If you happened to glance at the title of this blog, and then read the first post below, you are probably wondering to yourself, “why the hell is this blog called ‘San Francisco Love Affair’?” The reason is that I am in love with the city of San Francisco, and I plan on devoting a significant percentage of my posts to attempting to explain why.
Some people believe in love at first sight. For example, my father claims that within 20 minutes of meeting my mother, he knew he wanted to marry her. I agree more with the Supremes/Phil Collins line of reasoning, which is that you can’t hurry love, no, you just have to wait. It took me about 26 years to fall in love with San Francisco.
When I meet someone for the first time, I often tell them that my hometown is San Francisco. This is a bold-faced lie. Although I was born in Mt. Zion hospital in SF, when I was 6 months old my family moved across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County, where I was raised. I usually tell people that I grew up in SF because not many people from outside the area have heard of Marin, but I also used to say I was from SF as opposed to Marin because I was embarrassed, considering that Marin is the richer, whiter, and yuppier suburb of a city that is already somewhat rich, white (yes and no on this one, actually), and yuppy city. Marin County is actually a wonderful place and I have grown to appreciate it a lot more as I’ve gotten older, but that’s another post for another day.
Although Ross, the Marin County town I grew up in, was a mere 17 miles from the San Francisco city limits, I did not head into town all that often in my younger years and learning about the wonders of the Fog City was a very slow and drawn-out process. My earliest memories of San Francisco are going to the California Academy of Sciences. In fact, for a short while, that was the entire city to me—the wondrous museum in Golden Gate Park. I think it’s pretty universal that if one is three years old and all he knows of the city of San Francisco is the California Academy of Sciences, with the planetarium and the pendulum and the aquarium, then he will have the seeds for a life-long romance planted inside of him.
I next remember going to my grandfather’s house in Forest Hills, with its huge vaulted ceilings and the basement where my grandfather kept everything he had ever owned, every note he had ever written, and, seemingly, every piece of mail he had ever received, for over 70 years. Then for a while, San Francisco consisted of just two places—the California Academy of Sciences and Grandpa’s house in Forest Hills. A two-headed snake and a quirky erudite patriarch—what more do you need in a city?
When I was a little older, my dad started taking me every year to his friend’s incredible apartment in the Marina to watch the annual big air show from the roof. This expanded my horizons slightly so that to me, the entire city of San Francisco was the California Academy of Sciences, Grandpa’s house and, once a year, a rooftop with a bay view. A never-changing giant diorama of the Serengeti, a mint-green refrigerator from the 70s and the Blue Angels. How could I not fall in love?
Over the years, I slowly experienced more and more pieces of the San Francisco jigsaw puzzle. My uncle’s house in Westportal. Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, and all the kitschy “Dungeons of Terror” and “Haunted Gold Mines” therein. Candlestick Park for Giants games to see a young, phenomenal new acquisition from the Pittsburgh Pirates hammer home runs and steal bases effortlessly. My first concert at the Great American Music Hall in the Tenderloin (They Might Be Giants), my second concert at the Warfield on Market Street (Sonic Youth). In high school, one of my good friends from Marin moved to his father’s house in Pacific Heights, and, coupled with my discovery of the #20 bus, my trips into the city became much more frequent. My friend introduced me to little gems in the area around his dad’s house—Alta Plaza, the Palace of Fine Arts (a fun place to go at night), Marina Subs. Sophomore year of high school I was only 15, but as more and more of my friends got their driver’s licenses, we began taking more trips over the bridge. I had one friend who was a big fan of the Toy Boat café on Clement Street and the neighborhood quickly became one of my favorites. My stylish friends would take trips to Haight Street to buy Doc Martins at Villains and I would tag along for the ride to go to my favorite greasy Chinese place a few storefronts down.
I got my license and trips into the city became more frequent. I’d drive in with friends to see movie premiers at the Cornet and the Kabuki. Friends’ birthdays were spent at Palomino, Bix, and other restaurants that were way too expensive for our high school budgets. North Beach became a new-found hotspot, between the Stinking Rose, City Lights, Steppes of Rome and the now-closed Gathering Café, an all-ages jazz club. ‘80s night at Pop Scene quickly became a favorite among my friends from the drama club (yes, I was in the drama club in high school).
I went to college on the east coast, and whenever I’d come home to visit, I’d pull a quick “what I’d really like dad is to borrow the car keys, see you later can I have them please” and jet off to the city. I started driving around the city more in order to connect the neighborhoods and learn my way around. I soon figured out how easy it was to cross the bridge into the Richmond to grab lunch at King of Thai Noodle House, then to drive through the park and the Sunset to Grandpa’s house to meet for tea, then over the hill and through Noe Valley to meet a friend in the Mission for a burrito. After college I moved to Japan for 3 years and many of my old friends from Marin moved to San Francisco after graduation. In the one-to-three weeks per year I spent in California, I was almost entirely in San Francisco proper, which didn’t thrill my parents, but helped to solidify my relationship with the city.
I said above that it took me 26 years to fall in love with San Francisco. That is to say, I first fully realized I truly loved the city when I was 26 (bear in mind that we first met the moment I was born). I was going to law school in southern California at the time, but my first year I came home for Thanksgiving break. The day after Thanksgiving, I went on a date with a young woman who had just moved to the area earlier that week. Since she had never really seen the city, I started by taking her to Twin Peaks at dusk to get a view of the entire Bay Area (it was one of those clear Autumn nights when you could see everything…if you’ve lived here long enough you know what I’m talking about). I then took her to Haight Street for Ethiopian food, then to Toy Boat for dessert (some places never get old). We walked along Clement Street and went to the Bitter End for drinks, then I took her to one of my several secret SF make-out spots. We drove the long way everywhere so I could show her other spots and landmarks, and miraculously found parking right in front of each of our destinations.
The next week I went back to southern California and I was reflecting on how wonderful the date had been. The young woman herself was cute and nice and all, but what I had really enjoyed was the location. Our evening had included everything you could ever want to get out of a city—a beautiful sunset view, delicious ethnic food, a cute place for dessert, an Irish bar with good beer on tap, and a romantic hidden secret. I guess it would have been cool to take her to the California Academy of Sciences for the laser show also, but it didn’t occur to me at the time. Hmm, I’ll have to keep that in mind for the next time I have a date. Do they still do the Pink Floyd? The point is, I realized then that there was no longer any doubt in my mind that San Francisco was where I wanted to eventually settle permanently. I spent parts of both of my law school summers living in the city and eventually landed a job there. I say “there” because I don’t actually live in SF at this moment—I’m doing a stint in Tokyo (more on this in future posts). But I’ll be back soon, hopefully for good.
So there you have it–the origin of my love affair with San Francisco from which I derived the name of this blog. I’ve discovered much more about this city in the past few years, and my love for it has only grown. I’m looking forward to sharing more with you.
Finally, there’s a small chance that you know me personally, and when reading this post, you realize, “hey, wait a minute, you took me on a date to Toy Boat and the Bitter End and your secret make-out spot! I thought I was special!” It may be true that I wasn’t exactly original on each date, but didn’t you have a wonderful time? And also, let there be no doubt—you are special. We’re all special in our own way, and you more than most. Because you actually went on a date with me. But that, of course, is for another post…