San Franciskey? How did you came? Did you drove or did you flew?
In San Francisco we stayed with Isa, one of my corky Harvard chums, and her equally cool friend Anisa, also visiting from the East. They didn’t ask us, “did you drove or did you flew?” [2006 Edit: An old Eugene Levy catchphrase from SCTV, long before he was America's favorite dorky honky. Was this a reference to anything, does anyone know? I've been wondering about that for about twenty years.] but they were Grade A queens o’ hospitality nonetheless, and we had a great time. Isa was doing research this summer for a big White House egghead task force designed to get more Americans bowling again for some reason. Her boyfriend Noah was down in Argentina bringing Nazis to justice. (To quote Ray Stevens, and why the hell not: “That kind of superficiality can wear pretty thin.”)
I’d been told that Frisco (Isa: “We don’t call it that.”) is one of those cities that can be a lot of fun or very depressing, depending on which side of the tracks you’re on and ho much money you have in your pocket. We didn’t have much money, but Isa and Anisa (I know, it’s too cute isn’t it? Just wait until we meet up with Lisa and order a pizza.) must have steered us well clear of those prodigal tracks, because we thought San Francisco was boss to the Nth degree. We ended up spending a couple of days there, eschewing our usual hit-and-run guerrilla tourism to spend at least a little time in a few of SF’s funkier neighborhoods.
Land of the Free, Home of the Dead
Haight and Ashbury, epicentre of the 60s and 70s counterculture, was all over the “if 60s was 90s” hippy revival, all wicked steep hills and psychedelic head shops and rambling Victorian-style houses that once housed non-Victorian sorts like Janis Joplin, Charlie Manson, and the Dead. Many hippies of both the original and copycat generations were floating around looking pleased with themselves, although with Ben & Jerry’s on one side of the famous street corner and The Gap on the other, you didn’t need to be Douglas Coupland to come up with some poignant observations on commerce, nostalgia and generational memory. I had a bowl of “Cherry Garcia” ice cream in order to fully commodify the experience, and was told upon asking that the “Wavy Gravy” contained no gravy, wavy or otherwise. We all agreed that the neighborhood should really be named after the much cooler corner, just one block away, of Haight and Masonic.
KF and the Bear
The Castro was way fun too, with wild record stores, more funky houses, and queers queers queers. We tooled around, got a stack of photos developed, and gave the proprietors of several sex and leather shops the opportunity to laugh at our vanilla boy reactions to the terrible H.R. Giger-esque implements on display. I learned what a bear is and will never watch BJ And… the same way again.
What else did we do in San Francisco? The five of us went out in Isa’s neighborhood and drank beer and played pool and pinball and table hockey. Although Isa proved to be a mean drunk, it was still a fine time. We flaked out for a couple of hours in Golden Gate Park, sleeping and reading zines. Isa took us out for dinner in Chinatown, and Pete and Derek and I did our best to cope with intelligent human interaction after two weeks of saying nothing but “nee-yarg” and “chicker foogie” and talkinig in fake Mexican accents. I got a severe case of campus envy exploring the gorgeous and sunny grounds of UC-Berkeley, and while we never found the Unknown Museum (see below), we did groove on all the urban stuff we’d been missing in the crosscountry trek: counterculture bookstores, overpriced espresso drinks, upscale Californian cuisine (the only vegetable we’d really seen since Ohio was ketchup), and ragged street prophets heckling squirrels.
One of the few tourist type things that I really did want to visit in the area was Berkeley’s fabled Unknown Museum. Forget the Mystery Spot, this is the hidden tourist mecca for those few hipster tourists in the know. What do they have there? Well, that’s just it, I don’t know. Where is it? I don’t know that either. How did I hear about it? I can’t remember. Where can we find it? A very good question. I had an address and a phone number, but we couldn’t find the address, and when we called the number the woman who answered claimed she’d never heard of it.
But let me tell you, when you’re looking for something called the Unknown Museum, suddenly everybody is a comedian. “How can I tell you where it is if you don’t know what museum you’re looking for?” or “If I knew, it wouldn’t be the Unknown Museum, would it?” Har-dee-har. Even Ameritech Information felt compelled to make with the yuks: “The number you have requested … is unknown.”
I Left My Lunch in San Francisco
The Golden Gate Bridge afforded us a spectacular view of fog as we left SF, but the air cleared as we moved up the coast and got onto Highway 1, which hugs the California coast and is reputed to be the most scenic drive in the nation. Too scenic for your humble narrator, it turned out, as the winding road and dazzling beaches and winding road and pounding surf and winding road inspired me to bring up my la-di-da California breakfast of frappucino and honeydew melon. Put that in your atlas and smoke it, Rand-McNally.