Friday, February 2, 2007

When I come home to you, San Francisco

My love waits there in San Francisco,
above the blue and windy sea,
When I come home to you, San Francisco,
your golden sun will shine for me.

Words by Douglas Cross, Music by George Cory

The first picture I've taken in San Francisco since 1997
Taken from the Land's End Overlook

In December, 1974, I carried my possessions down three flights of stairs, loaded them in my pickup and a rented U-Haul trailer, and left the San Francisco Bay Area where I had lived since 1962. After spending Christmas and New Years Day with my parents in Smith River, California, I headed north and east to start my new life by moving into my parents’ three-room log cabin in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. In August, 1975, I headed back to the Bay Area for a brief visit and was amazed at how strong the energy field was. Mind you, I had been living in a log cabin, a mile and a half from my nearest neighbor for eight months. I had been out cross-country skiing every day from January through April, and at 25, I was probably the healthiest and in the best shape that I’ve ever been. Driving south on US 93, then west on I-80, I first started feeling “vibrations” at Reno. By Auburn, California I could feel a definite “pulse” in the air, and when I pulled off the freeway and parked at my girl friend’s home in Oakland, I took my own pulse—110. I was amazed. I grew up and learned to drive on these roads. What happens to people who have never experienced this kind of traffic? Do they have heart attacks on the Interstate?

After that experience, I made it a point to visit the Bay Area every other year, whether I needed to or not. This was relatively easy as long as my high school and college friends remained in Berkeley or nearby. Then, after I came out of the closet in 1978, I watched as more and more of my gay Montana friends moved to San Francisco (as well as Seattle, Portland, Denver—anywhere more hospitable than home). I’d make a trip to San Francisco to visit Montana friends, pick up more Princess Points as an out gay man, and maybe see old high school and college friends. I’d make these trips in connection with visits to my parents on the North Coast, killing two birds with one stone, as it were. In 1997, I met a guy on-line in an AOL chat room, and in no time we were chatting every day. I made eight trips to San Francisco that year, spending time with John, even going so far as to plan a flight to Ixtapa that was routed through SFO, just so I’d have an extra weekend with the SFBF (San Francisco Boy Friend). In November of that year, El Cerrito (California) High School’s Class of 1967 had its 30 year reunion, and I attended with John as my date. I didn’t hear from John at Christmas. He didn’t acknowledge the birthday present I sent him, and frankly, I’ve only heard from him once since then. I dunno. I enjoyed the reunion. But I never returned to San Francisco.

Not until this past Monday, that is. Guerneville was picturesque, with gay men on every corner, and the Highlands Resort was charming and romantic, but those were not the attributes I had left Smith River to find. Since the weather had been beautiful and the clear blue skies were supposed to continue for a few more days, I decided I could drive home on California’s Highway 1 on Tuesday, freeing up Monday to visit San Francisco. Had Tuesday’s weather forecast been anything other than clear and sunny, I would have spent Monday on the coast visiting Fort Ross, Jenner-by-the-Sea, and maybe even Bodega, the location of Tippi Hedren’s home in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds.

The path to Mile Rock Beach, complete with Stairs
San Francisco, California
Taken 1/29/07

Having made my decision to head south instead of west, I got up Monday morning, soaked for a while in the hot tub, had breakfast at the main lodge, then drove down to Coffee Bazaar for a latte and croissant, not to mention the free WiFi service. When I completed my on line work, I hid the computer in the back of the car and drove east on California 116 through Forestville and Sebastopol, catching up with US 101 at Cotati. South through Petaluma, known for its chicken farms and arm wrestling competitions, into Marin County and the towns of Novato, San Rafael, Mill Valley and Sausalito, and there I am, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Had you asked me, I would have told you that San Francisco was my favorite city, followed by Paris, London, Vancouver, Edinburgh, and Portland in no particular order. It was the standard answer I gave when asked. The fact is, however, that San Francisco is not my favorite city. It is, rather, the one city in the world where I feel at home. Everywhere else I travel I am a tourist, visiting for a few days and moving on. This is true even in Portland where I’ve spent more time in recent years than any other place outside Montana or Smith River, and the one city I would consider relocating to. But I’m not a tourist in San Francisco. I’m back home.

I took the 19th Avenue exit from 101 and drove south to Geary, then west to park near the Palace of the Legion of Honor. Where I expected to find a street running along the cliffs above Land’s End, I found instead a large parking area complete with benches, fences, and those devices that pass for public binoculars—put in your quarter and see the sites. I parked the Volvo, put the D80 on its tripod, and quickly shot a few scenic views. There used to be nude beaches at Land’s End and at nearby Baker Beach, and frankly, I just wanted to get naked and lie in the sun listening to the waves hit the shore. Walking down the trail toward the Legion of Honor, I kept noticing another trail lower down on the cliff. Now I remembered that trail, and knew that I had to be on it to find the paths leading down to the water. It was all familiar, and yet quite different. When I did find a way down to the lower path, I was amazed to find signs pointing out all the nearby attractions, and even a staircase leading down to what is now called Mile Rock Beach.

