Sunday, October 26, 2014

How Could I Have Left San Francisco?

Why Did I Ever Leave San Francisco? Standing on the patio of the St. Francis Yacht Club, admiring the Golden Gate: a perfect view of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, sailboats riding the winds of the Bay (“Ride Captain, Ride,”) seagulls perching (not sitting) on the “Dock of the Bay,” waves breaking on the shore, and my hair, what’s left of it, blowing in the breeze. On the landside, the Palace of Fine Arts towers over its surroundings. San Francisco is my home, but I left in 1970. Why? Because my life took me elsewhere. I’ve been back several times, but this visit was different. It was the 50th Reunion of the Lowell High School Class of 1964, my incredible classmates. It all came back – not just the streets, neighborhoods and byways of San Francisco, but all the wonderful memories, seeing friends and classmates from half a century ago. We are a remarkably well-preserved class. Many of us resemble the 1964 yearbook photos. The 900 graduates scattered to the winds, doing well with their lives. Lowell and San Francisco always remained with them. The class beauties are still beautiful. So much happened in San Francisco, the nation, and the world in the 1960’s since we graduated in 1964: The Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, LBJ, The War on Poverty, race riots. San Francisco had the Haight Asbury, Hippies and the Flower Children, while Berzerkley had the Free Speech Movement. We all knew where we were on that terrible day, November 22, 1963 when JFK was assassinated. The fog, the Sunset Fog, which shrouds the Sunset District, enveloped me as I crossed the line from the Peninsula into the City and County of San Francisco. Welcome home! The hills and the neighborhoods beaconed as I drove through the maze of the streets, trying to remember and retrace the routes: Twin Peaks, Upper Noe Valley, the Mission and the Marina, the Richmond and Sunset Districts, former homes and apartment houses. I’ve done it before, but it felt different this visit. Development has filled in empty lots and replaced homes, but the essential character of the neighborhoods remains, a city of soaring skyscapers, but thousands of small merchants. No Silicone Valley 50 years ago, but today the signs are there: parking spaces at a premium and every other vehicle seemingly being a Bimer or Prius. Tourists fall in love with one of the world’s greatest cities. Those of us raised in the City by the Bay take it for granted. But to return to the City in all its grandeur as an expatriate adds a deeper meaning; it’s personal. No wonder many of my classmates left, but returned. Questions arose: 1) I never had a driver’s license while living in the City of Seven Hills, but climbing Divisadero and Clipper yesterday, did I really drive a stick shift for a week up those hills on an earlier return? Check out Bill Cosby’s classic comedy skirt “Driving in San Francisco.” 2) While driving past some of the old homes and apartments, did I really walk up and down those steep hills, often daily, while at Lowell and USF? Is that why I was a skinny 165 pounds? Young people are everywhere walking “The sidewalks of San Francisco.” The future is theirs. San Francisco to me is Neil Diamond’s great song, “I am, I said.” San Francisco is home, but it’s no longer mine. It is also Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” The O.C. is fine, but it’s not home. And yet, I left 44 years ago because my life led me to Michigan, Ohio, Washington, Massachusetts and then Orange County. I would still travel the same voyage away from the City. I was blest growing up in San Francisco. And finally, thanks to Maurice Englander, the Lowell English teacher from Fresno, who futilely tried to teach me to write, using metaphors of San Francisco. Now I know.

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