Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco’
Some pictures to look at. Pretty pics …
A few weeks back, after years of restoration, the Palace of Fine Arts was fully opened to the public. Bicycled by there for a look. Took a few pics.
San Francisco had its first “World’s” Fair in 1894, the California Midwinter International Exposition.
The area eventually morphed into the its current incarnation, the Band Concourse, ringed by the new Academy of Sciences and de Young Museum.
By far, the exhibit that garnered the most love was the Palace of Fine Arts:
So, as I said, I swung by the Palace of Fine Arts. Looking good …
A young woman held the sign high over her head with those words scrawled on it, black letters on orange paper, as she celebrated the Giants’ victory:
“Hi Dad! I made it!”
Makes me wonder if there’s a story there.
This is a pretty neat night.
I love my town, my city … for lots of reasons …
… and tonight, as a citizen of this wild and wacky place grown up on the steep hills that border the Pacific, here in this city of dreams built on the faultline at the edge of the world … things feel pretty good …
… really good …
… full disclosure: I’m not a ‘fan’ … not in the sense I once was … I don’t go to games anymore, rarely watch, but enjoy listening …
… there’s plenty of people like me out there … people with a history with this team, maybe dimmed by time … or replaced by the inevitable happenings and changes that mark all our lives …
If you have a history with this region, and in particular if you have a history with this city, you have a history with the Giants … you’ve probably been to games … listened to games on the radio, in the background while you were doing something – chores and stuff – and remember those moments when the announcer gets excited and you pause to listen …
… Clark’s at bat with a runner in scoring position …
… listened more times than you could ever dream of counting …
Baseball isn’t football, a game that happens once a week with nothing but talk in between.
Baseball is April rolling in with all its possibilities, and for the next six months the game becomes part of the background fabric of daily life … always to be counted on to be there … there every year, a repeating cycle that is part of the city’s spiritual lifeblood … there’s always a game going on … sometimes you pay attention, sometimes you don’t …
… and then … stuff happens … something comes together, a team starts doing something, and because of that long and intimate history, that relationship with the perennial dream of ending the drought, old fans start paying attention, and the disappointment of 50 + years slips away, and you get a little hopey thing going … usually to sad results … but not this time, never this time … you start paying attention, Sunday afternoons, Friday evenings, road series, home stands … it’s all so familiar and welcoming and you just ease into the old groove … and you’re along for the ride, always understanding this likely won’t end well …
But you do it anyway … ‘cause you remember you, who you were, how you were … memory seems just a little keener … and you remember why you love to be in this place …
So have a little mercy for all us fair-weather types – ‘cause we really aren’t, we’re just old fans feeling the spark relit. … and being rewarded by seeing it happen to a deserving bunch of players … and it’s all good … and now that it is over, I’m going to miss this … really really miss this … this happy background buzz, this insane quest …
… and I’m just sitting here feeling the past, thinking ‘bout all those years gone by, the fresh Springs and hopeful Summers and broken Autumns … remembering family, friends and lovers … feeling the gentle echo of the soft, subtle experience of being alive in time … it’s all connected somehow …
… and so it goes …
I’m feeling happy right now, soft smile, softer sigh.
It’s all good.
And so I’ll leave you with this:
There is this guy in the Giants organization – Mike Murphy, the clubhouse manager – he has a history going back to the San Francisco Seals, before the Giants moved west … he was the Seals’ Bat Boy … when the Seals went away, the Giants took him in … he’s been there ever since, loving his team, through every season, through every heartbreak, living and dying with its fortunes …
… imagine how his heart must soar …
Posted in Home Base, tagged Blue, Court and Spark, De Young Museum, Dreams, Eric Kimball, Evolution, Golden Gate Park, History, Joni Mitchell, Lady Ice, Loss, Love, Memoir, Memory, Regret, River, Running, San Francisco, The Police on August 26, 2010| Leave a Comment »
With one breath, with one flow
You will know synchronicity…
~Synchronicity, The Police
Heat Wave …
I stepped out of the garage Monday morning, took a moment and inhaled the city.
It’s an odd scent for this odd, crazy season of weather.
A scent of warmth.
We’re not used to that here, this year, around the City by the Bay, or the entire Bay Area for that matter. We been under a gray haze and unseasonably cool temperatures for months now, with occasional short periods of clear skies and even shorter blink-and-you’ll-miss-it heat waves … or what passes for heat waves in my magical metropolis. Truly a summer without sun.
A lost summer …
We’re having a heat wave.
A tropical heat wave.
The temperature’s rising
It isn’t surprising…
~Heat Wave, Irving Berlin
I dreamt of running last week.
Funny, that. I haven’t dreamt of running in all the time since my spine and knees finally told me “Enough!” long years ago. And now I’m reminded of that dream on this new, warm morning as I breathe in the fresh day. Synchronicity at play. Lots and lots of synchronicity this day, this odd, disconnected, want-to-throw-it-all-away day. Right now, in this moment within the dream of a moment, I think of running, of reasons for running. I long for running with an ache that eclipses the sadness I felt when I woke from that odd, wonderful dream of a run.
A little while later I’m listening to the Police on the drive to work, scent of fresh coffee filling the cab of the Buddhamobile. The sun is rising, emerging blood red from behind the San Bruno mountains as I head south on 280, thoughts roaming another time, remembering similar feelings of hurt and loss, of steady orbits thrown out of kilter …
… dreams of running.
Joni Mitchell sings a beautiful song on a sometimes melancholy album called, simply, Blue. This was my real introduction to Ms. Mitchell, whom I’d heard many times over the preceeding years but first really listened to while I was stationed in Germany back in the day, 18 years young and lonely and cut off from the familiar, but that is a tale for another time. Suffice to say she has since supplied a significant portion of the soundtrack of my adult life.
Blue came together after Mitchell’s breakup with Graham Nash and, if the content of the album is any indication, the split was deep and painful. And as the album illustrates, this is also one of the side benefits of this kind of angst – if you want to refer to it them as ‘benefits’ – of having creative talent: the ability to focus your anguish into a creation.
I digress. This song I’m talking about is called River. And as I’m writing this and thinking about that song I experience another of those moments, one of those soundtrack events from the unfilmed movie of my life. River is the song we were listening to when it became apparent that my first wife and I were going to go our separate ways, and in the remembrance of that instant the echo of its sad melody provides a nice … no, not nice … the word… phrase … I’m looking for is … a synchronically poignant … counterpoint to how I felt as the realization sunk in that our life together was drawing to a close. Of course, that was before the insanity set in and things really went to hell and the moment’s memory lost all of its resonance but that, too, is another story.
