Wednesday, September 30, 2009
This City is hard to love. The first day that I got here I took the bus from San Jose to the Caltrain Station in SOMA. I boarded a bus and quietly sat in my seat. I had just moved from San Diego and was suitably dressed in a pink Roxie Sweatshirt, elevated black flip flops and long blond hair. I smiled at the other bus patrons, they ignored me.
After about 5 minutes I noticed a man staring at me. Well, at least one of his eyes was staring at me; I then noticed that his dog was also staring at me. The pitbull with the muzzle. The man was furiously whispering to the dog and then returning to stare at me. He seemed angry. No, he seemed PISSED. I started to pay to attention to what he was saying, it was something like, “We fucking hate her don’t we doggie. Yes, that’s right we HAAAAATTTE her. She is such a bitch.” Well you can imagine my surprise, my pink, blond surprise to have someone slinging such hateful comments in my direction. It was my direction, right?
I gazed around the bus. Nope, no one else seemed to be sitting in my area and he was definitely staring this way with at least one of his eyes. Around this point I started to get nervous. I mean, no one else was even looking at this guy, much less looking at me. His comments began to get louder and louder and his face more and more red. He was really, really mad….at me! It was pretty obvious that I wasn’t getting any help from anyone else on the bus. As a matter of fact, some of them looked, well, happy that the whole event was transpiring. I thought the logical thing to do was get off the bus at the next stop…..
In the Tenderloin. I stood on the street with my red Adidas bag and my pink sweatshirt and took in the grime, the fecal matter, the three men smoking crack in the bus stop and wondered what the hell I was doing in this City. Why in the hell had I come here again?
Well, I came here because this City is fantastic. I remember driving home from a court appearance in Oakland one afternoon and feeling my heart just swell looking at the City. Even though it’s damn cold and I had to throw away all my tank tops and open toed shoes, I had found a place where I could waive my freak flag. I had found a place where my liberal mouth was not met with mute horror but smiles and agreement. I had found a place where I could be as weird as I want to be, and believe me, I want to be weird, regularly.
Today I still encounter random moments of San Francisco that make me exhausted or nervous, much like my first meeting with the one eyed homeless dude on the bus. Sometimes a panting, half naked patron at the Safeway on Market will bump into me and I’ll shudder, thinking wistfully of clean wide aisles of the suburbs. But these moments only last a minute or two and then I’m on the Muni gleefully watching some City newbie be tormented by a dirty, drunken freak. And I like it.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
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
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
The Apex (where the Mission, Upper Market, and Hayes Valley meet)
I was destined to live in San Francisco based on one of the earliest stories I remember from my childhood. My dad and his brother-in-law took a day trip to the city when I was a toddler, and when reporting to my mom about their activities of the afternoon, decided to freak her out.
“What did you do?” she asked upon their return, and my dad added in at the end of a list of tourist attractions: “We hung the baby over the side of the Golden Gate Bridge to see if she liked it.”
Needless to say, they weren’t allowed to be out of eyesight of my mom for a very long time after that whenever I and a car were involved.
I’m a Bay Area kid, and the glamour of San Francisco was always there while I was growing up in San Jose. My gravitation to this city became stronger when I was in high school, and my interest was starting to pique in seeing live music. I wasn’t allowed to go to shows by myself, and some of my best teenage memories were of going to concerts with my dad, getting pulled over by the Great American Music Hall for going the wrong way on a one-way street and feigning apologies for being from “out of town.”
Seven different addresses, 15 roommates, eight jobs, and seven years living in this city, and the allure of this gorgeous haven continues to resonate something fierce with me. I still possess a sense of wonder when I walk down streets en route to attend events, meet friends, or with an intent to explore. I get to live here, here in a mecca of art, of music, of culture that is unparallel to and unlike many places in the country. It is a complete privilege that my addresses have had the zip code they did and do. Sure, maybe I haven’t shaken off that naivety, that romanticized bubble of awe about something new and being enamored with it, from when I first moved to this metropolis at the tender age of 18 to attend college. But if that’s the case, I don’t ever want to lose that feeling. San Francisco makes my heart swell with such sharp joy, it’s been yet to be duplicated by anywhere or anyone else in how much it permeates to my core.
