I. The California Coast
It took 12 hours and 400 miles to drive from Anaheim to San Francisco. I went the long way – two highways, one interstate, and hundreds of miles of coastline. I watched the carpet of fog roll back to reveal the ocean and the horizon. The road, twisting and turning, nestled itself against the folds of coastal bluffs. Every now and then, I rumbled onto a turnout, and clambered down nearer to the water.
Two teenagers, in slick black wetsuits, plunged into the surf, seaweed swirling around them like tangled locks of mermaid hair.
I drove with the windows down and tucked the smell of wild dill, coastal sage scrub, and coyote brush into my olfactory memory. I watched the landscape give way to rounded hills the color of caramel, oak trees tucked into their smooth cleavages. No one is waiting for me, I’m not running out of gas, there’s no traffic; I try not to rush.
II. Purisima Creek Redwoods
In the morning, I rouse myself from the couch into the stillness of my sister’s empty house. I pace myself, savoring the temporary escape from the din and dust of construction life. Within the hour, I will be walking alone amongst second growth redwoods, the path damp and soft. Listening to the fog drip from the boughs, feeling the forest inhale and exhale, my soul will unclench. I will press the backs of my hands against the soft moss along the trail. I will encourage the tired and sweaty mountain bikers I encounter with a small, but well-meaning lie: “Don’t worry! You are almost there!” And, I will feel something I haven’t felt in months. I will feel…good.
III. 1396 La Playa Street, San Francisco
Sitting at Java Beach Cafe in San Francisco. I can hear the trolley rumble by. I know the Pacific Ocean is behind me, just a few hundred yards on the other side of Highway 1. An old man at the bar chats with the barista and I am delighted to find out that a particular beer he likes can be found at a store up on Divisidero, but hell if he’s gonna go all the way up there for it. A young man with a loud voice stirs his coffee, proclaiming, “I’m just like the Beastie Boys, I like my sugar with coffee and cream.” I try to eavesdrop on two software engineers, their laptops crowding the small table that totters between them. In two minutes I realize that I don’t know the meaning of any of the words they bandy back and forth. Nonetheless, I am endlessly delighted. I come here to fall in love, over and over again, with the city I will endlesslessly claim as my own. And, I do. Even though I often get stuck in traffic coming down 19th, and forget that it’s better to take Lincoln into the Outer Sunset rather than suffer the stuttering journey through the stop signs to reach the end of Judah, or that trying to find parking anywhere here can make or break a night. I don’t know if the city loves me back. But, such is my nature, I will keep returning, in hopes that someday it might.
IV. Mision Flamenca
I can see Bissap Baobab’s flashing sign as I stroll down 19th Street towards Mission. A busker on the corner is singing the blues, God bless his soul. I stop to listen for the length of a red light, and drop a dollar or two into his hat for this audible treat. I can safely say that Bissap is my favorite Senegalese restaurant, as I believe their aloko and yassa are unparalleld in flavor, but also because it’s the only Senaglese restaurant I’ve ever been to. Half of San Francisco seems to share my opinion, as the place is packed. Please, I entreat the hostess, I’ve come a long way to be here, couldn’t you find a place for just one more? She finds me a seat at a long table near the flamenco stage. My luck continues as the gentleman to my right, David, who is also alone, happens to be a flamenco guitarist, and a friend of the artists on stage. In between sets, we share conversation, he helps me find the beat in the flamenco rhythm that has always eluded me. I share my aloko with him, and savor the last sip of my ginger honey tea. That lady, he points out, she’s the grand dame. I can tell, I reply, she dances as if this was her only and last dance. Yes, exactly, he agrees. David and I exchange the pleasantries that signal the end of the evening, and I think of a question posed by a old friend, if somewhat rhetorically. This. This is what I would do.