I’m so hard to handle,
I’m selfish and I’m sad,
Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I made my baby say goodbye
More important – at least, from this Monday morning perspective – River addresses the complexity of living life, how the choices we make, conscious and unconscious, can often cause as much pain as joy, for ourselves and for those we love. And with that understanding comes the underlying need to escape, to throw off all the associated angst and skate away …
Problem here is skating away on a frozen river in these parts, even in the winter, is out of the question, and a downright insane concept in the summer.
But, then, insane is one of those things I do so well …
Walking in Your Footsteps …
But I’m not listening to Joni as I think on dreams, these dreams of running.
I had a several soundtracks I ran to, back in that lost time before the steady accumulation of age, motorcycle mishaps and long falls from heights worked their inexorably dark magic on my body. In this bygone era the Walkman was still a relatively new contraption, and I had mine, the small, hand-sized hunk of metal and plastic providing a rhythm and pattern for my runs while muting the sounds of the city, allowing insulation from the outside world. (Now, my good friend, Bob, who is still a runner at his *cough* advanced *cough* age would scoff at the idea of the music while running, I’m sure; but, then, he has the wide open spaces where city sounds do not intrude.) There were different soundtracks for different courses I ran, but the best all-around running music for a run anywhere, any time, was the Police’s Synchronicity.
I remember all of this … not from the dream but, instead, from its wake … and in the subsequent days I move through the here-and-now with this faint ghost of a past keeping pace with my life. Of course, memory is a fickle repository. What happened and what you actually remember of what happened are often two different things. So, too, likely the immediacy of what is happening to me now shall change and reshape itself …
Synchronicity I through Synchronicity II. A continuity, a flow. The first song would kick in and I’d take off, working out a good stride, a sudden shock to the system and the heart rate goes up and the blood and oxygen flow and I’d lose myself to the next 25 minutes or so. And by the time the run was over it was always good, even when I had to work for it.
I’d like to be able to work for it right now …
… there’s a (running) joke about runners that asks: “Why are you in such a hurry not to go anywhere?” ...
I miss the running … there’s the cathartic effect, for one thing, the ability to take yourself out of your life for a little while and just focus on the intimate immediacy of the biological machine that is your body as you go through the experience of exertion. There’s no time for thinking about crap on the run, stupid or otherwise … at least, not right away, not until you settle into your stride and stop thinking about what it is you are doing: running. That varied, of course. Some runs were tough – you never got in sync, never found a happy place where the run takes care of itself and instead it seems you’re constantly working it, searching for that happy spot where you hit your personal cruise control.
Other times you settle into a groove without even realizing … you’re just there and suddenly it’s just you in that random state of mind, a place of free-association and ADD, playing things out in the landscape of memory and imagination.
1983 was a pretty messed up year. Lot of stuff went on I’d just as soon not think about … and rarely do. But then come days like today, where I’m feeling the way I’m feeling, and it’s hard to keep the memories – good and bad – at bay. Even more interesting to me in an odd, almost detached way: I find I don’t want to shut these things out, that I’m almost embracing this odd, recurring empty feeling in my gut, like there is something there telling me I am alive with a forceful immediacy .
So I let the memory of that time wash over me this Monday morning, let myself rekindle the experience of me nearly 30 years gone – has it really been that long? – and feel my breath catch. It’s a big “Wow!” moment all over again, just like the night before. And then it’s on, and I hop in the Buddhamobile and head on out to greet my day, the first good weather day since I can recall for weeks, and I’m thinking and remembering and it is all good. Momentum: for all the negatives I noted in an earlier posting, it can be your friend, keeping your mind off things you don’t want to deal with, still another reason to long for the run. By the time I stop at the coffee shop in Daly City I’m living in two realities, and the longing for the one I can’t step into is surprisingly compelling and almost urgent.
Everything comes and goes
Marked by lovers
And styles of clothes
Things that you held high
And told yourself were true
Lost or changing
As the days come down to you…
~Down to You, Joni Mitchell
1983. I found a place on 10th Avenue, in the Inner Sunset, at the tail end of a nomadic summer of loss and homelessness, a near-death experience, borrowed couches and patches of rug to lay out my sleeping bag. This, of course, garnered a deep appreciation for good friends in hard times that remains in my heart to this day. By the end of that beautiful, terrible season I landed a job that paid me enough to get by and settled into pursuing a career in the theatre I was already having second thoughts about. And I eased into the process of gestating the new bits and pieces acquired, the knowledge of things I’d garnered about myself that I’d been long overdue in discovering.
Bittersweet growth and revelations, aches and pains and joys and laughter …
It’s a process.
I started running that fall. Geographically, I was perfectly set up for it – I lived a block from Golden Gate Park, near the the (old) Academy of Sciences and the (older) De Young that didn’t look like the grounded starship … … that rests upon the site in these modern times. That part of the Park was/is special to me, a recurring local in my life story. And as I recall these things on this Monday morning, within my waking dream of memory I delve deeper, almost another quarter of a century, remembering a child, wandering, rapturous and amazed through these places with his granddad, falling in love with planets and stars and dinosaurs. Being in this place again, living so close: in some respects it was like coming home. And back in 1983, running through the fresh, early morning light, breathing in the crisp, cool air that carried with it the hint of the warmth of the day to come, there came a healing comfort that worked its way inside my wounded heart and settled deep in the hidden house of my spirit.
Thats my soul up there …
Everyone runs, even when they don’t.
Running is something we are geared to do, an evolutionary, protective function built into our DNA.
Fear is a biggie: when fear takes us we run, even when we’re standing still, ’cause when that fear of something, anything, becomes so great, we have no choice but to flee, to leave it behind, to save ourselves. We run from predators, from responsibilities, from strangers and friends, from anger, from rejection, from pain, from grief … from love.
It’s like that so often with a lost or broken love, this running, this longing for a river upon which one can skate away upon, away from owning up to the commitment of giving and taking hearts. The slipping on of the running shoes of the heart, leaving the wounded affection behind.
The reasoning – why we run – can be confused and muddled – and maybe the runner doesn’t even understand why it was they ran. Oh, there are surface “reasons” we all can come up with, like the understanding that few couples love each other with equal intensity and suddenly, one day, the lover of lesser heart awakens and understands it’s time to go and before you know it the shoes are on and they are gone with barely the whisper of a breeze to mark their passing. But to the person left behind, this perception is often magnified, because they are left with nothing but the memory, with their heart in their hands, with the rain in their eyes, to paraphrase a favorite poet.
So why are we in such a hurry not to go anywhere?