It’s not to say we are without problems here. They’re present. We’re not perfect and we’re quick to point out our struggles with crime, with the high cost of living, with glitches in our politics and public transportation and our mayor’s hair. But one of the things I am always so struck by is the camaraderie that seems to be exchanged between citizens of this place. We’re not hesitant to list our issues, but we’re also able to look at the broader picture and appreciate what we do have. Our attitudes are positive and encouraging, and we’re open to talk about the possibilities.
I live in San Francisco because it is me. I often joke it is the longest relationship I’ve ever been in. This city has seen my share of drunken nights, wails of laughter, and hair colors too numerous to even know at this point. I always ride Muni with my attention focused out the window and not on my phone or music apparatus. My memories are marked on the corners of the city, at cafes and parks and places of symbolic nature, and they flood back to me every time I pass them. I’m reminded of the beers I’ve consumed, the hugs initiated, the feelings I felt while in that moment, and it makes me smile.
The city has also seen me devastated from heartbreak and failure and disappointment, true. It is inevitable that pain is factored into a relationship. But San Francisco has led me to a circle of friends I regard as family, people I hold with such respect and honor and trust it would be so, so very hard to imagine life without them. It’s brought me to careers I am passionate about, and provided opportunities to pursue. It’s offered an abundance of distractions, of fulfillments, and of empowerment. I always talk about the city when I travel and how much it’s impacted not only the world, but little ol’ me, too. Sometimes I am moved to tears about how much this place means to me, how much pride and adoration I have for a city that reminds me that the radiance of people and humanity can truly thrive when it’s cultivated. There is a place for everyone in San Francisco, and for me, mine is just the right fit.
Besides – if I were to ever move away, I won’t be able to say the phrase “Dude, San Francisco is small” anymore.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
“All those yoyo fanatics in America need to be represented by you, on this show. And it’s a YES from me!” ~ Sharon Osbourne, America’s Got Talent Judge.
I was born and raised in San Francisco until I was 4. My parents decided to move to Honolulu, Hawaii, the place I would call home because that is all that I could remember growing up. When I was 12, I visited San Francisco for the first time because of the National Yoyo Competition. It was when I placed 4th after only one year of practicing did I realize I was given a gift.
It was not until I moved back to San Francisco for college where that gift would be shown to the world. As a double major in Mathematics and Finance at the University of San Francisco, I have been seduced by this city by the bay. The highlight of the past 4 years is being crowned the National Yoyo Champion and appearing on America’s Got Talent while performing around the world.
Through the yoyo, I have been given the opportunity to become somewhat famous and follow my passion for travel doing something I love. My life has been forever changed that one day when the yoyo professionals came to my school at Ala Wai Elementary. How do I start to pay back what the yoyo has given me? I continue to spread my love and passion for the yoyo to others in hopes that they do the same. Yoyos have transformed the person I was and made me the person I am today, YOYOJOE.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Born and raised in San Francisco, I know it well. Certain streets have very clear memories for me. Moments locked in time, and triggered into view when I pass those streets. For instance, Masonic and Oak Street, Summer of '67: seeing and meeting Mitch, Noel, and Jimi Hendrix. And that was a free gig. Or take Geneva Avenue, which is where the Cow Palace is, which is where I saw the Beatles.
Or on Van Ness Avenue where long ago I would see Captain Fortune walking down the street. He had the best and first kid show in town in the 50s on Channel 5, KPIX. When I was a kid, San Francisco was on the map. If a movie opened, the star of the film would be there at the opening. This is how I was able to meet William Castle.
I think it was the movie House on Haunted Hill, which opened at the Golden Gate Theatre, was the first time I met Mr. Castle. He was in the box office behind the ticket girl, counting the money with a cigar in his mouth. And I had recognized Mr. Castle from Famous Monsters Magazine and called out his name: "Mr. Castle!" He looked over at me and said "what's your name?" and I told him it was Cyril. And he said, "Oh, I'll call you Cy." Overjoyed, I went back to school later that week and bragged to my friends that Mr. Castle knew me. And of course none of them believed me.
