Saturday, July 7, 2012

Good-bye, San Francisco

I first saw San Francisco in 1986. I was married and living in Dallas, Texas. My wife wanted to come see the city on a three-day weekend, and on the third day I decided to move there. We were walking on Ocean Beach, very close to the house I'd later live in. I said, "So how long do you think it will take, two years?"

"No, John, at least five years."

Exactly one year later, we rolled into town, on Columbus Day weekend. Monday night we slept in our first apartment, and enjoyed this view:

For the next twenty-five years, San Francisco and I were thick, inseparable. Many months passed, without crossing a bridge out of this seven-mile square.


The first apartment was across the street from Lincoln Park, where I painted many pictures.

The second apartment was a few blocks further inland, and gave us views of the Golden Gate and downtown, as well as the stunning Holy Virgin Orthodox Cathedral.

1989 - with Regina Pettus and Sara Pate
Coming to San Francisco and making a life here gave me confidence. Many people attempt this and many of those who attempt it fail. The place seemed to accept me. I could think and work effectively in this unusual environment. Equally important, I was able—often by invisible means—to afford living here. On the scale of my small, ordinary life, this was a triumph of the will.

San Francisco is a good place to be alone with your thoughts. The weather is almost always cold, and many people do not speak english. If you want to pace up and down on the beach and brood, you'll have plenty of space and no interruptions. 

This atmosphere was perfect for me; I'm a champion brooder. In the course of these many years, I had plenty to brood about. I turned thirty, then forty, then fifty. I went through a divorce, bought a house, married again, had a baby and sent him to school. In San Francisco the normal milestones are the most difficult to achieve. If you want to ride your bicycle through downtown naked, you will be encouraged and fifty people may join you. But buying a house and having a family are so difficult that many people don't even make the attempt. 



Living space was especially problematic. I didn't mind this so much, as it forced me to trim down my belongings to the bare minimum. 



My son was upset when we told him we were leaving. He said, "I feel lucky that I lived here." I agree, and so does the rest of the world. I rarely traveled unless I was forced to, but wherever I went, in New York, London, Tokyo, people invariably nodded with admiration when they learned that I lived in San Francisco. When I explained that—at that time—I lived in a tiny apartment with no view, that I got everywhere by foot or bicycle, they shook their heads and replied, "Yes, but you get to live in San Francisco!" 

They were right. It was a rich existence, worthy of its own Very Rich Hours. Good-bye, San Francisco. We'll meet again some day, and laugh at old times.


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