Many miles away there’s a shadow on the door
Of a cottage on the shore
Of a dark Scottish Lake…
~Synchronicity II, The Police
There was a girl.
There is always a girl in these stories of lost love. Or a boy. Someone. Someone you cared about, often more then you realized.
You gave your heart to them, and they to you and, one day, they return it. Or you do. Something ends. Gets mangled. Dies. In that discordant summer of ’83, I was never sure which happened. Amidst all the other crazy things in my life that year, the loss of family, the end of school, friends disappearing down the varied pathways of their lives, the home I’d loved like no other lost forever … details got lost in the ebb and flow and I guess now, decades later, the specifics really don’t matter.
Suffice to say there were a lot of endings. A lot of loss. After a while, they tend to roll over you, becoming obscured in the actuality of the experience.
And the loss lived on … for a long, thoughtful, aching time …
I don’t pretend to know what motivates people to do some of the things they do. Heck, I’m not sure half the time why I do some of the things I do. But there are clues, stuff I’ve watched as I witnessed people dance a certain dance during the journey of my own existence. Most of the time the dancers aren’t even aware they are dancing. But they are. Maybe it’s about survival, an innate need for self-preservation of something. Much like the running DNA, this is probably an offshoot of that fight/flight gene our ancestors developed in the distant past, that special instinct that kicked in when impending change loomed on the event horizons of their lives.
An avoidance gene.
Or, as I’m thinking of it in the here and now, the sabotage gene.
It works like this: we undermine things when we want out of something we’re afraid of committing ourselves to, situations where we don’t trust our feelings. We just do. Often without even being aware we are doing so, let alone understanding why. Other times, maybe not so much. Something takes hold of us, a momentum (there’s that word again), and we’re carried along until we find ourselves standing alone in a cold and empty place, half-wondering how the hell we got there.
But the wondering does us no good. There are no answers because of the two people that can answer the questions one is gone … and the other stares back at the mirror with nothing to say.
That’s when we really run, if we’re not running already. We feel that pain and the loss and the end result of the fears that informed us … and we run. We run, trying to put what we feel or think we feel or thought we felt behind us, try to leave the pain and the uncertainty on and beyond the increasingly distant horizon. The farther we run, as the reasoning goes, the further behind we leave the wreckage and ruin of that sabotage.
The good part of all this is also the bittersweet part:
Eventually, we succeed.
Posted in Home Base, tagged Civil War, Documentary, Headache, migraine, migraine headaches, Milky Way, Night Sky, San Francisco, Science Fiction, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ulysses S. Grant, writing on August 15, 2010| 1 Comment »
I think I want to write on truths now.
Personal truths. Truths we keep tucked away because, frankly, we really don’t want people to see certain parts of who we are. The weak parts. The failed parts. The lie-awake-in-the-middle-of-the-night-and-stare-at-the-ceiling parts.
We don’t want people to sense our own view of ourselves as having fallen short.
Sometimes it – life – is all about movement … momentum … momentum that creeps into your existence, wending its way into your affairs, dictating progress, obscuring goals, moving you in directions you may never have intended, taking on a life of its own …
… and then a moment happens, an unheralded, unexpected, a stop-in-the-middle-of-the-whirlwind-of-your-day-to-day-life sort of moment … and everything changes …
I recently traveled to the Sierra Foothills to visit an old and treasured friend. I’d finished the last two parts of Ronin, the second cycle of the series of books I’ve been working at on-and-off for the past decade. It was the stereotypical, metaphorical weight being released thing; the heavy sigh accompanying the long overdue resolution, and I was going to his place, to relax, visit with him, with his wife, enjoy their good company – and turn over the manuscript for impressions.
The monster had other plans, of course. Woke me up in the early morning hours before we set out, whispering softly she wanted to play. On the drive out she came and went, slipping in and out of the periphery, never quite disappearing. By our destination she rose, as if from slumber, stretched and settled in. A beautiful, sun-shining day gone gray, my time in this wonderful place informed by regular retreats to the comfort of shadows and quiet and the medications that could only blunt the assault, but never drive her off. Two days, long days, one side of me clear, unaffected; the other subsumed in a blanket of dull – and sometimes sharp, throbbing – pain.
2:00 AM, Sunday morning, waking from a featureless, distant dream. Darkness. I sit up, ignoring the accompanying thickness that floods my head. The monster wants to be clear with me: she likes it here, and plans to stay past the normal expiration date.
We know each other well, the monster and me. Headaches … the kind of headaches I get, migraine headaches … the headaches that I live with (there really is no other way to describe the condition) … have a life all their own. They become a constant occasional companion in your life. There is this dance we do, this Monster, the headache, and me, something of a game: she likes to try to sneak up while dropping clues to let me know she’s coming … playing fair, so to speak. And if I’m paying attention, if I’m really listening to the soft murmurs of my body, I can head the bitch off, or at least blunt the arrival and the misery to come.
Not this time, though. Like I said, she’s there for a long haul, an unusual occurrence. Considerations of ice picks and do-it-yourself brain surgery slip in and out of my thoughts, and I breathe again, deep, the effect a dull knife inside as I feel her talons dig in from the base of my skull to the pulsing socket of my eye, streams of persistent fire that make me dizzy and sometimes nauseous (though, thankfully, not this time). In fact, my right eye has a mind of its own; a long tear slips free, tracing its way down the side of my face, unbidden, followed by another, and another, a small stream of salty moisture. There is no controlling the flow; the right side of my head is pretty much operating in its own reality. The phenomena will repeat itself throughout the morning and afternoon, coming and going.
I get up, putting on sandals, and go outside. Nighttime, summer in the Sierras, the weather unseasonably cool, but not so that I’m uncomfortable. The coolness softens things, helps release the tension, but it is an illusion. This will make the monster stronger, of course. Doesn’t matter.
I look up into the night sky, and for a moment, a very brief and happy moment, I’ve got the universe to myself. I forget my unwanted guest and take it all in, behold the stars as they arc across the night sky. So many stars, stars I never see … the sky is blazingly beautiful.
The beauty is marred, though, and I feel the energy drain as she bears down, throbbing pulses coursing through the right side of my head, and I finally give in, turn and head back.
The next day arrives and I shamble through, making the best of things until it is time to go. The journey home to my city is a study in quiet agony and traffic frustration, but as we near our destination I feel my the pain ease off as she finally begins to relent and I am thankful for the sleep that awaits.