Anyway, when Mr. Castle's next movie came out, 13 Ghosts, I took a couple of my friends to the opening and lo and behold, Mr. Castle went "Lo, Cy!"
My friends never gave me any trouble after that.
Friday, September 18, 2009
San Francisco is home. I was born and raised here, in the Inner Sunset, actually Forest Hills. Born and raised on rock and roll. As I travel throughout the world, enjoying every minute of it, I never tire of looking out the airplane window and seeing San Francisco come into view. It always does that.
I feel so lucky to have grown up in San Francisco during the 1960s. I mean, it's always been a musical city... it was the first place to play "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Cathy's Clown," etc. It was and still has such a magical, international feeling to it. Different cultures, different people all coexist together. There's no place like it. Though it has changed, it still retains the smoke from the past.
I miss places like Playland (I caught the last few years of it), but San Francisco is still the town where Playland was and still is in my mind. Growing up here was a treasure: the characters, the neighborhoods. No matter how far I go away from here, there's still a piece of San Francisco in me and I'll always come back.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Tuesday after work
In 1999 I lived in Michigan and there were only two things I want to do with my life: be a DJ and a bike messenger in San Francisco. I graduated college and got a job offer that I postponed for the summer. I hopped on a jet plane and landed in SFO.
To this day, whenever I arrive home in SFO from anywhere in the world it's like I've been reborn to the City I love. Traveling on the BART from the airport to 16th Street and surfacing to the city of sights and sounds and smells makes me smile and forget my worries. I suppose that's what they mean by coming home again.
I arrived in 2000 and quite literally walked up to The Wall (at Sansome & Market where the old Sharper Image used to be) and started asking the tattooed, fixie riding, bike strangers where I could find a job. One of them mentioned a place in SOMA might be hiring so I walked over and into the alley based shop. I remember everyone I met that day like it was yesterday and the fact that they gave me a job on the spot because "a rookie had just quit the other day." They never asked any of the questions I'd been expected to know for my corporate job. They didn't ask any questions at all in fact. The next day I was given a radio, pager, and sent on my way. I remember getting strange looks as I asked pedestrians for directions on my first day.
For the next six months I learned all the secret ways into buildings and saw the City I love from a different perspective. I was an urban tourist exploring biker bars, union rallies, and living among the immortal class. It made me appreciate San Francisco all the more.
The strange thing about working as a bike messenger is that you don't spend lots of time on your bike. Time is spent in elevators, waiting, moving, signing, dodging, but mostly thinking. In fact you have a surprising amount of time to think about your life and the world around you. It's like a mashup between an exercise routine, unemployment and social security. Low pay, no benefits, all the time in the world to think, but you get to go as fast as you want.
For those who have never experienced it, manual labor brings with it lots of aches and pains but transforms the world around you into something more real. Food tastes better, the air feels fresher (even when it rained and you had to be out in it), and you never take your work home with you.
After my tenure on a bike I moved back to the Midwest to live for another five years. When I returned again, this time for good, the feeling filled me once again. In fact, every time I return to SF and surface from the underground I still get that little rush of being home. Welcome to my city. I am SF.
Mike's blog is Chaordic Mind.
You can see the rest of his photo shoot here.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Inside the Spreckels' Temple of Music (aka the bandshell)
Music Concourse, Golden Gate Park
It's 1992 and I have to get out of here. I'm in Denver, feeling none to good about life and in a failed relationship. I actually received a decent tax refund that year, and figured that if I sold my car and a couple of trumpets, I might have just enough to get out... just. But where?
His website: http://www.brassandzin.com
Cartoon Jazz Band: http://www.
Golden Gate Park Band: http://www.goldengateparkband.
