A Love Letter to SF from 381.9 Miles Away
By Jillian Robertson
Ironically, the first freeway exit upon arriving in what I consider Los Angeles-proper is “SF Mission.” Seems kinda cruel since I just moved from beautiful San Francisco to traffic-snarled Los Angeles. In this case though, SF stands for San Fernando Valley.
That doesn’t stop me from reminiscing about my favorite taquerias, bookstores, the koi fish swimming on the pavement, and running into local SF celebrities, like Deep on his speaker rickshaw, Frank Chu with his Laughing Squid sign, and Broke Ass Stuart, waxing philosophic, in the tiny Incline Gallery almost hidden between two apartments on Valencia.
On the Road
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The very act of driving reminds me that I’m no longer in San Francisco. Though to get my fix of that new BART smell, I’ve been riding LA’s Metro rail system. Not too shabby if all you want is to get from Hollywood to Downtown LA.
But just a reminder how foreign seeking out public transit is in the first place, I caught Metro to downtown last week for the Women’s March and a friend and 5-year LA resident turned to me and said, “Wow, I’ve never taken Metro before,” and asked, only somewhat jokingly “Is there WIFI here?” when the train went into a tunnel and we lost cell service.
When I’m not riding the rails like an (apparently) un-Angeleno weirdo, I’ve been biking.
Nothing makes me miss SF more than biking in LA.
One evening, I was cruising down the beautiful Santa Monica Boulevard, through West Hollywood, aka Castro-South, and was greeted by the WeHo Bicycle Coalition giving out free bike lights. This isn’t so bad, I thought.
Mere blocks later, outside the friendly halo of WHBC, I was nearly t-boned by a black Mercedes, who screamed at me out her window as I biked by. Later that night, a Prius (a Prius!) pulled up a foot off my back wheel and leaned on the horn, suggesting as he drove by that I should “get off the road!!” Shaken, and not just because of the vehicular assault by what I’d previously assumed were nice environmentalists, I biked the rest of the way home.
(Not) Going Green
So much I had previously taken for granted, like my SF roommate who gently chided me for recycling my almond milk container. “It’s wax lined, so you actually have to rip out the plastic nozzle, recycle that, then compost the rest.” You live, you learn.
Not only is that next-level recycling not available, LA DOESN’T HAVE COMPOST AT ALL. In LA, neither styrofoam nor plastic bags have been banned either.
Perhaps deconstructing almond milk containers isn’t for everyone and I hope I haven’t lost you at this point, but just not having the option to recycle has been bizarrely upsetting.
But enough bitching about LA
Here’s a brief inventory of the things I’ve loved in San Francisco:
1 BiRite sundae, consumed, tipsy, on a blanket in Dolores Park
1 Cowgirl Creamery salumi and fresh mozzarella sandwich, bought in the Ferry Building, eaten on a bench facing the Bay
1 La Taqueria burrito, hoarded, then eaten whole, on my roommate’s couch
3 Koi fish, swimming around a parking meter in a painted sidewalk pond
5 spyglasses, peered through in the opaque darkness of the 826 Valencia pirate store
7 free paperbacks, flipped through, standing on the sidewalk outside Dog Eared Books
1 lucky beer, hastily drank outside Giants Stadium, to secure mojo for the beleaguered team inside
2 dinosaurs, in topiary form, peeking out of a Valencia St. parklet
1 Chef’s Mess, consumed hungover at St. Francis Fountain, paired with a bottomless cup of black coffee
4 naked friends, jumping into the sea at Ocean Beach to ring in the new year
1 startled gasp, elicited by a dip in the cold water pool at the Russian bathhouse, Banya
1 apartment window, filled floor to ceiling with owls – stuffed owls, stuffed animal owls, carved wooden owls, plastic toy owls.
1 bunch of zombies, some in hazmat suits, some in tattered clothing, but all covered in fake (?) blood, spotted stumbling through Dolores Park
Tales from the City
I gathered many strange and wonderful experiences in the City by the Bay. Here are just few:
Picking the locks on the Seward St. Slides (did you know they lock up slides at night??) and whooshing gleefully down until a neighbor threatens to call the cops.
I had my level of love tested at Musee Mecanique.
I drank beers on the ferry with the Friday afternoon commuters.
We gave out hugs on tax day and inauguration day.
We wore wedding dresses and promenaded through Neiman Marcus with the best dressed drag queens in SF.
We danced on the top floor of the Armory, not knowing its kinky days were numbered.
We screamed at scary movies at the Roxie and blushed at amateur porn at the Victorian for Hump!
I watched the organ rise from the floor of the Castro, like an ersatz sun, for countless sing-a-longs in that storied theater.
I became a regular at Philz on 24th, even on occasion chatted with Phil himself, sporting his signature fedora.
I had a favorite Buffalo Exchange, the one on Valencia, a favorite Crossroads, in the Castro, and a love to hate relationship with the fabulous, if spectacularly unaffordable apparel at Piedmont.
I knew where in town to go for rainbow leggings, where to buy a blow up doll, where to secure 100 paper flowers, and where to buy espresso and hard-to-find vhs tapes in the same place.
I’ve marched with Occupy, Black Lives Matter, for Pride, for Women’s rights… each time feeling the thrill of walking down the center of Market St. past stopped traffic, stepping over the muni tracks and BART grates and avoiding eye contact with the police escorts sporting handfuls of zip tie handcuffs.
I’ve had bikes stolen, apartments broken into… got tickets and flat tires. But mostly, my love affair with San Francisco has gone unblemished, since the days when I stared wistfully out from my childhood bedroom in San Rafael, towards The City, apparent only as the tip of Sutro Tower, peaking out like a cloud-borne sailboat, above the fog.
I stared through pinhole cameras and paper glasses at the eclipse
I showered in champagne in Civic Center plaza when the Giants won the world series, the first of their 3 year streak, lit by the orange flood lights illuminating city hall.
I spent 5 hours in the Bill Graham Civic, watching Mars Volta ring in the new year with trippy oil projections and music straight from space.
I saw friends find love, fall out of love, have babies…
I wore bunny suits and prom dresses and faux fur and latex.
I danced under a bridge in Golden Gate Park, and at the edge of the ocean to buzzing bass and whining treble.
I drank matzo ball soup and Zeitgeist Bloody Marys to fuel up, pancakes at It’s Tops to go back in time, and Smitten to go forward into the future.
I climbed the DeYoung tower on lean days, and actually paid to see the exhibits after payday.
San Francisco is by no means static. I’ve mourned the loss of Flax and the Lex and countless others, to condos like glass and metal shoe boxes, stacking higher and higher over the places we used to love.
The city itself, I love and miss. With the shifting landscape, it is as much an idea as an address.