… and so the week began and I never catch this other thing that was talking to me in the foothills, ’cause the Monster was busy dancing with me …
I’d been watching the Civil War again. Just finished, actually. I keep going back. Ken Burns’ documentary is one of those films that never loses its power; it’s 20 years now, and still it retains the ability to draw you in, to stir your heart as it brings to life its long-dead actors. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ fault, this time. I read his achingly powerful blog piece written upon completing Ulysses S. Grant’s memoir and started feeling the scratching in the back of my consciousness. It took a while, but I finally gave in. As always, it was well worth the visit.
Tears come easier these years. It’s something I’m noticing, testosterone is dropping a touch, I guess. Well, I know what can be done for that. Kidding aside, I’ve always been something of a softy, afflicted or gifted – depending upon perspective, I guess – with a gentle core that allows the emotion to play out. Of course, we live in a culture where such tears are frowned upon, even thought a sign of weakness, so my tears are oft reserved for the darkness, for the quiet, private places I retreat to to contemplate my karma and wrestle with my demons. It’s funny, in a way, and perhaps sad, this unspoken prohibition on emotion we seem to value as Americans. I recall how earlier cultures had no such curb, like the ancient Greeks, who felt that two men, sharing grief and emotion together, created a powerful bond between them. Then again, they didn’t have indoor plumbing, so I guess we’ve got something on them there …
It hurts to watch this thing unfold, to see the wrongs that fed it, the determination of Lincoln to save the Union, the sacrifices on both sides for their beliefs. You thrill all at once at both the courage and insanity to led so many to slaughter, sense the ache bubble up, seeking a release, feel those forbidden tears spring unbidden from the heart. There’s something here in this story, something deep and profound that goes far beyond trite stereotypes and strikes deep into your soul. North vs. South, brother against brother … yes, yes, I’ve heard it all before.
This is something beyond that, far beyond … I just don’t know what that something is.
The not knowing is troubling …
How Do You Feel?
It’s kinda crazy out there, these days, in this world we find ourselves in. Uncertainty is the watchword of the hour … things we’ve taken for granted and assumed, ideas and institutions – foundations we built upon – are shown to be vulnerable to failure. The culture is in what seems a perpetual state of upheaval and fear and anger. And we’re all in the middle of it, caught up in the details – or ignoring them altogether – and losing sight of the bigger picture.
May you live in interesting times …
I grew up in a world that is increasingly distant and alien to the world I live in. I look for it from time to time, occasionally catch glimpses, but such sightings are increasingly rare and illusory. I’m not sure what this means. Everything now is familiar and strange, comfortable and disquieting. I look at places I’ve known for decades and it’s like seeing two realities superimposed upon one another – that which once was, and that which is.
Lately I find myself wandering dank alleyways of the internet, poking my nose in the dark places we humans tend to live. Message boards, Facebook pages, blogs and news reports that seem to share a commonality … an increasing sense of the unhinged. I’ve noticed there are a lot more of these places – these dank alleyways and dark places – and it feels like people are gravitating to them in growing numbers. I wonder at this … sometimes. I’m not a Pollyanna, not by any stretch. I “get” the human condition, I know what we’re capable of, the nuttiness that can inhabit us, the madness that can carry us off on wild tangents, the nightmares we can conjure from the best of intentions. It’s all there in the history books, for one thing, hard to miss, and it seems like we’re watching a familiar story playing itself out right now. Everything feels like it’s taken on a life of its own, the pettiness, lunacy, bigotry – it’s all on display, everywhere you look, tearing things up, and no one seems to be aware or care – they’re just letting it all carry them along.
Momentum. You don’t even feel it sometimes. It picks you up and transports you places, places you never dreamed you were going …
It was a week. On Monday, the Monster tried to make an encore performance, making for a loopy kind of day with little sudden explosions going off in the mess she’d made of my head over the weekend. But her heart wasn’t in it; it’s no fun when there’s nothing left to ruin. Tuesday was the living dead day Monday was supposed to be as the exhaustion of fighting the Monster for three days settled in. Wednesday was okay, but only just. Things are picking up at work, which is good in terms of employment, but there is inevitable baggage. Thursday things got busy. Really busy.
Meanwhile, we’re plotting out a renovation at Dartmouth Manor. This is a good thing, as school resumes for the Elektric One, and I prepare to go to war again – and try and get some blog posts in, some editing, and a few new chapters for the third cycle underway. The editorial staff huddled over floor plans for weeks, drawing up schemes to make the best use of the space – for themselves of course. Critters are like humans – self-interest comes first. Got so bad I rolled everything up and threw it in the trash. We’re upending things: the Elektric One is moving upstairs and she’s commandeering my room, I’m moving into the study, and the downstairs becomes the new study/entertainment room. In the process, we plan to downsize more than a little bit. Of course, the boys have their own ideas about what happens with the downstairs, leading to the inevitable negotiations and drama. It got to where the Elektric One threatened to get a real dog.
That shut ’em up.
But the project is on hold … we’ve not been able to do prep work around Dartmouth for the reorganization ’cause both of us are busy with our day jobs, so we’re putting it off for a week or two …
And still I sleepwalk through it all, ignoring everything I’m telling myself that I can’t hear.
It’s right there.
And I can’t see it.
Have You Seen the Stars Tonight?
“… what you witness happened long ago in the here-and-now, in a time and place that never will be, where neither you nor Sienna ever existed,” she replied in a matter-of-fact manner, like she was discussing the weather.
“Did you look at the stars yet?” I nodded. “Did you see anything unusual, anything strange?”
“Well, it is a bright night,” I replied slowly, looking up.
I heard her chuckle. “Indeed. Look at the sky carefully, Sam. Very carefully.”
Slowly standing to get a better view over the parapet walls, I did as she asked. The stars were blazing, everywhere I looked filling the night sky with a tapestry of brilliant colors that ranged across the spectrum. I took my time, scanning the heavens, trying to figure out what it was Charmayne was getting at. I was about to ask her when understanding finally dawned.
When you look up in the night sky in a city, you see only a few of the stars that would otherwise be visible because of the light pollution. Only when you get really far away from cities and towns do you see the night sky as the ancients did. In those empty places the heavens are a vision of white and amber lights that really bring home a sense of the millions and billions of stars that are out there. I recall seeing the Milky Way while camping with my parents in the Sierras as a child, the bright belt of stars streaming across the heavens, brilliant and glowing, and knew that what I saw then was nothing compared to what I beheld now. There were too many stars, too many colors, and so many of them far too large and close. I squinted, trying to sharpen my focus. I could actually see what appeared to be a glowing haze, green and red and purple, that stretched in places across large swaths of the sky, and in a few areas where there were no stars to be seen, I realized I was seeing black dust clouds, tens, maybe hundreds of light years across. And with that realization came another, suddenly frightening in its implications.
