Over 10 years ago I moved to this city, and I’m glad to be living here. There’s always something to be experienced, and moments to be observed.
Once observed in SF:
Once, I found myself standing in line behind Lawrence Ferlinghetti at the North Point Safeway. He was buying a yogurt and a single Haas avocado. I felt slightly honored to be witness to the most mundane part of this renowned poet’s life. He is a poet probably most famous for co-founding City Lights Bookstore and for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s, Howl. Years later, I saw him again, this time at Café Trieste in North Beach. He walked in, his face pink and speckled with dry skin, wearing a black beret that covered most of his sun-damaged bald head. He looked to the back of the café where I was sitting, appearing to look for recognition from familiar faces or from those who might know of his accomplishments, so I smiled widely though I think I blurred into the dark wood panels, going unnoticed.
He then shuffled into line. A patron ahead of him offered his spot in line to the poet. “Aren’t you getting anything?” Mr. Ferlinghetti seemed to mouth. But the patron, an older gentleman himself, of maybe 65 years, shook his head humbly and pointed for the poet to go ahead. There was suddenly a hint of obligation in the air – even I could see that across the room. After he got his coffee, Mr. Ferlinghetti sat near the door, on the other end of the café from me, against the glass window so, I’m guessing, he could more easily read the newspaper by natural light through his black-rimmed spectacles. No sooner did he settle into a two-top table did the kindly patron who gave up his place in line begin to hover over Mr. Ferlinghetti for attention. Asking what, I have no idea. “Working on anything new?” maybe, or “may I join you?” The poet leaned over, and played up the right of the elderly to not quite hear. “What?” he said, appearing to not follow the question or comment. The patron slinked outside of the café to the tables along the sidewalk where the fog was heavy and chilled the bone.
Mr. Ferlinghetti continued to read his newspaper. At this point I felt like a little thief stealing glances. He opened his paper fully and raising it high enough to shield his entire upper body from anyone else, like me perhaps, tempted to engage in conversation with him, which turned out very unnecessary. In fact, without asking, a family of tourists quickly took the empty chair from his table, as though he were invisible, just lonely old man to disregard and a bustling café in North Beach.
Admittedly, I romanticize San Francisco’s literary roots, which partially explains why I get so easily amused by things I see, hear and overhear. Below are voices sampled from a playlist heard across various neighborhoods, which sometimes make me smile and cringe.
(Over) Heard in SF:
“Going to the decompression party?” –From a guy who shared one of the tables at Zeitgeist.
“I know you found out about these damn slides on YELP, but I don’t give a damn. Get the hell out of here. Get out! Get out! Get out!” - From my neighbor screaming at drunken revelers who followed up last call at the bars with a visit to the Seward Street Slides at 2AM.
“If you go, you have to dress like a hipster douche.” - From one café patron at Café Puccini’s in North Beach to his friend as they waited on line.
“Oh my god, oh my god! Cher! Madonna! This jukebox is so excellent.” –From a tourist at Little Orphan Andy’s.
“Halloween in the Castro is amateur night. Let’s skip it.” –From friends every Halloween night.
“Soju Martini? Are you fucking kidding me?” –From a patron at Fly Bar.
“San Francisco is a dog town. Seriously, we have more dogs than kids!” –From a neighbor.
“Some schools let you put your baby on a wait list while you’re pregnant with him/her.” – From a colleague who had wished they had done that with their own child.
“The Tamale Lady is here!” –From many people at Zeitgeist.
“All you have to do is snag a shopping cart to make your sled for the Urban Iditarod.” –From a friend to another friend.
“I’d eat a bowl of tripe.” –From a drunk friend referring to some food critic’s comment on SF eaters.
“Was that an earthquake?” –From various friends and strangers. Every time this is asked, I think of 5:12AM. April 18, 2006. There was a moment of silence, then the emergency PA siren system for the city went off briefly, and the church bells around the city rang (18 times, a nod to the 1906 quake, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1906_San_Francisco_earthquake) -- though I could only hear the Dolores Church bells. The city came alive, conducting its own performance, its own remembrance. It was still dark out and the red beacons atop City Hall, the Transamerica Pyramid, and so many other jutting buildings across the eastern skyline flickered in unison with the Bay Bridge lights.
“I love this little town.” –From my own voice every now and again.
Mary lives with her husband and their two dogs in Eureka Valley/Eureka Heights/Upper Castro/Noe. She’s an entrepreneur in the new media and technology sector, and co-founder of 4delite (www.4delite.com).
On the weekends, you can find her performing improv comedy every Saturday night at the Shelton Theatre in Union Square with the Secret Improv Society (www.improvsociety.com). And she's on twitter: @marycray