Victor and I sit over a round marble table top at a tony French bistro in St. Louis in early December. He and I love the same things: good conversation, great meals, and travel. We’re best friends. His eyes gleam across the table while course after course arrives. The food is delectable, but I can see the wheels turning in his head. Christmas is fast approaching and Victor has plans.
“Have your bags packed. We’re leaving on the 16th for San Francisco.”
“You mean a week from Friday?!?”
“I think I can swing it!”
Of course I can. How could I not?
A friend of ours, Andrew, lives with his partner Brandon in a Victorian house on Church Steet. They let out rooms on AirBnB, and Victor arranges for us to stay the weekend. It’s been many years since I visited San Francisco. Then I was just a long-haired kid who wanted to visit the Haight and see where the Summer of Love and the Grateful Dead got their start. We didn’t really spend much more than an afternoon in the city. It was just a pit stop on a much longer journey “one afteroon, long ago”.
We fly separately into the City by the Bay. A slight hiccup causes Victor a delay, but no matter, I’m happy to be out of St. Louis. When Victor arrives, Brandon picks us up from the airport. We make the drive under bright blue skies. Rolling hills jut from deep blue water. Buildings packed tightly together cling to steep hillsides. The highways are thick with traffic, but this just gives me a chance to take in the scene.
Andrew and Brandon live in the Castro, a neighborhood prominent in gay history. They live in an house that is subdivided into small apartment units. Brandon’s business partner in the venture, and owner of the house, lives upstairs and another tenant lives below. Andrew and Brandon occupy a small apartment in the back, and there are three or four more units that they rent out to visitors.
Victor and I stay in a lovely one bedroom unit with a balcony, kitchenette, and sitting room. It over-looks lively Church Street below through large picture windows. Andrew is still at work, so we take a stroll. I have been to the gay neighborhoods in other cities and towns, but I have never seen anything like this. It is as like a microcosm where everyone was gay. Pride oozes from every lamppost. Rainbow patterned banners adorn the streets and flags flap in the wind. There is a sort of revelry. This is the gay capital of the country, if not the world.
We pass the Castro Theatre and scores of shops. There are fashion boutiques and coffee houses, noodle joints and sex shops. We opt for a sushi snack. It’s getting late in the day, and we’ll be having dinner with Andrew and Brandon. Golden fried calamari is cut into long strips and we order the chef’s selection of sashimi. A slight language barrier with an Asian server prevents me from recalling exactly what kinds of fish were served, but every bite was sublime.
Sweets are definitely my weakness, and Victor is ever the enabler. On our way back from sushi, we spot Hot Cookie, a little stall in a facade along Castro Streetwhere hot boys sell hot treats. Scantily clad employees celebrate life in pictures that line the walls. The smell of freshly baked cookies ia a better advertisement than money can buy.
Victor gets a dense chocolate brownie and I opt for a gargantuan toffee-chocolate chip cookie. We stop for coffee at another little shop. The barista is telling a regular customer thata bag of dildos was left there the previous night. God, I love this city!
We sit at benches in an area carved out from the traffic of a busy intersection. I demolish my cookie in no time. We turn down panhandlers while we eat, and makeshift camping spots line the sidewalks of the city. Tents are placed strategically next to million-dollar houses. Hippie kids and grizzled old men vie for our spare change
As evening sets in, we head back to the house to meet our friend Andrew, shower, and relax before dinner. It is so good to reconnect, and we pick up right where we left off. We lounge around in the huge bed and catch up before heading out for some hot tea.
Brandon and Andrew are part of the fellowship, and they take us to one of their meetings. There are easily over a hundred people in attendance. Perfect strangers meet us with bear hugs and warm smiles. There is no way I am going to remember all of the names. A speaker shares experience, strength, and hope with the group. He is vibrant and grateful. He once stared down death in a trailer in the desert, his body ravaged but his spirit resilient. It is an inspiring talk, a reinforcement of the fleeting nature of life.
We dine at Bisou, a French bistro that’s a short walk from the meeting. The chef/owner greets each of us with an embrace and a kiss. (“Bisou” is French for kiss). The prix fixe menu is where it’s at. There is a foi gras spread with fresh bread, a fresh kale salad, and a lovely pork chop before me. Victor opts for the cheese souffle and Brandon starts with bacon wrapped, goat cheese stuffed dates. The food is on point and the company of these friends superb.