“Charmayne,” I asked slowly, trying to keep my voice calm, “where are we?” She stood up to stand next to me. I pulled my gaze from the sky and looked directly at her, feeling dizzy and disjointed. “I know this sounds stupid, but we’re not on earth anymore, are we?”
She didn’t flinch, didn’t try to ease me into it. “No, Sam,” she replied evenly, “we’re not. Actually, we’re not even in the same region of your galaxy.”
“Oh,” was all I could come up with. I looked up again. “How far?”
“Very far. Um … about sixteen hundred light years, actually, give or take a few.”
“Uh- huh.” I paused again. The panorama really was breathtaking. “Am I going to get to go home again?”
She stifled a giggle and I looked back at her.
“This isn’t funny, you know…”
When I started A Brown Rose and Dark Puppy, I had an idea of where I was going, what I was trying to do. Still do. They’ve been on hold for a while, but things are sort of falling into place and there will be more “stuff”, as Stu likes to put it, coming up soon. It’s something to look forward to, the writing, the creating.
Finishing Ronin was a pain. There were a lot of characters I fell in love with, and I ended up doing terrible things to them. This might sound odd, or even funny to you. I would understand if it did; after all, you have not lived with these “people” for a decade, chronicled their adventures, their loves and hates, successes and failures, thrilled at the discoveries made of who they were, found joy in how they became part of – and worked within – the greater tapestry of your creation.
And you didn’t kill any of them off.
That’s the odd psychosis of writing I’ve increasingly been aware of, the attachment that grows alongside the cold-blooded service to the story a writer is committed to. Even in fiction, there must be truth or, at least, what you perceive as truth.
Truth can be painful. One chapter I wrote involved the death of a beloved character, one I became attached to early on, almost from the moment of her creation. I found myself writing around the event, delaying the inevitable moment of pulling the trigger, so to speak. When I finally did, the event was short, concise and violent, as deaths can often be, and I found myself feeling both satisfied with the ‘truth’ of what I put down … and inhabited by the weird sense of loss and grief that accompanied that satisfaction.
And here it comes again as I write this, bubbling up from nowhere …
Everything springs from your imagination. You craft characters, imbue them with life, learn their histories, grow into their passions and desires, until you know them as you know yourself because, in truth, they are a product of something that lives inside you that you have developed and polished and learned about with naked intimacy. They are a part of who I am; I don’t think I could ‘write’ them any other way. I’m not sure this is how others write fiction; I don’t really care: this is how I write, how I create, wrapping myself around my character, immersing myself in their realities.
Writing those last few chapters was in some ways an exercise in closure. Normally, when I write a chapter I know where I am starting from, and I know where I want to get to – how I get there, however, is never really known until I take the journey. I don’t plot things out beyond a general understanding that certain things need to occur before we – my characters and I – reach our destination. It is a fun way to work.
But in the case of the entire cycle, I knew how it would end, knew who would die, who would be crippled and changed, what would be lost. So the closer I came to the finish, the more difficult it became, as the events were more delineated, the room for exploration more limited.
What I really wanted to do was get started with the next cycle, to move on in the adventure now that I knew the stage was set in my head, the backstory understood, pieces in their place, mysteries laid out.
But, first, there was a blood debt to be paid.
And I paid it.
And there I was …
Speed Trap …
So I finally caught up with myself.
It was Friday. Friday the 13th. Not that it means anything. The date, I mean.
I missed the insight all last week, just let it slip right on by me. It was right there, right in front of me, but the Monster had my attention.
And I would have kept missing it.
Except … I stopped.
Momentum. Sneaky summabitch. Bad as the Monster is, at least she’s upfront.
But momentum, that’s different. Like I said, you don’t even know it’s happening. You pick up speed, moving along, and everything on the periphery fades, becoming blurred shadows lacking form or meaning. And pretty soon you lose all meaning.
We’ve been living under cloud cover for weeks now, here in the City by the Bay, including my small corner of our hilly metropolis that does get sun even when when the rest of the place is covered in gray. At night the fog settles, thick and moist, and the world around us shrinks to a couple of blocks bathed in dim amber light. As it is, if not for the trip to the Sierra Foothills, I would not have not seen the stars in weeks. “Are they still there?” Reggie asks, his discomfiture obvious. Dogs need the stars, I think. Little holes in the sky through which they search for their dreams …
And all the while I’m living a waking dream, existing in a comatose consciousness, leaving important bits and pieces of myself behind, it seems, to pursue …
What is it I’m pursuing?
I don’t know.
I know the things I want to pursue … but all of that seems distant, disconnected from my existence as momentum carries me forward, as I make ends meet and keep my eye on the ball and all the rest of the cliched crap, worrying at the future as the center increasingly does not hold and things appear to be falling apart all around us.
What happened to the future?
I realize there are days now where I am more weary than others, and the road I thought I traveled seems lost in a maze of detours and dead ends. I’m sure on some level it is a byproduct of aging, of seeing the world with older eyes, with a sense of growing understanding of the finite nature of everything.
I mentioned Ta-Nehisi Coates’ piece on Grant that brought me back to that war that did so much to define this land I live in. I mentioned tears, as well, and how I missed something and nearly forgot that I’d done so as the week progressed and I fell into the rhythms and momentums that seem to have a hold of my life these days. Coates put up something else, unrelated, but equally powerful. He talked about a lot of things, current events surrounding civil rights, people resisting bigotry and exclusion and related matters … and he wrote of the oddity of being of the city and visiting, living in the woods; of the fear he felt at what might seem simple things, fed by imagination, like the idea he could not see the animals at night, but knew they could see him; at the fury of nature as it cut loose around him. He talked about having less internet interaction than normal, and about breaking his iPhone, being cut off suddenly from everything and not minding.
And one line stood out:
“But out here in the great green, I’m not convinced that any of it matters.”
And the momentum crashed to a stop, fading out, disappearing as if it never were.
And I suddenly realized what the Monster had obscured that night a week before, even as I stared up into the star-filled sky and traced the faint line of the Milky Way and saw all the clues come together for me.
And then the tears came, and they still come, unheralded, unexpected, uncaring …
Something needs to change …
I woke up in the morning
With an arrow through my nose …
~Neil Young – Last Trip to Tulsa
The Monster returned a week later, Saturday morning. Faint, distant, I could hear her whisper, and as I lay there, thinking on her, I wondered at my life and this thing that shares it with me. I got up and, as always, mounted my defenses, shrugged on my armor, and prepared for the new battle. There followed a shower, coffee, and soon I was in the Buddhamobile and cruising the wet and misty pre-dawn shadows of San Francisco, rolling over slick, reflective streets, winding my way around the City’s periphery until I was at Ocean Beach, by the Zoo, and I drove on, past the Sunset District where I grew up and then the Park where I played with the 40th Ave. gang and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Bar at Beach Chalet where I drank and shot pool while in college, on past the foot of the Outer Richmond, where once upon a time I worked the carnival midway of Playland at the Beach, a ghost that lives on in my memories, now climbing up and around the cliffs where nestled the new Cliff House on the graves of the older incarnations of that structure, finally parking above the ruins at Sutro Baths on 48th Ave.
