I was in San Francisco again the past couple of days, after not being there for about 20 years and my, how different I felt. I do not know if it was the City that’s changed or me. Probably both of us. It is sobering to recognize the passage of time and find oneself no longer the same child with quite the same level of optimism to fuel one’s adventures. These days, it takes a deeper trust. I see it now as more of a mindful trust in life itself rather than the mindless expectations of my youthful years when every day felt like a blank page to be scrawled upon every so which way. Funny, I know, and a bit melancholy, but it’s foggy today up here high in the Oakland Hills. Even the stand of Eucalyptus outside my windows, though fifty feet away feels soft and muted, ghosts swaying in drifting mists, the fog obscuring even the sound of them. I’ve been inside all day without a fleck of desire to venture out of doors. Maybe it was yesterday’s bridge traffic or maybe it is today’s fog and rain. Whatever it is, today is a day of contemplation and soft conversations. Nothing jarring, nothing hard.
How do we look back on the past without condemning our folly or romanticizing its reality? As I drove around the City yesterday, I was inexplicably drawn to old haunts and pivotal moments where the course of my life was forever changed. I found myself annoyed at first and grumbling amid the changes and the recollections seeping as if by osmosis into my BMW. Even that was different. Years ago I was a Jeep man and proud of it. All I ever drove, jeeps and trucks. But yesterday, as a I downshifted again amid the hills and valleys of the City’s vernacular, I found myself coming time and time again to a flat I’d owned, an apartment I’d leased, a street I’d partied on, a building I’d remembered, a corner that terrified me, a hospital that treated me, a neighborhood I knew so intimately each shopkeeper was a friend. All of it changed. The elegant Coup d’ chapeau was now a silversmith’s storefront. The curio shop where I sold my collection of kachina dolls is now a bead and jewelry shop. Even Vivaldi is gone. The only old places left are Grand Central Market, Papyrus, the liquor shop, and the Elite Cafe. Well there is Betsey Johnson’s store, but she came after we did and we always laughed at the outlandishness and nerve of her pink neon light bars invading Fillmore Street. Fillamento is gone! I missed walking into the Cheshire Cafe and my Korean friends who’d teach me Japanese, new word after new word, day after day. At least Kabuki Hot Springs, my old standby is still around the corner from my old flat in Japantown. Strangely though, the buildings don’t even feel like the same buildings. Some of them aren’t.
But mostly, it is the fact that the people are all gone and there is a whole other neighborhood that has grown up where mine once was. I suppose this is the natural progression of all life, to grow and rise and then disappear, only to be remembered when someone who used to live somewhere remembers it as it was. Remembering it as it was is a tricky task. It all seems filtered through a softer lens, a prettier cast of light. On a day like today when I gaze out at fog-laden trees and breathable white air, when I am hit by the melancholy of my own memory, I wonder how those who arrived in tall ships, those of courageous heart seeking to find new land, those mad explorers of the 18th and 19th centuries would feel were they to somehow come upon this densely populated, overbuilt gorgeous San Franciscan peninsula today. How would they feel ? What would they think? Surely, it is human to look back as much as it is to look forward. I suppose if I am seeing anything here in my wandering musing, I am seeing the call for presence, to be right here where I am, snuggled in bed, laptop keys clacking away, and the soft dense fog, I’m sure, rolling away.