says he has to do it if he wants to support his family.
"I'm certainly not pure," Coyote said, "but within a contradictory world I try to make the preponderance of my decisions and the preponderance of my choices consistent with my values."
The Buick ads, the fancy suit, the house in Mill Valley would say Coyote and those values have changed since the 60s, that they've transformed like a chameleon would.
But maybe they haven't.
Remember, Berg liked Coyote as a digger because he was a life actor who could perform well in public. He played the anarchist who wanted to change society back then.
He's the same life actor now.
He's just playing a different role.