My walking companion was waiting, and we talked a while in the Buddhamobile while I finished my coffee, and then we were off, treking through the wet along the paths that hugged the coast, through some of the last remnants of wild that still exist in San Francisco. A pleasant walk, if a little tiring as we climbed and descended rough trails and stairs, skirting the edges of Lincoln Park golf course and the Palace of the Legion of Honor, making our steady way through the at times heavy mist, and as we did the darkness faded, giving way to gray.
We lingered here and there a while on our journey, taking pictures and talking of this and that. Before we knew it we were at China Beach, having passed some of the elegant and expensive homes of the Sea Cliff district, and there below us a man was flowing through his Tai Chi.
And then it was time to go …
Posted in Home Base, tagged City Lights Books, Jack Kerouac, Marin Headlands, Moon, NASA, North Beach, Olema, Photography, Point Reyes, Point Reyes Lighthouse, San Francisco, San Francisco Bay Area, Shuttle, Space Program, Stinson Beach, Travel, Vesuvio on July 6, 2010| 4 Comments »
Once Upon A Dream
… and the journey starts with a vague imagining of what the day will be … what remains is to see what those dreams end up becoming in the real world … I’m looking out over the reservoirs, northwest toward Twin Peaks … clear skies with only the hint of haze … Saturday morning, Fourth of July weekend … 2010 …
… here I are … here we is … me and she, 7:00 AM, coffee brewed, dinner prepped … hop into the Buddhamobile, go larking … up O’Shaunessey, quick right and left at the top, then up the winding, bumpy track to the summit of Twin Peaks … sun’s rising, city waking up … we can see the Marin Headlands, the tips of the Golden Gate Bridge’s towers over the hills of the Presidio …
…birds flitting about in the crisp air, scattered people milling in small clumps … I yawn, take a sip of coffee … then we’re off, gliding down the other side, first north, then west … into the Inner Sunset, through the Park and the Richmond and we’re on the Bridge and across and we’re dropping again, descending into Sausalito, cruising along, sea level now, sunlight sparkling off the gentle waters …
… Mill Valley – climbing again … then over and down, skirting Muir Woods , descending into Muir Beach, and then climbing yet again and we’re off, swerving north along the coast, Hwy 1, hugging the coastline of slowly disintegrating rock, the cold, deep blue color of the Pacific a framing contrast to the mix of stone and dirt and vegetation. In the distance the horizon is thinly veiled by the sea mist, and we breath in the fresh scent of the sea through the open windows.
We’re descending again, winding our way into Stinson Beach. We turn left at the market, into the parking area. It’s still early, around 9:00, and there’s plenty of open spaces. We walk out on the beach, to the waterline. The ocean is calm, its energy muted, the wet, flat sand seeming to stretch out in the distance, maybe a quarter mile, the tide is so low. The beach is empty; the lifeguard towers shut. I try to imagine this place in another few hours and then stop: if I want to think about crowds of people, I can go back to the city …
“Time to go.”
She smiles and nods and we’re gone.
Where Dogs Rule…
“Huh?” I say after narrowly missing a bicyclist. They’re all over the place, and I really wish the roads could be a little wider.
She points. I see the sign.
“Stu’s not going to be very happy when he finds out.”
“Don’t tell him, then.”
“You know I will,” she grins.
We cruise by a number of residences.
“It would be a bad idea. He would insist on stopping at every house, wanting to meet the mayor.”
“Yes,” she nods, her expression thoughtful. “A recipe for trouble.”
“Indeed. It would not end well, I’m sure.”
Olema is found where Sir Francis Drake Blvd intersects Hwy. 1. The impression is a comfy clump of buildings built around the intersection, with Earthquake-inspired names seen here and there on establishments.
The Buddhamobile passes through the place almost as quickly as Dogtown.
We’re on Sir Francis Drake Blvd now, and we pull into the parking lot for the Point Reyes National Seashore’s Visitor Center, found in, appropriately, the community of Point Reyes Station. Large barn, information center, gift shop and small, well-done museum. I linger by the skull of a whale and she mentions it probably is a good thing we didn’t bring the boys. I nod in agreement.
“Dogs and large bones never go well together. Likely catastrophic fail.”
We pass on the short hike out to where the 1906 Earthquake left a scar, electing to move on.
Skirting the northeast shore of the peninsula, along Tomales Bay and into Inverness and I see it. We stop again, behind a grocery store, near the shore, where the large boat lies abandoned, tilted about 25 degrees.
“Rust and ruins.”
She smiles, grabs the camera, heads out without a word, already caught up in what she’s doing. I lock up the Buddhamobile and follow, finding her roaming about a number of boats resting on trailers, focused, finding bright colors of decay, taking shot after shot.
Lots of rust.
I watch her and wonder – if Heaven were real, would it be like this moment for her?
And we’re off again and headed inland, leaving behind the shores of Tomales Bay … trees and residences thinning as we make our way west, soon giving way to wind-swept fields of scrub and grass … under the magnificent blue of the sky the world of muted browns and greens seems almost gray. The scent of the sea is more intense than earlier, fed by strong winds coming out of the north and west.
It’s a lonely land, dotted here and there by weathered structures, homes, barns, utility buildings.
“Cows,” she says. There they are, behind fences, along the roads. We discover there is a lot of bovine life residing here. We come over a rise and then down, taking in the artificial lake and the crowded set of buildings sheltered by the surrounding hills to the west, north and east. We slow, examining the quiet, wind-swept cluster of structures huddled about the road.
“A party. How come we never get invited?”
“Table manners,” I offer and she nods and we accelerate, climbing up and over the next rise to see the road wind on in the distance.
