The worst part of living in San Francisco is leaving. Even an eclipse cannot lure me. Tempting as it may be to drive up north for twelve hours to sit in the darkness for eight minutes, I’ll stay in the outer, outer, outer Excelsior.
Growing up in Ozone Park, I knew that I would eventually get out. The only notable who had ever lived there was Jack Kerouac, and he only got famous by writing a book about getting On the Road away from there. Today’s coincidence: Jack Kerouac and I lived at either end of Crossbay Boulevard. No wonder we both discovered California.
I went to college in Indiana, which was, at the time, the farthest I had ever been from Queens. I began to hear about the Golden West. Daina’s friend, Aina, commented that of all the cities in the United States, San Francisco was the most Parisien. Not having been to France this seemed terribly glamorous to me.
In the mid 1980’s, when Brian and I were living above a funeral parlor in Jersey City, he went on a lot of dance tours. When The Wizard of Oz played the Cow Palace, I jumped at the chance to meet him there. Another dancer in the troupe took Brian and I to Muir Woods, and it was there, standing in Cathedral Grove, that I knew where we must live.
So a few years later when I got a job offer that I was totally unqualified for, working for a start-up software company, Brian and I loaded up a Ryder van with all our furniture and comic books and litter of newborn pekingeses and drove across the country in the hottest driest August of that century. But we escaped from the burning sun on a Friday afternoon, as we drove up 101 North, just past Candlestick Point, the fog cascaded out in silver swirls and invited us to stay in Avalon.
For the rest of the country, San Francisco is the favorite place to visit, but for a lucky few of us, it is home. Try this: ask a friend what he or she likes best about San Francisco, and I guarantee you that no two answers will be the same, and that in asking, you will learn something about the city you didn’t already love.
When I asked Crazy Mike, he said, “Because I have the ocean, a lake, a forest and a Safeway, all within walking distance.”
My friend Michele came up with: “the little cable cars, the rainbow crosswalks of the Castro, the organ player at SF Giants game, the China Town gate, Belden Alley, the installation of the Pink Triangle, the Moraga steps, Asia SF, the Tonga Room, the Alemany farmer’s market at sunrise.”
Long time reader of this column, Kay Coleman (the mayor of San Anselmo) said, “Impressionism. And hats.” She’s right. A hat never looks quite as fashionable as when it is on the head of a San Franciscan. I never owned a hat in Jersey City, but here I have baseball caps, trooper hats and even my very own Barney-Fife-Sheriff’s cap.
Kevin, who once upon a time, danced with Brian at ODC San Francisco, said, “The life I was able to build for myself. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn great.”
Mark Hetts named two favorite things: 1. The nooks and crannies and 2. The wildlife coexisting with the urban: hawks, owls, coyotes, parrots “…though we could use a few grizzlies to keep people alert and make them leash their dogs in public.”
My husband? He likes Le P’tit Laurent, the little French restaurant in Glen Park, where I really do feel like San Francisco is part of France. He also likes the white alligator and the butterfly exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences. And on the subject of lepidoptera, yet another thing that I like about San Francisco is my career: as the captain of the San Bruno facility, one of my responsibilities is guarding the last refuge of the endangered Blue Elfin Butterfly. It doesn’t get any more poetic than that. Tell me you could get that job in Los Angeles.
The two best answers came from my sons. Zane said simply, “It’s the place I can call home.” And Aidan, what the thing you like best about Fran Sancisco? “No bugs.”
So on Monday of next week, let the umbraphiles race up to Oregon. Here in San Francisco we don’t need the moon to eclipse the sun. We have the fog.