Once on the beach—which was assuredly NOT Land’s End—I found a few people, all fully-dressed, and lots of rocks. Someone had put a lot of time and effort into making rock cairns all along the beach. I walked west until I ran into a cliff that would have required swimming around, then stopped, took some pictures, and headed back to a more accessible part of the beach. Here I removed my shirt, ate an apple, and read for a while. I had the beach entirely to myself at this point. Later, climbing back to the car, I found the signs indicating just how much work the City was putting into beautifying this new tourist attraction. I doubt that nude beaches are considered part of the improvements.

Stone Cairn
Mile Rock Beach, San Francisco
Taken 1/29/07

Before I left the area, I stowed the camera gear in the back with the computer, so there will be no pictures here of the Great Highway, Golden Gate Park, Haight Ashbury, the Castro, or North Beach and Chinatown, even though I passed through all of those areas. I didn’t even get out of the car in Golden Gate Park, although I knew I’d have to come back and spend at least a week wandering the park with my camera. Even with a week, I’d only scratch the surface of all the images in that wondrous place. I did walk several blocks through the Haight, and found the piece of jewelry I wanted. I also walked past the Lycée Français where I got to hear a mother actually say “Oo là là” as she watched her child playing basketball. I even had a Crèpe Madeleine for lunch. (Turkey, cheddar and mushrooms, in case you were wondering.)

In the Castro, I renewed my membership in the Human Rights Campaign and had a wonderful chat with the fellow minding the store. We chatted about mothers, ex-lovers, carrying a lot of baggage around with us, and just how faithful was Dreamgirls to the Supremes/MoTown story? I could easily have spent the whole day talking with this delightful man. In another shop I bought the replacement for my old and faded rainbow flag, picked up yet another sticker to put on the Volvo, this time the blue, black and white leather stripe so that the Volvo will match the Saab, and got my second rainbow ring. Years ago I had purchased one of these rings and wore it with pride for quite some time before I lost weight—including finger fat, and the ring fell off somewhere without me noticing. Harbor Jewelers in Brookings/Harbor, Oregon, has a similar ring advertised on a billboard just a couple of miles from my house in Smith River. They’re charging $1400 for the ring, as the rainbow stones are all sapphires. I passed on it then, but in San Francisco I bought the version with the glass stones for $50. Now that I’m back in Smith River, I sure hope I can find it. That is to say I hope it fell off my finger in the car or while unpacking, and not on the beach at Fort Bragg or along the Eel River. Maybe I’m just not supposed to wear rainbow rings. Boy am I glad I didn’t buy the $1400 one.

I spent an enjoyable few hours in a men’s club on Market Street, then headed back toward the Russian River with the idea of having a delicious and exotic dinner in Chinatown or North Beach. Unfortunately, even though I had had no problem finding parking in the Haight, in the Castro, or in the area near the club on Market Street, the only space I found in North Beach was a yellow zone—30 minute parking only. Knowing that I’d take much longer than half an hour to enjoy dinner, I reluctantly gave up and returned to US 101 northbound. Dinner would be baby-back ribs at Chilis in San Rafael.

The Surf at Mile Rock Beach
San Francisco
Taken 1/29/07

I didn’t realize just how much I love San Francisco. I can’t say I left my heart there, or that my love waits there, but the city by the bay will always be a part of me. This post has been the hardest for me to write to date, as I keep blinking back tears. I’ll be back, San Francisco, and much sooner than ten years from now.


Carl said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences so well. I feel like I went with you.

Carl said...

This is my living faith, an active faith, a faith of verbs: to question,
explore, experiment, experience, walk, run, dance, play, eat, love, learn,
dare, taste, touch, smell, listen, argue, speak, write, read, draw,
provoke, emote, scream, sin, repent, cry, kneel, pray, bow, rise, stand,
look, laugh, cajole, create, confront, confound, walk back, walk forward,
circle, hide, and seek. To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of
answers. -Terry Tempest Williams, naturalist and author (1955- )

hotproof said...

One of the fun results of my reading your posts is that there’s at least some item that invokes my curiosity to do some minimal research on said item. In this post, your photo of the cairn had me curious. So as usual, I trusted Wiki to offer some details.

Since I didn’t recall what cairns implicate, Wiki said there are multiple possible intentions for constructing them. Possible indications are markers for hiking trails & summits of hills / mountains, landmarks for mariners, or memorials for special events, burial sites,& battle sites.

I liked the artful balancing act of the stones you photographed. And based on some of the photos on Wiki, the balancing of multiple stones can get quite elaborate & tricky.

Thanks for supplying that photo of the cairn. I like the contrast of simplicity (several rocks) mixed with complexity (meticulous balancing). And to punch it up, the musing of "why".

Oh, and I’m glad you had a good time rediscovering SF & thereabouts. Thanks for sharing your regional treks with us.

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