Dub it a bug. A sudden addiction. Call it what you will, but the impulse to step beyond the confines of my usual surroundings has been a powerful force over the last few months. Chock it up to a combination of the internet, friends from all over, and an unrelenting eagerness to find myself a little lost on a budget. Last weekend's little voyage up north was in many ways something that has been brewing in my mind for over a year now. And to at last be on the ground, surrounded by souls both superficial and radical so closely merged, the memories of those three-plus days continue to reverberate like the seemingly endless end chorus of a favorite song.
Upon arrival, it became readily apparent that taking a Lyft from my bus stop to the hotel I had reservations for, was a lesser option to walking. Considering that the temperature in town was near twenty degrees lower than that of home, it would have been the perfect way to discover the heart of the city without many barriers. And despite not doing nearly as much research as I probably should have, The Mosser turned out to be just the right kind of home base for my journey into the great bay city. Sure, I was surrounded by the likes of Old Navy, Walgreens, every other major capitalistic name under the sun, lauded by armies of the hopelessly safe, but despite that, there remains a wildness, just waiting to tear from the seams of such an illusory paint job. And the hotel itself offered a tactile retro air, complete with built-in music studio to add to that all so hip air. (No, I never used it.)
Before heading into town for the evening, it took me at least two hours to properly gather my bearings by attempting meditation. In the core center of San Francisco. Yes, I'm aware that this is a ridiculous notion. Either way, it seemed to have worked, because I was good and refreshed enough to meet my guide in The Mission.
Of course, this meant boarding either the notorious BART or Muni public transit services in order to get there. I had long heard tale from friends and acquaintances. And since most of my past journeys to the bay, took place in the passenger's seat of someone else's car, this was for a moment, a pretty daunting footnote. Their kiosks aren't that intuitive, and require a few more leaps than I'm used to in regards to operating them. Sure, I could have asked someone. BUT IT's POWELL STATION. Ahem. Sorry. As much progress as I may have made as an L.A. resident, I will likely always be a small town boy at heart, and there are just some things a guy simply must figure out for himself. (Okay, next time I'll take the time to ask. It shouldn't be to tough.)Ten minutes later, it all suddenly made sense, and I was at last a few short stops away from the Mission district, where a meetup with a friend who knew the area, even as it grew dark made for a sweet evening of veggie-centric Japanese food and conversation. And we could hear each other well considering that so many restaurants seemed to be doubling up in tables for patrons that evening.
That evening, was in no way a portent to what was to become of Saturday. Beginning with some surprise water/phone drama, leading to my using talk-to-text options for email and such while my screen is occasionally going berserk. And yet despite this, venturing out to Mission and partaking of what I had never tried before; a San Francisco take on the vegetarian burrito, followed by a spirited journey into Golden Gate Park. Sadly, we were unable to take a deeper look into the park's Conservatory Of Flowers, but the sheer breadth of the park, and the impressive mass of humans inhabiting it was impressive enough. After walking through what only felt like a fifth of the park, it wasn't hard to feel intimidated by it. But considering that my home hundreds of miles away was suffering one of its hottest days on record, the registered 69 degrees with a breeze all around us, was a welcome contrast.
Hours into this, my guide then chose to lead us to a favorite haunt. I had long heard of the fabled, Green Apple Books down on Clement. But it was no preparation for the mountain of literary treasure the store continues to offer. Seeing as how my guide is an established local poet and published writer, we spent a majority of our time at Green Apple, poring over the poetry section, which is impressive to say the least. Discovering new voices, as well as rediscovering ones long neglected were a major part of my visit. But among the more fun highlights, the one that stood out the most came while attempting to read aloud some works. Three short poems in, and a neighboring veteran goth came over to me with a book. Centered on one woman's voyage in the wake of numerous lovers via her motorcycle traveler's life. Wishing I made note of the author, the prose was rife with fresh anger, and even a tinge of sadness that the men who would embrace such a romantic lifestyle, wouldn't see past their own expectations this one person's wish to be more than an adornment. The book was both flirting with rage and probably could only be seen as camp fodder at this point. But it was a fun, eye-opening moment from a complete stranger all the same.