At the End of the World
Finally, we arrive. In my imperfect memory, I recall my last trip here, a quarter century earlier with my not-yet-first wife, on the small 250 cc Suzuki, driving up from the city. All in all it seems the increasingly saddle-sore trip home stands out in the murky theatre of my memory. I also have a hazy recollection of being able to drive the motorcycle all the way in to the lighthouse, but maybe I’m mistaken and now I’m reminded of perspectives, of how we see the world, more specifically how we relate to and reshape the past. In my twenties, trips anywhere were to places I’d probably seen before, just a few months or years earlier. Everything usually looked the same, just as I remembered. Now, after having been absent for so long, approaching the end of another decade of life, I’m momentarily taken aback by the sense of time, the space between visits, a quick, momentary collage of what happened between,a separate, almost alien-life, all left behind just as that 25-year-ago day fades in time and memory …
We park and get out. The wind is strong and constant; we grab sweat-shirts. The temperature isn’t too bad, around mid-50s. We, being seasoned coastal residents, understand the value of wearing layers in the world of Bay Area microclimates. You can tell the tourists: they’re the ones shivering in T-shirts … we see one woman wrapped in a baby blanket; some guy cocooned in a sliver space-blanket.
I look back the way we came. We’re high up here, presented with a panoramic view of the peninsula: the long, straight beach, empty, disappearing in the distance; the land, a combination of sand and soil and sparse, wind-swept vegetation, looking blasted and empty and gray; beyond and to the south the lighter blue of Drake’s Bay, hazed over with the vaguest of ocean mists, turning the distant shores to the south into a product of mirage, leaving Bolinas a shadowed rumor of land.
Something about this is unsettling, oddly compelling. The feeling sits outside perceived things, in the shadow of unconscious awareness.
There’s a road that hugs the right side of the hills, a worn stretch of narrow, pocked asphalt; to the right of that graduating fields of shrubbery and scrub that end at a uniformly sharp drop. The ocean is far, far below us. There is no path on the south side – everything is steeper here, the drops much more shear and sudden, ending in broken rock hundreds of feet below.
Being sensible sorts, we elected to climb the spine of the hill, up past the antenna tower with covered dishes pointed everywhere north, east and south. Toward a second series of rises we intersect the road and join the rest of the visitors as they trudge their way to the edge of the world.We make our way under cypress trees, bent by the constant winds, then past the Ranger residences until we’re at the lighthouse buildings.
From text borrowed from the California Lighthouse website …
A Coast Guard public information pamphlet published in March, 1962 noted that “Point Reyes Light Station was established in 1870 at Point Reyes, Calif., 19 miles from the nearest town of Inverness. It is a family station with a complement of four men who maintain a first order light, fog signal and radio beacon. The light tower itself is a sixteen-sided structure of forged iron plate (the original tower) bolted to solid rock. The top of the lantern is 37 feet above the ground and focal plane of the light is 294 feet above sea level. To reach the light, men assigned must descend 304 steps on the headland from the plateau above the station where the family quarters are situated. The quarters are new, two-story, four-family units (four-plex) built in 1960. The four-plex contains two 2-bedroom and two 3-bedroom units. Buildings maintained on the property, in addition to the family quarters, are the fog signal building, engine room, pump house, paint locker, double garage and a four-car carport with adjoining office and work shop. Point Reyes is, by official records, the windiest and foggiest on the Pacific Coast. The station is frequently blanketed by week-long periods of fog and few years pass that do not see violent gales of 75 to 100 mph strike the area. Point Reyes Light Station is one of the District’s outstanding tourist attractions. On fair summer weekends we often have several hundred visitors logged aboard. Escorting visitors has become a major portion of the duties of men assigned. Dependent children on the station travel three miles by station vehicle to school. Commissary and post exchange privileges are available at Hamilton Air Force Base (the nearest armed forces installation), or in the San Francisco area.”
We climb all the way down to the lighthouse, 309 steps (there are five more than the source above mentioned – and, no, we didn’t count – the stairs are numbered every tenth step, like they want to really torture you on the way back up). They – the Park Service – claim the descent is equivalent to the height of a 30-story building, but I think it is closer to 20. We spend a lot of time, all over the place, checking out the sights, the buildings, the rust.
Rust and ruins.
We’re at the edge of the continent, thrusting out into the Pacific. I try to imagine the significance of this place for someone living 150 years ago. The universe was a lot smaller then for the human species … experiments with electricity and magnetism were primative; the light bulb was years off … men (and women) had yet to visit the poles, summit Everest … travel was by steam trains, and sailing ships still graced the oceans; Clipper ships had recently astounded the world with their record 90 day trips from New York to San Francisco via the tip of South America during the California Gold Rush … Mark Twain had yet to write Adventures of Huckleberry Finn … Jules Verne was dreaming of glass towers and calculators and trips to the moon … It is difficult to touch that time, to imagine a world void of what we think of as even the simplest things …
In that world, 150 years gone, this place, much more difficult to reach for them than for we happy travelers, must have seemed bigger than life.
Now, it’s just a place to visit.
This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.
~ T.S. Eliot
We’re walking back on the path, descending the last slope to the circular parking lot. We got here at a good time; there are many more cars parked on the road leading to the lot, and beyond them the long ocean beach and near-empty desolation beyond.
“Purgatory,” I say in sudden recognition.
The land is barren, looking inhospitable, lonely, desolate.
“Purgatory … a visualization of an idea, a concept. This looks like it would make a good purgatory, what with the wind and the emptiness.”
And the land is empty, the waters before the steep cliffs and sandy beaches heavy with whitecaps, the whole mass disappearing in the distance – the mist washes everything over … and I’m feeling time with a little more awareness, sensing the idea of the finite. I’m not a geologist, but I ‘get’ erosion. I ‘know’ I’m watching things play out in slow motion … very slow motion … and some time in a distant future wind and water and earthquake will win the battle, cutting and clawing their way across and into the land, until everything I see below me fades or slips beneath the waves, and the peninsula is replaced by a set of islands that in turn fade from geologic history, leaving open water in its wake.
Everything ends. All of it.
We’re driving again.
“My big memory of the Space Program is Challenger blowing up,” she says. “One moment it’s climbing and the next I’m asking myself: ‘Did the Shuttle just blow up?’”
We’re cruising through Limboland. I can’t shake the image that caught me on the way back to the Buddhamobile … the idea takes up residence in my imagination, hanging a creative ‘no-vacancy’ sign in my consciousness. I’m not depressed; just feeling out-of-sync with things.
It’s still cold outside, and my free hand touches hers in absent caress as we move along the road, finding soft, warm comfort in this small intimacy.
We are talking as we make our way along the hilly, windswept landscape of the peninsula. The desolation is all so cold, yet oddly reassuring, touching a place I visit more often these years …
“I cut school and I watched.”
I look sideways at her.
“More cows,” she adds, pointing.
I grunt and focus on the road, muttering something inappropriate about cows under my breath.
“I never got that,” I say.
“The whole indelible image thing.”
She looks at me, her expression curious. “Indelible image?”