And you can see Eric's entire photo shoot here.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
On Haight Street
My husband wishes I wouldn’t tell people we had an “arranged” marriage. He’d rather say we were “introduced” by family. I suppose he thinks it sounds as though I was forced to marry him. I think “arranged” has a nice ring to it because I know no other way the universe could have connected our paths and then bestowed upon us this alive, eclectic, bursting-at-its-seams city to grow in love and make our first home.
I lived on the East coast, and he called San Francisco home. We met in a splendidly random way after an aunt suggested we might get along. He called. I picked up and was hooked… Fast forward and three months later, he asked me to marry him during my first trip to the city. I gasped a resounding “YES”, got hitched and moved out West for love.
Moving for love, especially to a city as intimidating as it is glorious, isn’t always easy. Change isn’t always easy, and there were plenty of changes.
Big ones: Steep, rich neighborhoods, packed so tightly with incredible, inexplicable poverty. My ten round, knock-down, drag-out, bare-knuckled brawl with unemployment. A teeny 600sq. ft apartment. No friends. MUNI. And totally insane rent prices.
There were plenty of changes all right, but that was one year ago, and things eventually “arranged” themselves.
I now have a job I fought to get. I am lucky to call some of the most fantastic ladies in this city my friends. I love the smell of the Eucalyptus nestled secretly in a sprawling city. I know where to taste the crisp freshness of a cheap Vietnamese Sandwich. I’m beginning to realize MUNI is incredible, and all the craziness on board is part of the fun.
Things aren’t perfect, and there will be big hurdles ahead, but they’ll work themselves out. They have so far.
Call me naïve, but I can think of no logical explanation of how two people so far away could cross paths, fall in love and then learn to grow in love in this beautifully accepting and challenging city. You can call it God, the universe, family, fate, or just sheer luck. I’m content to believe things arranged themselves for us here in San Francisco.
Last month we moved to the Lower Haight. We live in a wonderful, graffiti-colored neighborhood. We live in a gorgeously old apartment. We live in this place we are proud to call our first home together. We live here in SF.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
The Women's Building, Lapidge Street side
Some cities are like love affairs, beginning with butterflies and thrills, then going through adjustments where you aren’t sure if this is the relationship you want at all, and finally to the realization that this force (or person, or city) has completely changed you for the better and you aren’t the same without it.
Coming to SF was a fluke-- or was it? I am a girl from the small town of Pittsburgh, PA who was supposed to vote Republican, have babies , cheer for the Steelers and conform.
It started out as a surprise-- I came to the Bay Area with my running partner (and inspiration) to run the Big Sur marathon in 2000 and decided it was about time that I lived somewhere beautiful and close to the ocean. I hadn’t expected to fall so hard for this amazing place, but it happened.
In 2005, my love affair with San Francisco began. Initially I lived in Palo Alto which, much like new love, was shiny and not quite real. As much as I wanted this polished life, it didn’t quite fit.
Then I moved into the Sunset and was an N-Judah girl, still in the flush of love-enjoying days at Java Beach and runs on the ocean. Then, much like any romance, the bloom was off of the rose as I experienced the cold summer days and nights in the Sunset (where is the sun I ask???).
Finally, I found my home on Polk Street and my love with San Francisco matured. Polk Street, much like myself, is a dichotomy of things-not as glitzy as Russian Hill, not as rugged as the Tenderloin. Instead, it is a bit of both: amazing boutiques and cafes, bars that are lit on fire on the weekends, dirty streets and genuine smiles. I can walk around sweaty from yoga or dolled up for a night on the town and Polk Street always treats me like a Lady. It is here that I embark on adventures past and present-cocktailing at the Fillmore-heading out to spin fire poi at Ocean Beach or teaching yoga in the Mission. No matter what I do, I am loved and accepted.
All good love stories deserve a happy ending as I am told-well, I can tell you that I have found my bliss in San Francisco. Bliss while hula hooping in Dolores Park, bliss in a late night Bob’s Donut, bliss as I run and touch the handprint on the Golden Gate Bridge, bliss in a well mixed drink at Bigfoot and bliss as I thank the Gods for delivering me to my True Love.I found my heart in San Francisco…
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Once upon a time, in a virtual land called Craigslist, an organization was born. In the midst of tickets bought and sold, pets lost and found, missed encounters remaining missed, a group of strangers joined up in a common effort to make things better. To their secret surprise, they found themselves stumbling into something more – something big and trembling with potential. Something that threatened to make a difference.
