Friday, June 01, 2007

Tales of the City...

I have a chip on my shoulder. Maybe more like a blemish. A growth, mutated from exposure to certain realities of my life the same way a melanoma develops from exposure to UV rays. I am a townie, a chronic local. I’ve lived in D-town long enough that to call myself anything other than a native makes all the transplanted Californians laugh out loud. Some other circumstances of my life would bother other folks more, were they to find themselves in my shoes. High school dropout? Never bothered me much. Barely a semester of film school, at dear ol’ Red Rocks Community College? I can live with that. Bi-weekly paychecks from a giant-sized, notoriously conservative media behemoth? Oooh, pangs of liberal guilt on that one; but hey - a brother gots to work somewhere.

But if I dwell too long on the fact that I’ve never slept on second hand lawn furniture in my very own basement efficiency apartment in Greenwich Village, suddenly I turn into James Stewart in “Vertigo” - you know that trademark Hitchcock shot, where he closes the camera in tight on his subject’s face, while he “zooms out” at the same time – resulting in that queasy optical effect? (what can I say, it was a very productive semester)

It’s not as though I’m pining for some Jungian “Heroes Quest”. Sure, I respect the drive to climb the highest mountain, in order to ask the old man at the top “what it’s all about”, or Cassie’s joining the Peace Corps in order to make the world a better place - but those things, I presume, come from someplace just south and to the left of your shoulder (Your heart, that is; or maybe your gut. Not your naughty bits). My own chip, though, was at one time just a simple, average sized, non-terminal wanderlust-gland, which, had I toured the hostels of Europe for a mere six weeks, would most likely have remained benign.

When I do have the opportunity to travel, what should be a simple romantic getaway with the love of my life takes on this mad, aimless urgency. I must peel beneath the simple facade set up for those accursed tourists, and truly grok whatever strange new land I find myself in.

And so it was in San Francisco, as the wife and I celebrated our tenth (!) anniversary. We consumed as much of the city as was humanly possible in our 5 short days; by streetcar; by trolley, through the ominous subway stations where George Lucas shot “THX-1138”.

(not me)

But most of all, we got by on foot - thanks to that glorious oxygen they keep so much of at sea level. I was there to dig it, man; to lose myself in the neighborhoods of Maupin’s “Tales of the City” and to find and embrace my inner hippy on Haight Ashbury.

The first thing I realized, once we got settled into our hotel, was that even the most legendary of coffee towns isn’t immune to the Starbucks virus. I figured that the corporation of choice would at least be the locally spawned Peet’s. Alas, we saw only one of those, awkwardly wedged into the Castro district. Little matter to me - I would be drinking my cappuccinos (my traditional “vacation beverage”) only in cafes where the disembodied spirits of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his contemporaries floated freely.

Look at the Cafe Trieste website and you’ll discover that this small, unassuming joint was the first “Italian Style” coffeehouse on the west coast. Scooters – Vespas only, of course - are lined up against the curb outside. If you’re lucky enough to find a table on Sunday you can hear live opera being performed. If you’re lucky enough to go on the right Sunday, you may hear opera being performed by none other than Francis Ford Copalla (!) and family. Multiple pictures of Bill Cosby (!) adorn the walls, from his fighting-trim Chet Kincaid days to the thick-around-the-middle-late-Huxtable era. His celebrity affords him the ability, apparently, to walk behind the counter and whip up his own cappuccino. Sad to say, but I sort of wish he was there to make mine. Hidden beneath a modest layer of froth – more just “foam”, really – was a watery latte of no great consequence.

The next day we visited Haight Ashbury, where I was sure to not be disappointed - if for no other reason than lowered expectations. If I’ve learned anything in my half-a-lifetime of drinking coffee, it’s that, while college towns and hippy hotspots (Boulder, the “Ave” on the UW campus, etc.) feature no shortage of espresso bars and cafes, the coffee is usually nothing to blog about. But at least I would be in for some good people watching in a groovy atmosphere. “Rockin' Java” fit the bill nicely, decorated as it was in funky-junk modern and featuring the archetypal tattered couches. One barista saw that I was re-reading “Virtual Light”, and struck up some small talk about Gibson’s day after tomorrow vision of San Fran. However, the pleasantries were cut short when this overzealous Gestapo barista, one of those proud “assistant to the assistant manager” types, took issue with the Missus taking a few non-intrusive snapshots. Really, dude, even if we were from the Dunkin Donuts home office, planning a corporate takeover, I hardly think you’re gonna be the guy to stop us.

And again, my cappuccino was mediocre.

Now, I don’t want to give the wrong impression… we had a wonderful time. And San Fran is a pretty cool city. But really, I was noticing a theme, here. It’s taken me 35 years, but I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I’m small-town. I imagine my naiveté as being one of my charms, really. And when I go to a “big city”, especially one of those nigh-mythological coastal cities that visitors to Denver endlessly compare us to (always unfavorably, of course), I am prepared to accept nothing less than having my mind entirely and completely blown. Through my urethra. By a renegade army of socialist lesbian DJs from the future. (Or some other such anachronistic subculture).

Searching for just that sort of adventure, we took the F line to Castro. Here was the one place I wanted (and got) archaic certainties. Though it’s older, and wiser (and no doubt safer) Castro just feels like I imagine the pre-HIV 70’s and 80’s must have been. But still, if there was a kitschy and flamboyant coffee shop where drag queens served boys in short shorts and Doc. Martens (a la Big Cup in NYC) I didn’t find it.

But of course, caffeine wasn’t really why we were there; this was our one night of sheer unadulterated debauchery. We imbibed, of course, and here again there was a distinct lack of minds being blown. Or if there were any, it was theirs, not ours. Funny, we can go to any gay club in Denver to a general lack of comment; there, the assumption was that we must be mustachioed and candle burning swingers. And really, how was I supposed to know that to dance on top of the pool tables with the boys in golf shoes and tighty whites, you were supposed to be on the payroll? I figured in the great big city that sort of thing just sort of “happened” all the time - like harmonic convergence, or speaking in tongues at an old fashioned tent revival.

So after a few more less than stellar cappuccinos, a couple romantic walks through the town and one absolutely brilliant Italian meal later, we were back home. In the “real world” as I like to call it.

Driving home from a family day out, last weekend, we stumbled across a street fair happening on Larimer Square. Rainbow flags hung outside a few of the bars, there was visibly more Y chromosome going on than usual, and a DJ was spinning outside the Market. I’ve surfed the internets and I still haven’t been able to figure out what was going on; but to tell the truth, the music was better than anything we heard in SF. We danced in the street with the kids, way past their bedtime. I realized that, even though the wife and I have a lot more miles to cover over next ten years (and maybe some mustachioed and candle burning style-swinging, if I can break her down) it’s nice to know that I’m pretty content with where I’m at.


vivavavoom said...

great entry caff...really!

Peter said...

indeed... I truly enjoy reading your posts... well done sir.. i wish i could say that I am happy where I am at. I can honestly say that I might be happy being unhappy and that is fine by me.

vivavavoom said...

peter- "happy being unhappy" . that sounds sad.