There is a significant emotional overlay to San Francisco for me, on top of anything tangible I might find there. The city itself maintains the significance it had for me when I first became aware of countercultural hippie things. On top of that, however many cute gay gift stores appear in however many small cities, San Francisco will always hold a sense of gay mecca for me, even if I have to maintain a fairly romanticized imagination on that count. Every time I return to the city I am transported back to my first visit there, the summer of 1978, when I walked its hills and checked out its comic book and vintage clothing stores (so many in one city was an unusual thing at that time) and looked longingly around the Castro in search of some evident gay community (which of course I did not find because I would have had no idea how to go about looking in a strange city at that point, although I did see lots of political flyers posted in the windows of the shops, mostly relating to the Briggs Initiative).
I was hooked from the first. When I read the first Tales of the City anthology in 1979 I felt this odd longing for the city, a longing that I still maintain even though I no longer see much to admire in the glib detail-free whiteboard nature of the characters in that series. I am certain I am not the only one who had that reaction, particularly at that time and perhaps to this day.
For my vacation last week, my days fell into this rhythm: I'd wake up early, still on Central Time, in the guest room of Doug's Victorian house in the Noe Valley. Although it rained pretty much every day, the mornings began with some sun. I am convinced that there is a particular quality to the San Francisco sun, a sun that pleasantly warms you through the cool morning dampness. I'd open the front door and look to the right, up at the Twin Peaks, and then I'd look to the left, down the hill to the vast panorama of San Francisco gingerbread, and I'd think, "I'm in San Francisco!"
The Noe Valley has many breakfast options. I'd stroll to 24th street, buy the Times, and luxuriate in not having to go to work. Each day was a different adventure, and a different bus or streetcar. I met a few friends for lunch. I went to the Japan center and had my obligatory San Francisco sushi meal and purchased novelty stationery. One day I stood at the corner of Market and Noe in the late morning and watched the passing scene, and of course several folks I know went by. That always happens when I stand still in San Francisco.
The days, though packed full, seemed to meander. At some point I'd return to Doug's to change clothes and perhaps nap, and each evening brought something different. There were many restaurants, and a lovely dinner party, and a few parades, and the occasional excursion to a beer bust at the Eagle during International Bear Rendezvous weekend. One evening I took BART to the East Bay to meet some friends for an elegant dinner at Citron. My calves grew stronger each day from the hills, and within a day or two I had stopped thinking about work altogether. This was a vacation indeed.
A week was lovely. A week was enough. My friends in the SF Freedom Band have a running joke of greeting me with, "You've moved here now, right?" but Doug -- who has always been one of the biggest proponents of how I belong in San Francisco and why don't I live here -- got it right this time. He said that I shouldn't move here, because it would lose the magic for me. Which is what I've been saying all along.
This recent trip reminded me of all that I've ever loved about visiting that city.