Naturally, it all started in San Francisco. And, if you want, you can come join us too.
Hi there. This is our SF story...
On January 6, 2008, a would-be volunteer responded to a Craigslist ad. Turned out, the ad had been posted by Dr. Sujatha Sankaran, an internist recently returned from an eight month stint as the sole physician to a fishing village in coastal Ghana. She had an idea she thought could change a corner of the world and she wanted to start a nonprofit to make it happen. The would-be volunteer was Nikka Rapkin – a corporate lawyer armed with all the public health know-how to be gleaned from Mountains Beyond Mountains, and maybe not a whole lot more than that.
But still, something happened during that meeting. There was a big problem out there, one that had a solution, and yet nobody seemed to be doing anything about it. They shook hands and that’s where it began.
This is the story about what happened next. Which was amazing.
They posted on Craigslist again. And again. And again. And each time, the call was answered by individuals with drive, ambition, a skill set, experience in the field, a piece to add to the crazy dynamic and super stellar THING this organization was becoming.
Let’s say you lived near a river. Let’s say it was a big river – a very wide and deep river, with rapids and frothing whitewater currents, man-eating river sharks – something sinister and impassible. One day, you wake. You think: A bridge. Let’s build a bridge.
You stand on your front porch and you holler: hey, anyone got a rock?
One by one, strangers, who cease to be strangers, come and set down their rocks. People get excited and begin bringing more rocks. You have joy and mortar mixing parties. At the exact moment you start worrying about your lack of engineering experience, newly credentialed techies from Cal show up with blueprints. Folks on the other side of the river see what’s happening and shout back at you: can we help? And. Slowly. You have a bridge.
People come to our organization for a variety of reasons. Partly because we are the underdogs in a great battle against the nastiest kind of villain – the sneaky insidious one nobody knows about. Our bad guy is cardiovascular disease in the developing world. It’s an epidemic – taking impoverished countries by storm, setting back the clock on decades of public health advances – and it’s something we can fight and win. Eighty percent is preventable – and, if we do act on it, developing nations will save – no exaggeration – tens of billions of dollars a year. There’s something for everyone here.
And if you need roots for a global community, what better place than right here in San Francisco, amidst the community-seekers and believers who get that a BBQ in the Lower Haight really can prevent diabetes in Karnataka? And that preventing diabetes in Karnataka could build a house and keep a family fed?
We’re about to set the keystone for our first bridge – the first of many. A project in Elmina, Ghana, that will impact over 50,000 people, just for starters. We’re also throwing our first big shindig, at the Museum of the African Diaspora. If you want to give us a hand, or a few dollars, or even just say hello, you should show up. It’s on Friday, September 11 at 6:30. It will be fun (Afrolicious is playing), but mostly it will be a celebration of the Bay Area’s community and camaraderie that made this happen.
On Craigslist, you can buy a couch. You can find a bike, a bike tire, a spoke. A one night stand. You cannot buy a lung or a kidney, but (according to the Best Of), you can get a one of a kind pushpin for $0.05. You can also start a nonprofit and make the world a fundamentally different and better place.
We swear you can.
Sujatha and Nikka
You can learn more about ICHA (International Cardiovascular Health Alliance) in the links below.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
At Mario's on Columbus
So we were all in line at Bimbo's. It was probably 1999, because so many of my friends still lived here. We were carefree, and we took cabs. It was the North Beach Jazz Fest, that much I remember, but I have no idea who I was in line to see (I like to think it was the Innerzone Orchestra). Who knows?
It was me, my wife Anne (who wasn’t technically my wife yet, as we got married in 2000), my buddy Rob, and my college friend Pete. It was crazy that the three of us were together in line, and since Anne was with us, we’d done the prudent thing and gotten there early. The doors were just about to open and the three of us were poised to run in and try to find a seat.
