Said goodbye to Tom the dentist this morning. I never quite figured him out. A left-leaning medical nerd. Very odd. Today I was off to the Mission District in the south-west via Japantown and Haight-Ashbury to the north-west and west, respectively. Japantown held an interesting back-story of dislocation via war, natural disaster and urban redesign. I hoped for a good show at Yoshi’s later that night, as I walked past it down famous jazz-destination Fillmore Street. South of Market Street is easily the city’s different, if not exactly wrong, side of the street-car tracks. It is down there one of the best, sweeping views of the not just visually spectacular city, from Mission Dolores Park, was found. I sat, slightly weary, in the park eating a delicious salmon BLT and watching people of all ages, genders, colours, shapes and sizes exercise, play with their dogs or relax. The Mission District, and particularly Valencia Street running north-south parallel with Dolores St, reminded me of Brunswick Street, Melbourne, or Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. A cultural vibrancy throbbed along it through art, music and exotic linguistics. Unfortunately, I couldn’t escape the Mission under the Central Freeway overpass back to Market Street without a bit of a hassle. A dude (black, as if it matters) asked me for a cigarette.
“Yeah sure man,” I said. “I don’t mind giving out one every couple of days.”
I heard laughter behind me, probably because of what the person laughing knew was coming up.
“Yeah,” the dude continued after taking the smoke. “There’s a place down the street sells four for a dollar. I need 75 cents.”
“Sorry man,” I empathised.
“Nah, c’mon: I just need three quarters.”
“I gave you a cigarette.”
(More hassling from him.)
“Can’t you ask someone else?”
“Well, yeah, but (more hassling).”
“Dude, you’ve got a cigarette.”
“Ah, shit!” and he walked off.
I was a little on edge during the walk back up Valencia, until Market, from where I rode the streetcar east mainly because I couldn’t walk another step but also because I was anxious to get off the street. When I got back, one of the French chicks was chatting to a French guy. The fear that they were all part of an already paired-up clique of university students became a certainty. Without a hint of regret that I wasn’t joining my fellow hostellers at some cookie-cutter nightclub, I found myself at back at Fillmore Street’s Yoshi’s to see Kaki King – a married lesbian who turned out to be just about the best guitarist I’d ever seen. Her teenage support act was also incredible, but I can’t remember her name. I closed my eyes for a few seconds, in order to savour with as much concentration possible the sounds her flurrying fingers produced from the guitar strings. But not for too long – they might have thought I was a drunken hobo who’d somehow wandered in from the street. Four $10 Scotches later, and I was floating back east along Post Street to yet another hostel-bound night on the turps. It was late, and the smoking area was packed as it usually was after about 9pm. I spoke briefly with a gorgeous German named Tatiana. Registered no interest from her, unfortunately. “Is it possible I’m not as handsome and charming as I imagine myself to be?” I wondered. Some awesome dude bought pizza for all of us. The bastard probably got to bed Tatiana, too.
Woke up to a nightmare of an aching head. French couple roommates loudly taking forever to pack their shit. Thought I’d lost my wallet; did lose my cigarettes (or smoked the entire pack?). “What the fuck am I going to achieve in this sorry state?” I anxiously asked myself. “I think next time someone asks me why I’m backpacking these United States I’ll respond, deadpan: ‘sex tourism’. Should get an interesting reaction.” For the record, I didn’t end up having to stoop so low just to get a rise out of someone. Showered with three pairs of socks on to delay visiting the laundry. There was no sun in my room, where the socks, my towel and jeans hung from underneath my top bunk neighbour’s bed, but an open window with the heater on adequately took care of the drying. While booking for an extra night, every screaming muscle in my body yearned to visit the Japantown bathhouse. But it could wait. Walked directly north to touristy Fisherman’s Wharf. Hills!!! Checked out a WW2 submarine and supply ship. Ate an In ‘n’ Out burger. Smoked, struggled – no-longer starved. Saw, of course, that famous garden surrounded tightly winding street between Leavenworth and Hyde – Lombard Street. A lot of tourists there, even on a Monday. San Fran is the biggest, best quality, thinking-person’s theme park in the world. And everyone’s either walking between, enjoying or servicing the rides. Too much wine last night. One and a half bottles on top of four scotches. Ouch. “I want to understand as much as I can about this world. Though there’s not a great deal of ostensive use for such knowledge here and now, perhaps it might even have a use in future years or even after death. Why ruin a perfectly good journey by working? I suppose that’s what separates it from a holiday. The word ‘journey’. Perhaps. An overwhelming maleness is equally as bad as an underwhelming. Still, if many men have fucked a lot of women, I’ve still made love to more than they have. I’ve ever been a dreamer, but have learned there can be more wonder in the real world if I pay close enough attention to what’s obviously and not-so-obviously going on around me. America is a place where whatever and whoever you photograph will result in free advertising for someone.” Thanks for enduring that piece of introspection. San Fran was a very stimulating place. And only in a city such as it could a street’s culture, language, appearance, taste, smell and sounds change from block-to-block. Sometimes abruptly and sometimes gradually. I loved listening to African Americans speak, and I hope that doesn’t sound racist. If coffee could talk, I imagine it would sound Afro-American, if that doesn’t sound even more racist. I mean that idea based on coffee’s flavour more than its colour. I remembered seeing a guy in Mission Dolores Park who was so into whatever music he was listening to, that he’d sing, gesture and fall to his knees to the rhythm. Hopefully not Christian rock. I had one dude compliment me on my sunglasses and another on my jacket, in one day. Sincere? Probably. An attempt to flirt? Even more probable, considering the location. Though flattered, I would have obviously preferred similar or greater female attention. It constantly surprises me that even in the 21st century it still seems an almost absolute rule that women won’t chase men. What are us introverts to do? “The beliefs of the seemingly crazy may be perfectly reasonable if they are crowded by propaganda from the powerful. You know it’s good music when you can’t even move to it – just sit there awe-struck.” I remembered getting the fear when I first arrived in America. “What the fuck am I doing here? This is a mistake.” Etc. No longer. My raison d’être had become to simply drink in all the weird and wonderful things going on around me.