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The Last Cafe in San Francisco

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image from the ocean beach bulletin

“Are we creating a culture,” I asked Ty over coffee at the Sea Biscuit Café, “or are we holding its hand as it dies? Right now I honestly can’t tell.”

She shook her head. “That’s a really interesting question.”

We usually meet in the Mission, where Ty keeps a small theater alive despite all odds and real estate prices. But today we were meeting at the end of the world. The Outer Sunset, just by the beach. The last vestige of daylight, the place past which you can go no farther. Everything there is “the end of the world” to me. This is the “café at the end of the world.” There’s also a “coffee shop at the end of the world,” a “pizza place at the end of the world” (which is amazing) and a “grocery store at the end of the world.”

The Outer Sunset is perhaps the slowest part of San Francisco to gentrify, using its lack of cool and distance from the rest of the city as a weapon. “I’ve lived in SF for so long,” Ty said, “but I totally feel like a tourist here. It’s weird.”

I used to have friends out here, but they’re gone now. They sold their home, pulled up stakes, and used the money to move to Italy. Sometimes following a dream is what you do when you’ve been exiled, because at that point what else do you have left?

San Francisco’s population is incredibly transient – it’s reached the point where half the population changes over every 10 years, which is astonishing – but does that make all of us who weren’t born here tourists? It seems like some of us come here just to put our time in, make our money, make our bones, while others come to try and stay … if we can hang on.

Ty tells me she came here in the 90s wishing she’d made it in time for the 70s. I tell her that’s funny, because legendary Cacophonist John Law once told me he’d come here in the 70s wishing he’d been here in time for the 60s, and always felt like he’d missed it.

“Really?” she says. “That’s hilarious. Because he WAS San Francisco in the 70s and 80s. He MADE that happen! But he felt like he missed the 60s, and I felt like I missed the 70s …”

“And I came here in the 2000s, wishing I’d been here in the 90s,” I agreed. “And instead of finding the scene, we found the world that the scene made, which is never the same thing.”

Ty took the freedom created by the beats and the hippies and Cacophony and Burning Man, and explored its far reaches – liberating herself in every way, living out its potential. I envy her that. After 10 years here I’m basically the same person I always was, only with better stories to tell.

Now, however, Ty is feeling her mortality. “I’ve reached that point where I’ve started thinking: ‘my life has only so many acts, and I’m already into the second half,’” she told me. “It was something I couldn’t possibly have imagined when I was younger, you know?”

She’s been looking at properties around the greater Bay Area for a year, trying to figure out where she could call home when this city is unsustainable, and it has to be a place she’ll way to live out her last days in, not one more rest stop.

She’s found it, a gorgeous piece of land out in the stix, and with her sister and some friends sunk all her savings into it. Now she has to begin the slow process of building a home and a garden and a place she’ll want to spend real time in.

At the same time, the opportunity to open a second theater in Oakland is coming up. This wouldn’t just mean expansion, and maybe more money – it would mean having a space available to do whatever crazy things she wants. To offer it to artists who she believes in, without worrying about whether it’s going to bring in enough revenue, because one theater could be a cash cow and the other the one she dreams of.

Where does she put her time? Art or home? One kind of community, or another?

It’s a beautiful day, and I suggest that we go for a walk by the beach. I have a favorite spot not so far from here that my friend who moved to Italy once showed me. But we’ve been here for hours, talking, laughing, drinking coffee, and wasting time – and now Ty has to go.

“Next time,” she says. “I totally want to take that walk next time.”

I give her a hug as she goes out to her bike and back into the city. I’m going to stay for a while at the end of the world, get another coffee, and stare at the waves.

I know we’ll see each other – Ty and me, we’ve got plans – but I don’t think we’ll ever actually come out here together again. The end of the world isn’t a place you visit often when you still have something to build.

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Benjamin Wachs - Fascinating Stranger

Benjamin Wachs - Fascinating Stranger

Benjamin Wachs is the author of the short story collection A Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City. He tweets as @BenjaminWachs, and displays (some of) his work at FascinatingStranger.com