Bimbo's, for those of you who don’t know, is a pretty large club with tables on the floor in a semi-circle around a large stage. You’ll find more tables against the wall on the edges of the room, but those fill up so fast, and it’s never worth trying to get them. Then there are the corner tables. Large enough for an entourage, the corner tables have views of the whole room, the stage, everything. I surveyed the crowd. A long line stretched down Columbus toward Fisherman’s Wharf. It would be mobbed tonight. I’d probably have to hold my jacket, Anne’s jacket, drinks, and whatever else. It looked to be stuffy, hot, tiring.
But tonight, fate had adventure in store. As the doors opened, Pete and Rob disappeared inside. I walked straight to the bar, ordered a gin & tonic and a beer, thought better about it, and ordered a sparkling water for Anne, too. Caught up in the mad rush from the door to the main room, I saw Anne, and then found Rob. He was motioning to us both, pointing at Pete sitting in a corner booth. Pete had a table! Amazing. I ran over. Best seat in the house. Closest to the stage. One of those booths with a large round table and leather seats. Classy, but fleeting. It would be ours for only moments. The booth would seat at least 20 and we were only 4. In another minute some large group would move in and we’d be just as crowded as the poor saps in the middle of the room.
We all felt the pressure. Pete acted. He looked around at a pile of flyers lying on the table-top, and found one with an unprinted side. He folded it in half like a table-tent, took out a black felt-tipped pen and calmly started writing. He printed these three letters on each side of the fold: V.I.P.
I laughed. “Bro, that’s never going to work,” I said.
Pete didn’t laugh. He was a man on a mission. He waved down a waiter, ordered a magnum of champagne and a bucket of ice. He asked for half-a-dozen glasses, maybe more.
The effect was instantaneous. The rest of the club filled up, but our little corner stayed nice and empty. A long-haired Jazz fan with a backpack tried to back in and sit down on our couch. I made eye-contact with him, pointed at our little sign and simply mouthed “Dude …V.I.P.” He apologized with a wave, smiled, and left.
The band played. We sipped the champagne, we ordered more champagne. It was classy. Then the strangest thing happened. Other V.I.P.s started coming over and hanging out. A couple here, a couple there. They wore sports coats and were very cordial. We all shook hands. I introduced myself as an “artist,” Anne and Pete were in “high-tech,” Rob was a “film-maker.” All of this was basically true, but it was more of how we wanted to see ourselves than how we really were.
Another V.I.P. couple sat down next to us, and the man introduced himself as the owner of a club in the lower Haight. It was the DJ bar, “The Top,” and “Had we ever heard of it?”
“No Fucking Way,” I said, but then got a little embarrassed. That’s not how V.I.P.s talk, you know.
The Top was just about the coolest club in town at that particular point in history. We talked to him a bit more. Rob actually made music videos, and I owned turntables so we were (kind of) in the same business ... a little bit. We poured him some of our champagne, we traded music industry stories, we laughed. Then, as he left, he signed a few credit-card sized badges and suddenly we had year-round V.I.P. passes to his club. Amazing. And to think earlier in the day I was too broke to buy the super burrito at Pepito's.
And then, as soon as it had started it was over. The lights came on. Our real lives returned. Pete would soon disappear back East (Brooklyn). Rob went on to work on movies (the three of us were extras in “Groove”), and screenwriting took him down to L.A. Within a year me & Anne’s life evolved, simplified, and got a lot more complicated. We got married, bought an apartment, had kids. Champagne was reserved for birthdays, New Year’s, and new jobs.
There are so many stories I have about my life so far in San Francisco, but this one just about sums up what I like best. The randomness of every single day. The way you can re-invent yourself a thousand times over. The way that no-one really cares one way or the other what you do, as long as you do it with style. San Francisco is a city where you can do anything, be anything you want. It turned me, a broke kid from Florida into a big-city V.I.P., if only for a night. And for the record, Pete, Rob and I must have gone to The Top every weekend for the next year, loving every minute of it.