I don’t think I could ever have a completely monogamous relationship with a city. I get crushes too easily, and they make me a little obsessive, even when they’re never really…uh…consummated.
This week, for the record, it’s Cincinnati (which I’ve finally gotten used to spelling correctly) and I’m now in that “uncovering its history and doing my Groceteria research” phase following the lovely weekend we just spent together. I’d been in Cincy exactly twice before, once with Bob on the 1998 U.S. Tour and once in 2006 with Mark. Both were quick drive-throughs which gave me no real feel for the place but made me want to see more. Apparently I also considered moving there, at least for long enough to write this.
I probably wouldn’t actually move there now, but it seems a nice enough place to have another affair with. I’m in Pittsburgh next month for a show. I hope this won’t make things awkward between us.
And in case you missed it, this is what February looked like.
- The exposed brick is actually wallpaper.
- The hotel is in in a semi-suburban part of Durham NC.
- It was built in 1985 as a Days Inn.
The funny thing is that after almost thirteen years away, I still feel a very strong connection to California and the Bay Area, though Los Angeles (where I never lived) is the place I miss most. But after all those years, my affection and nostalgia for San Francisco (where I actually did live) has never really returned. The connection I feel to California — and in some ways, it still feels like home — does not extend to the place that actually was home. I don’t fully understand this, and sometimes it makes me a little sad.
When I lived in San Francisco. It was very common for my fellow residents not to think of themselves as Californians. They identified almost exclusively as San Franciscans, whether they’d lived there more than six weeks or not. While the earlier version of me was pretty obsessive about the place is well, I always saw myself as a resident of California first and of San Francisco second. I didn’t fall into the trap of believing that all civilization ended when you left the sacred 49 square miles, and I grew to love the state as a whole.
And I still love it. I’m generally ready to visit on a moment’s notice. If economics were not a factor, there are places I would still consider living in California. It’s still very much a part of me, and I think in a lot of ways I became so fluent in the culture that I still often think in “Californian.”
I know I have this annoying tendency to think of cities in much the same way most people think of lovers, and I’m self-aware enough to realize that part of the problem I have with San Francisco is the same problem one has with just about any ex. It’s hard to think about San Francisco without remembering how much I really despised it by the time I left. I dwell on the bad ending without thinking so much about the good times that preceded it. But I still regularly consume material about the history of the city, and I still have memories of good times there, but they don’t leave me with a particularly warm and squishy feeling.
The last time I was in SF, for a conference in Oakland in 2015, I found my visit to the city to be so off-putting that I’m still not sure I’ll ever return for even a quick visit. That was sort of hard for me to cope with; when I wrote about the rest of the trip, I never got around to finishing that last section where I would have talked about being in San Francisco. I couldn’t quite express my feelings, and I still can’t. I don’t believe, though, that all my antipathy toward the city was based on past experience . I really do think it is a very different place now, and it’s not a place that I particularly like. In fact, I don’t think I’d particularly like it now even if I had no history or background and were visiting for the first time.
Part of this is probably also related to the fact that I’m much more inclined to live in the present and the future these days, which is a good and healthy thing. I’m glad that I’m not “pining away” for my old life in San Francisco, but it would be nice to be able to muster up at least a little nostalgia for something other than an imagined historical past I never really experienced in person anyway.
I guess the tl;dr here is that I have a complicated relationship with San Francisco, but I still feel very connected to California, and that I don’t really know how to write about all of this…and probably should no longer even try. But a Twitter conversation this evening about this article reminded me that I’ve been meaning to do it anyway, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I don’t think I succeeded, but it killed a few minutes before bedtime.
Having spent four lovely days in the warm and fuzzy embrace of Toronto, I’m now exploring Kitchener-Waterloo. I spent a few hours here several years ago, and I decided I would come back for a couple of days at some point. That point has arrived.
A few initial impressions that I may or may not expand on later:
- It seems a lot more like American cities here. It’s very sprawling, and there’s not the grid that you see in Toronto, Ottawa, or Montréal. Development patterns just look a lot more like a small- or mid-sized American city. (EDIT: Speech recognition added a “good” to that last sentence that didn’t belong there.)
- It also seems a lot more white and Anglo (and Germanic) here. A quick glance at the areas demographics on Wikipedia confirms this suspicion.
- I wonder how people here react to the fact that most of their broadcast media (TV at least) is based in Toronto, and that there’s nothing really local. I guess there never has been, so they probably don’t notice the difference. That said, this would be a pretty decent sized market in the US. (EDIT: There are apparently local stations here but they were not on my hotel cable.)
- They do have their own newspaper, though, and like most Canadian papers, it seems a trifle healthier than most American papers.
- I really love the converted shopping center on University Avenue that’s become sort of a big international food court. I ate there last time I was here and returns tonight as well.
- I also love my room, and I’m reconsidering whether I want to leave.
- Canadian public libraries rock the universe.
It was 64F when I arrived. The next morning it snowed and the temperature never again climbed above freezing.
Thanks tto the cold, this was very much a trip of specific destinations rather than my usual random wandering. I’d already planned to hit several museums, and I ended up doing most of my traveling on the subway rather than on foot. But it was lots of fun, and I did get some significant strolling in.
- Seeing my friend Margo and exploring Brooklyn a bit.
- The Transit Museum. Loved it. Seriously.
- Riding the ten-week-old Second Avenue Subway.
- A snow-covered Union Square.
- Having, maybe for the first time, a hotel room with a view of something other than the airshaft or the back of the next building.
- Food. Books. Etc.
- My new favorite parking spot on Staten Island.
Random thoughts about New York, danger, middle age, and other things coming in another post. For now, here are pretty pictures:
Prerogative of being middle-aged and single with no dependents (human or otherwise): after discussing the idea for 30 seconds with a friend at dinner, I just decided to have a long weekend in New York in about three weeks. I will visit friends, buy books, and see this. I got a great deal on a room in a very nice hotel centrally located between two subway lines. From decision to execution took all of 30 minutes.
Another prerogative: I can change my mind just as easily as I made the decision in the first place, with no repercussions or arguments whatsoever.
La vie c’est bon!
I really find Lynchburg kind of intriguing. It’s a shame it carries all that Jerry Falwell/Liberty University baggage that makes me (and I imagine much of America) reluctant to visit. It has very much a small-scale Pittsburgh vibe, from the topography to the impossibly large Victorian mansions in Rivermont. It’s apparent there was a lot of money there a hundred years or so back. There’s some great architecture, and the view from the park on the other side of the river is really nice.
I think a lot of people expect Virginia to be very southern and pastoral and bucolic, and there is certainly that aspect of it, but most of urban Virginia — not just the western cities of Roanoke and Lynchburg but also places like Richmond, Hampton, and Newport News — feels considerably more Rust Belt than Sun Belt.
Maybe a full weekend soon. Given two days in Lynchburg, I should finally be able to find at least one decent place to eat there, right?