Soon after, we hopped a Muni to get us back toward Nob Hill, where I had a chance to experience the Gothic Revival awe of Grace Cathedral, which is not only known for its astonishing architecture and relief works upon it's huge doors, but also two truly haunting and revered labyrinths. The well-regarded Doors of Paradise, further grant this structure a knowing sense of the tales that bind so many together. Featuring almost frighteningly detailed recreations of Cain and Abel, and of course Adam & Eve. These doors which are replicas of Lorenzo Ghibteri's work that continues to adorn the doors of the Baptistry of Florence Cathedral, Italy.
The celebrated labyrinths, depicting humankind's endless journey to ascension is an interactive, and in many ways meditative series of circular, one way mazes that eloquently symbolize our collective journeys, experiencing and gathering experience, whilst meeting new faces along the way. (reinforced by the design of the mazes, as it becomes increasingly tricky not to walk face to face almost toward fellow maze walkers) The paths are in a way so intricate, that it almost forces one to pace themselves. There are no speed walks through these walkways, and it is by design. I have heard that once a month, there are evening candlelight walks of the mazes, as well as weekly Peace walks. A part of me is very curious about such events. As of this visit though, the final time for my initial journey was roughly sixteen minutes to get from one end to the other.
Largely pooped from all this running about town, it was drinks and dinner back in downtown. Something I may never try again knowing full well more warm and humble options exist elsewhere. Nice dark beer though.
Sunday, while beginning a little later than previous, wound up becoming what continues to replay endlessly a week later in my mind. Journeying via the BART, through the notoriously loud Transbay Tube, is an unforgettable first experience. Witnessing decibels only rivaled by local construction, a frightening accident, or a Merzbow concert, the train journey between the San Francisco Peninsula and Yerba Linda, is one to be fully experienced to be properly understood.
Upon arriving in Oakland, it was quite apparent that the overall vibe of what I have known to be San Francisco, kind of ends the moment we take that train underwater. Coming out the other end, we are in an environment much more pointed, stark, and strangely L.A.-like in some respects. A refreshing warts-and-all counterpoint to what has become closer to a neglected theme park. A few blocks of walking away from our stop, emerged something I had only heard about, seen a few images online, and wondered how this even existed...
That's right..We entered the Oakland community's one and only New Parkway.
A truly astonishing oasis in the seemingly endless deserts of film houses across this great nation; The New Parkway, is an independent pizza joint/movie house/DIY rumpus room where we could see a movie, have a meal served to our seats, and watch something I never thought I could for a dirt cheap ticket. Not only was I taken aback by all the amazing repurposed seating, the oddball as hell pre-show shorts, and the totally laid back attitude of everyone around us, but the fact that we could watch the latest Twin Peaks on a large screen was a moviegoing experience on par with the best screening experiences I have ever been fortunate enough to remember. (Btw- I will be sharing thoughts on last week's installment, promise.)
We could also recall further adventures in Mission, spending time just absorbing the effervescent vibe of Dolores Park, overlooking the city. Or how about the other cafes and food joints we hit along the way. But a part of me feels like the biggest impressions I walked away by staying in the Bay Area for an entire weekend, were that of a greater cross-section of California life, complete with every contrast under the sun, all vying for the same headspace. It's perhaps a little too easy with that amount of dwindling space to understand just how important it is for dialogue to persist. And yes, this includes actually listening to the other party. Sometimes, the rowdy spirit of a nation can at times find itself drowning out its own message. And as of right now, it to me feels more important than ever that we not only raise visibility levels upon those with less, but on thoughts that otherwise might get missed while the sky above finds itself littered with rocks and shit hurling back and forth at dozens of miles per hour. Like any place of ideas, there is always a danger of calcifying in your own ideals. And while I do see a great city, bound together by a sense of impending freedom and liberty, I also see potential for every generation to recoil when things grow too heated.
As americans, we require the wiggle room, the ears, and the patience that becomes an endless resolve. And that means keeping the muscles tender, no matter where we go. I'm just hoping that in potential future visits, there is more to learn beyond the myth of San Francisco. I wish to better befriend San Francisco, the place, and its people in it.