I’d spent the preceding night in Winnemucca, Nevada; it was the final overnight stop in my first cross-country automobile journey. I caught up on sleep, had dinner at Subway, and watched TV stations from Idaho and Reno.
Upon waking up on Monday morning, I set out for my new home. After stops in Reno and Vallejo where I attempted to contact the friends with whom I’d be staying, I found myself crossing the Bay Bridge at rush hour. I drove immediately to the Safeway on Market Street where I knew I’d find a parking space and a phone. Within half an hour, I was moving my stuff into a very small apartment a block from City Hall and I had a new home.
My God, has it really been ten years? Have I really spent more than a quarter of my life in this insulated little burgh where reality and common sense rarely intrude? I was so excited to have arrived in a place full of sex and food and interesting streets I’d never walked down and stores selling bizarre merchandise you couldn’t find in North Carolina.
A decade later, I’ve walked down most of those streets and many of the things which initially attracted me to San Francisco now repel me and make me want to leave. I’m no longer a long-haired idealistic twenty-something and I realize that San Francisco is no better or worse than most other big cities, although a part of me will always think of it as home.
Strangely enough, it was in 1996, when I started a website about the city, that I started to analyze it and realize that it wasn’t everything it claimed to be. The more I wrote about it, the more I realized it wasn’t nevessarily Mecca, and that it might not even be the place I wanted to spend the rest of my life.
The city has changed, although not as much as I might like to believe. Some things I miss:
- My old, uncrowded, dumpy Safeway at 16th and Potrero, since replaced with a shopping center containing a Gap, an Old Navy, and a new mega-Safeway.
- Mike’s Night Gallery, the only sex club I ever really loved.
- The amazing Alhambra Theatre on Polk Street.
- My old car, which someone torched in 1996.
- The Emporium, the last of the big old school department stores which didn’t require a credit check or proper attire for browsing.
- Live 105 when it didn’t suck.
- Channel 20, when it was still a quirky independent station with the barking dogs and the Christmas fireplace log and “Streets of San Francisco” reruns.
- The Chinese restaurant down the street, which is, predictably, a “live/work” loft now.
- The old main library (believe it or not).
- My excitement about the city.
Some things I’ll always remember about my ten years in San Francisco:
- Drinking until 2AM, followed by four hours of alternating coffee and beer before going back out when the bars opened at 6AM.
- The first time I had sex with twenty people watching.
- My first semi-public birthday gathering at Tad’s.
- The first time someone came up to me in a bar and asked me if I was “that Planet SOMA guy”.
- Picking up a boy at the bus stop and being a half-hour late to work after dragging him back to my place and buggering him.
- Experiencing my first earthquake while talking to my mom on the phone (while she was staying at a motel across town on her first visit).
- Long walks.
- Touching Jane Weidlin.
- “That used to be a Safeway”.
- Conjugal visits with Mark before he moved here.
- The amazing sight of fog coming across Twin Peaks after the standard three days of heat.
- Sanity breaks in Oakland and Fresno and Sacramento.
I’ve changed a lot too. I’m no longer scared of computers and I got to watch the “Internet Revolution” firsthand, where it happened. I’ve become a weather wimp who complains when the temperatures goes above 70 or below 40.
Politically and morally, I’ve become less of a leftist reactionary after realizing that unchecked (and unquestioned) dogma is just as damaging when it’s spouted by the left as by the right. I’ve become more of an independent thinker, and I’m less likely to scream “discrimination” where none really exists. And I never use the term “homophobia” unless I’m making fun of it.
I don’t drink until 3AM (or later) anymore, and I don’t roam sex clubs until the wee hours. My other activities are no longer dictated by my nightlife needs; I’m more functional and productive (and at more normal hours) and I actually get the dishes washed on a semi-regular basis. I spend more of my disposable income on books and DVDs than on clothes and booze.
I’m in love and living with the boy of my dreams, which is something I couldn’t have envisioned ten (or even two or three) years ago. And he seems to understand my need to flee the city every weekend.
Living in San Francisco for ten years has been a good thing for me, no matter how much my arguments seem to suggest otherwise. I don’t regret coming here; it’s provided a lot of entertainment and memories and it’s sharpened my critical thinking skills. And I’ve made some friends I intend to keep around forever.
My life would be much different if I’d stayed in North Carolina. I might never have seen Winnemucca.