The thing about spending a weekend away in a new city is that you can barely scratch the surface. What I love so much about traveling to new places is the opening of all of my senses and the openness of perception, unmarred by memory or habit.
When I go somewhere new, or that I haven’t been for a while, the first several days seem to last the longest. The further that I get into a vacation, the quicker the days slip by until it’s suddenly over. It’s much like being a child. Time lasts longer because you are perceiving everything more deeply and for the first time.. Everything is new and wondrous. As you get used to the new setting, your patterned thought creeps back in, and your perception is not as broad.
We rise early. It’s chilly out. I should have brought my winter coat. I always overpack, but somehow I manage to miss one crucial element and end up with a plethora of things I don’t use.
I zip my hoodie tight and pull it over my head.
We have breakfast at a Kitchen Story, and Asian fusion restaurant with an amazing breakfast. It’s a good idea to get there early. By the time we were midway through the meal, a line of people were waiting to be seated.
I had K’s Own Omelet: pork wine sausage, lemongrass, asparagus, bell peppers, soy. I can’t say that had an Asian omelet before, other than somewhat questionable egg foo yung. The omelet is served with some thick-cut whole wheat toast. But my favorite part is a blend of cubed potatoes : a blend of fingerling, purple and sweet, fried to a perfect crisp . Of course we top everything off with an absurd amount of coffee.
I want to go to the Haight. I am in search of an Om pendant. With our bellies full, we hit the famous hills of San Francisco. It’s sunny and in the 60s. I can handle the Christmas decorations with palm trees and sunshine.
The stores are very bohemian. There’s an eclectic mix of head shops and higher end fashion boutiques. The last time I was there, it seemed more “down-and-out”. I remember blitzed-out junkies on the sidewalks, homeless suburban kids with too many dogs, discarded needles underfoot. But it seems that the area, like the rest of San Francisco, has buckled under gentrification.
When I was 20 or so, I got a picture in front of 710 Ashbury. This is the house where the Grateful Dead lived a sort of commune-style life in the early days. I stop and get the obligatory picture. It is surreal to stand in the same spot, more than 15 years later, and know how much I have grown and changed. I am not the same person who stood there more than 15 years ago. There is palpable energy on that spot. That much-photographed portico still holds the magic of what was planted so many years ago. Something that I admire so much, that has been integral in my life, that speaks to my soul.
We make our way through the Haight. The sound of the Grateful Dead pours onto the street from shops selling tie dyed everything. I want to purchase almost everything, but I restrain myself. I work for a nonprofit after all, and that means I am functionally poor. Much to my chagrin, I realize that nobody living a true ‘hippie’ lifestyle could every purchase goods at these shops. These are for the tourists and those who have made their money but return to reminisce.
I am in search of is that Om pendant. As a teenager, I once got one in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It looked interesting and that was enough. I think I asked the shopkeeper what it meant and his answer was vague. It has importance to me now. I recently ordered online, but I lost it soon after. I wasn’t terribly upset. Amazon purchases don’t have the heart of something purchased on a trip or given as a gift.
I figure that finding an Om in this bohemian enclave will be like finding a tube of toothpaste at Walgreens. There are eclectic shops on every block. In one shop, crystals are piled on the floors by the ton and a statues of Hindu and Buddhist deities line the shelves. The clerk pours through baskets of trinkets and searches the jewelry cases to no avail. The story is the same at four other stops.
As we near the end of Haight proper, we find a shop that has not one but several Om pendants. With some difficulty, I make my selection. I feel like the search makes it even more special. I slip the silver Om with a madala circle onto the golden chain around my neck.
We decide to make the hike to Coit Tower at the precipice of a tall hill overlooking the bay from Telegraph Hill. The tower was built in 1933 uwith money from the estate of Lillie Hitchcock Coit, an eccentric woman who had an affinity for firefighters, and resembles the nozzle on a firehose. Inside, vibrant fresco murals by 27 different artists depict life in San Francisco’s past. The detailed murals are worth the visit alone, and the view from the top is stunning.
Far below, we can see Fishermans Wharf. My buddy Victor was there on a recent visit. There’s an outlet store for Biscoff, the official treat of Delta Airlines and a ridiculous cookie by my estimation. The airlines get sleeves of them to give out and I have been the recipient of several sleeves. Let’s just say that I have to admit my powerlessness over Biscoff.
My motive for visiting the wharf is the fresh fish market. I have seen shows on the Travel channel where the cameras pan across troughs of bountiful seafood; where men toss a giant salmon while visiting tourists ooh and aah. The walk is substantially longer than it looked from the tower. Once The crowd grows thick. The sweetly sick smell of a tourist trap emanate from fudgeries and funnel cake stands.
Shoppers are in full force with Christmas coming. I bare on, scanning the deck for that famous fish market. It may be too much caffeine or the noxious odor of deep fried fat, but when we get to the Biscoff shop, I simply can’t handle a Biscoff cookie. The masses swirl around me and I grow nauseous. It’s suddenly frantic: a sensory overload with souvenir shops, circus music, and tacky tishirts…and hordes and hordes of people.
Where is this market?
Well apparently it’s in Seattle, or Portland because it is certainly not here. The closest thing to fresh fish is a Bubba Gump’s Shrimp, and I’d be willing to wager that their freshness relies on fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico and a deep freezer.
A bit nonplussed, we visit the seals that colonize some docks along the pier. They are amusing to watch: playful, ornery, and lethargic. This is the best part of Fishermans Wharf. Amusing, but also available at the St. Louis Zoo
After a late lunch, we have an even later dinner at Catch, because when in Rome…eat seafood. Another lovely meal, this time Halibut with a creamy, spinach-studded risotto and basil oil.
It occurs to me, as I am walking home from dinner, that I have always felt different from others. No matter where I’ve lived or who I am surrounded by, something was off. This gay thing. I always attributed it to some genetic mutation or biological error: an accident, a mistake. Here in San Francisco, I feel like I’m just as I was meant to be. That all of these people that fill the apartments, walk the streets, ride the streetcars…they aren’t a mistake. This can’t be a mistake. The prove, by their example and through their resilience, that we are beautiful and purposeful and perfect as we are.