“Yeah. The idea of the indelible image. The Challenger explosion was an indelible image etched in the collective consciousness. The concept never occurred to me. Like I said, we – my generation – we grew up with space. It was all about getting there. We’d had set-backs, like Apollo 1 – but it wasn’t something that lingered in the public imagination; there were no images, no visuals to pop up in your memory. And the Russian accidents were more rumor than conformed reality, though I doubt it would matter to the American public – they were the Soviets, after all.
“We – my generation, the Baby Boomers – we never had that: the indelible image – negative – burned into our minds when we were young that lingered with us about the Space Program – not even Apollo 1. Instead, we got the realization of the dream – photos of Armstrong on the Moon, the American Flag planted in Lunar soil, earthrise from the orbiting Apollo – all positive stuff, our indelible images, in concert with the realization of one of the oldest dream of mankind – to get to the moon.
“And Apollo 13 making it back – that was huge. Apollo 13 washed away the lingering taint of the Apollo 1 fire, gave the sense the program was too strong to fail.
“Oh, I’m sure we knew eventually something bad would happen, but by then we understood there were going to be setbacks and loss of life – Apollo 1, again – but it was from a perspective of success.
“That understanding carried on for a long time, the sense of success.”
I’m silent a moment, smiling tightly.
“Then Challenger blew up.”
“Yeah,” she says. “And everybody was watching. It was a big thing, a teacher going into space. Everyone wanted to see.”
We slow down: some cows have gotten out of the fields and are wandering about the road edge, munching on grass, oblivious to the wind, dully regarding us as we glide past. I wonder if Hitchcock could have done something with this … after all, he’d filmed ‘The Birds’ just north of here, in Bodega Bay.
Why not ‘The Cows?’
“Yeah,” I echo. “The teacher.” I experience that feeling where I suddenly “get” something at a core level, excited with the switch of perspective even while experiencing the sinking sense of what that understanding tells me of the current resident of the White House’s perspective of the importance of space exploration and manned missions to orbit and beyond.
And on another, unrelated ADD level I remind myself we do this all the time, forgetting the difficulty of perceiving change.
“More cows,” she observes.
“Yeah, yeah,” I reply and on the disc player Morrison sings of Riders of the Storm …
Been that way for a while, but we had things we wanted to see before the crowds got there.
In Olema, at the crossroads of Hwy 1 and Sir Francis Drake Blvd, we find the Farm House Restaurant (& Bar) (The Point Reyes Seashore Lodge) that looks more respectable than the two of us on a good day, so, of course, we check it out. We sit in the bar, order drinks, kick back and enjoy each other’s company as we’re watching the tourists lining up to sit and the help trying to seat them, young girls, looking busy and bored all rolled into one package. I sip my ale, with wistful regret remembering a time when pretty young things such as these fetching fems seemed desirable … now they’re pleasant to look at, but way too young to be all that interesting and I distantly wonder at that change even though I know what it is, then look across the table at my lovely traveling companion and stop thinking about it; I am more than lucky.
I just am.
The temperatures are a bit higher here – high 70s as opposed to mid-50s with a wind chill we were experiencing earlier. I feel comfy, sort of wishing for some place to stretch out, take a nap. The Mt. Tam Light Ale goes down, cold and refreshing, and she sips on her lemonade thoughtfully as we talk about stuff. Her BLT arrives and she attacks it with dainty gusto, while I savor me a very tasty grass-fed burger (… and how the heck do you feed grass to a burger, anyway?).
Loves me some Olema …
HIPPIE FROM OLEMA
Jessie Colin Young
Jessie Colin Young / Youngbloods
Well i’m proud to be a hippie from olema
Where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they’re ragged
We can’t think of anyone to hate
We don’t watch commercials in olema
We don’t buy the plastic crap they sell
We still wear our hair long like folks used to
And we bathe often, therefore we don’t smell
Well i’m proud to be a hippie from olema
Where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they’re ragged
We can’t think of anyone to hate
We don’t throw our beer cans on the highway
We don’t slight a man because he’s black
We don’t spill our oil out in the ocean
’Cause we love birds and fish too much for that
And i’m proud to be a hippie from olema
Where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they’re Haggard
In olema, california, planet earth.
Finished, we jump back in the Buddhamobile and zip up Sir Francis Drake, a half-hour east through steadily rising heat until we reach San Rafael and 90 degrees, then south on 101 and back across the bridge past all those cars leaving the City crowded bumper-to-bumper and then we’re in the Richmond District for fresh sourdough french bread from Boudin’s on Geary and whatever, and then downtown where we park the transportation and hoof it into North Beach. Temps are lower, high 60s with wind. Comfortable in the sun, not so much in the shade. The streets are alive with people. Drinks in Vesuvio’s while sitting in the upper section, looking down on Jack Kerouac Alley and at City Lights Bookstore and the mural painted on the side.
There’s a street vendor selling ‘North Beach Art’, a slim woman in her 50s or 60s, pretty, tall and thin, wearing the living of her life in her features, gray shocks of hair above her forehead, gray-blonde everywhere else, like Rogue later in life. She sucks on a cigarette, the cancer stick seeming a perfect and appropriate prop, chatting with an older street musician, who absently picks and strums at his guitar while talking with her.
My companion suggests she’s probably got her act together, and I nod in agreement. Something about the woman looks strong and determined. But I wonder what lives beneath the shell we see. A younger woman appears, turning the corner, headed up JK Alley, looking self-assured.
“She looks like she has it together, as well,” I remark.
“Not as much as the older one.”
I nod, looking at the older woman, then back to the blond with the sleeveless t-shirt and jeans with shredded knees who has stopped and now is lighting a cigarette. “No. But she could be a younger version of the vendor.”
My companion sticks her head out the window, scrutinizing both women. “Yes,” she says after a moment. “But the older one has got more going on.”
“Yeah,” I nod. “Living a while does that. Sometimes.”
We watch a while longer as the vendor packs up and leaves, a short lesson in compressing what looks to be a lot of stuff into a manageable, movable package. We finish our drinks, settle up and cross the alley and enter City Lights and exit a little later and a little poorer and happier. We walk northwest on Columbus on crowded, table-lined sidewalks, passing restaurants, mostly Italian, emitting rich, garlic-laden scents, warm and sweet and mouth-watering enticing. At Union we turn right and walk east to Grant, then turn right and south. More window shopping, past drinking establishments, loud with late-afternoon inebriation.
There’s a blues band playing in one, and we take a moment to sample.
And we meander back to the Buddhamobile and head home to BBQ, salad and thick, tart San Francisco sourdough bread …