We snuck out of Tennessee just ahead of the storm, pushing through clouds heavy with snow on our way to Chicago and then San Francisco. I wasn’t sure we’d make it, actually, and for once I wasn’t sure I cared. The prospect of five inches of snow to a California girl who has a full pantry and works at home isn’t the most daunting, and I thought that a little sledding in January might be the most seasonally appropriate thing I could do. The weather was sluggish, slower than a jet plane, and we watched it swirl on the weather maps as we sped away, headed towards the fickle mix of fog and sun that is San Francisco in the winter.
Landing at SFO is waking from a long dream and not knowing if I am home or still lost somewhere in my mind. We started our flying career from there; spent many an hour under the early computer font gate numbers waiting for the fog to lift and the planes to leave. Am I coming or going? Is the dog waiting for us in Redwood Shores? Is the raccoon looking in my bedroom window to see if I’m asleep? BART took us into the city, the first time, actually, that we’ve been back here, alone together, since we moved to LA an unfathomable number of years ago. We rode all the way to Powell and Market and walked to our hotel and I thought what a change it would be to spend time in the city without Mike cursing at pedestrians. Radar said there was rain coming in from the Pacific but the skies were bright and breezy for the moment; we rode the cable car to Chinatown for the first real Chinese we’ve had in I don’t know how long. I don’t understand why Nashville is so lacking in decent orange peel beef but it is and we descended on that food like starving refugees.
It was a Muni pass kind of weekend, so we had to walk through old Jackson Square to find the bus that would take us to Alamo Square to the iconic row of Painted Ladies that I had never seen. The skies opened up along the way, so I saw them from under a dripping umbrella, but I saw them, finally. The city beyond hadn’t yet slipped under the rain and it was lit by the last rays of sun, a glistening swan song before the deluge. My pant legs stayed damp all night, but it didn’t matter much as we were hopping from cocktail to cocktail in the Mission before an epic bus and cab ride out to dinner in the Richmond, on the far west end of Geary. The venues were new but so many of the surroundings were as oddly familiar as the airport; the Beauty Bar, Ti Couz, the absurd feeling that maybe we shouldn’t be walking in the Mission but aren’t we reasonable people for doing so. I think the Thai restaurant where I turned a greener shade of pale was out Geary somewhere. I suppose we reminisced some – cocktails have a way of bringing that out of even the least inclined to the past – and that isn’t me. I don’t remember (see also, cocktails) but I do know that I felt both at home and glad that I wasn’t. One of the bars was a San Francisco scene of the most tedious kind – we’d paid before our drinks were gone and talked for blocks about the particular affectation that can be San Francisco. And yet …
I woke Saturday without a hangover but with a nagging sense that I was somewhere more comfortable to me than I imagined it would be. Leaving the hotel revealed one of those perfect days that used to make me thrill to where I lived, warm sun, cool breeze, light sparking off every surface. How could I not be enchanted, riding an old streetcar down Market to the foodie heaven of the Ferry Building? If I noticed, acutely, the astronomical prices of the organic beets and the handcrafted soda and, good grief, the oysters (and I did) it didn’t lessen the simple pleasure of seeing abundance displayed in a beautiful space, lit by light reflecting off water. Shrimp breakfast burrito, tangerines, unctuous cured meat, caramel pots de crème, perfect, perfect, Italy level cappuccino. And then, a gift, a friend I haven’t seen in years, discussed the previous night (I guess I must admit fully to the reminiscing) in the flesh. We exchanged phone numbers and I feel that this is the most wonderful souvenir of the trip I could possibly hope for, to stumble on a part of myself from the past in the universe of this city, just the right place at the right time on a Saturday morning.
We chose an afternoon in the de Young mostly for its location; Golden Gate Park was made for days like this. The American painting collection was luminous, so many landscapes and so much a profile of the country through its growth and I am sorry it has taken me this long to see it, though I think that like so many things lately, it presented itself at just the right time. Leaving where I am from, living far from what shaped me – this has changed my perspective and broadened my understanding in ways I wouldn’t have previously imagined. I can’t claim it has made me a better person, but if I marvel over a painting that I might have previously skimmed past, well, I’ll take that as growth too.
A walk through the park, another bus ride – people are such dramatic characters, aren’t they? A bus ride, for even a few blocks, is a minor stage. The Bob Marley’ed dad taking his pre-teen daughter out for the day and chastising her for forgetting something, turning it into a colossal relationship bummer, talking to her like they’d been seeing each other and she was a difficult woman rather than a forgetful child. The woman who wanted change for a $5, all round shapes held together by belts and denim, looking for change or a free ride. The wan and younger than she looked (I bet) business woman who gave it to her, expensive shoes looking wrong against the worn rubber of the bus floor. Punky kids leaning against the doors, cowed by the little Asian auntie who climbed over them, us and a seat back to sit where she wanted. The toothless man who swore he ‘usta eat armadillos. I suppose we fit in, or didn’t, as much as the rest of them, and we didn’t ride far, just to the corner of Haight and Ashbury, the old center of a lost universe, now a crass commercial imitation of itself. Curio shops and tchosky vendors and faux head shops with penis shaped glass pipes – thankfully we were there for a bar with a cool vibe and good cocktails, bone marrow and sardines and a table in the window next to a couple with a baby in a stroller. From there it was off again on another round of drinking; a speakeasy without a sign, a tiki room with rain showers at the top of a hill, a funky bar with a good bartender and then a buuuuuussss to the Marina for another late dinner and an arrest scene that seemed surreal even considering the amount we’d drunk. His ear hurt, man, and the cops were hassling him all the way to the station.
Sunday bounced in equally clear and bright and we rode the train down to Millbrae for dim sum and friends, then rode back into the Presidio with them for the Disney Family Museum and then Crissy Field, an amazing Golden Gate Bridge view, a visiting pinniped and more of that unshakeable sense that some part of me, certainly, was left here in this city where I’d lived, sort of. It wasn’t that I wanted to move back, really – I’d spent a good part of the glorious weekend wishing I were in the snow, in the place that I’ve been calling home with less shrugging, lately. The city was never my home, and in some ways I feel more at home in Tennessee than I ever did in the Bay Area, wonderful friends and memories notwithstanding. But there was just something about San Francisco that I couldn’t let go of, can’t, even now, snowbound and cozily home, forget. At the risk of sounding maudlin and older, perhaps, than I am, I think it might be about the age I was when I lived in the Northern California fog. I was young, optimistic, newly free of school and then newly married, un-bruised by the general tumble of life. This weekend reminded me of that shiny self and I thought of how nice it had been to be her.
Reminisce with me: San Francisco Photos