“I wanted to get to San Francisco, everyone wants to get to San Francisco and what for? In God’s name under the stars what for? For joy, for kicks, for something burning in the night.”
-Jack Kerouac, On the Road
It’s Aug. 31, and I’ve yet to concoct a “pay the cable bill” plan, let alone a definite plan to get the hell outta New York for good. But when I do, I’m going to San Francisco. For a while, moving to San Francisco/Berkeley was a “plan” involving approximately 10 people I work with at Autostraddle.com. We have new ‘plans’ now that still aim to bring us closer together, geographically, but not cohesively. Things are changing so fast. We’ve started like three new Tumblrs since Berkeleystraddle.
Crystal, our Music Editor from Australia who I met ‘on the internet’ via my blog in 2007 and hadn’t seen since she came to the states in 2008, knows about the West of our Future and the East of Our Past. This past June, she arranged to meet Design/Dance Director Alex and I in San Francisco for a few days before making her way to New York for Pride/Rodeo Disco from Sydney, Australia.
This is the story of that trip.
Day One: Flying & Bieberblock
On the plane from New York, Alex sleeps and I pay for Internet to discover that Autostraddle.com, the website I conduct approximately a billion hours a week, has crashed for unknown reasons. I take my last Xanax. I finish reading Chely Wright’s Like Me and almost cry a few times, like when she comes out to her Dad. I hate airplanes. I eat cheese from a tiny expensive box.
We touch down in a perfect 60-something-degrees San Francisco. Due to flight delays, we’re already late to meet up with queer-web-friends — Fit for a Femme, M. & Kate — at the Rickshaw Stop, which is where the weekly lesbian party Cockblock is hosting a Justin Bieber lookalike contest! I KNOW WHAT LUCK.
We shuttle to the hotel on Market & 4th Street, where Crystal is waiting with Tim-Tams, the Tegan & Sara Book, Crocodile Dundee hats and heaps of magazines. Crystal has eyes/ears and therefore already knew how I’d probably feel about the Website Crash of Death and Evil.
We need vodka, we say.
I have vodka, Crystal says.
That’s how Crystal is. That stuff you need? To live your life? She’s got it. Crystal makes me feel calm and like things are gonna be okay. She always wears all black, which is somehow also comforting. Also: vodka in water bottles. Vodka vodka vodka!
First we stop at the wrong bar, but we are already too drunk to know if we’re at a dude bar, or if those dudes look like girls who look like a 16-year-old dude. At last, we arrive at our actual destination: Cockblock on 155 Fell Street.
The bar is big and box-shaped and dark, as bars are, with people smoking upstairs. We’re excited to meet/see each other and catch the tail end of The Contest. The room is all hot energy and carefully constructed deconstructed hairdos. FFAF explains that although my future tomboyfriend …
… really does look like Justin Bieber, the other finalist had really “worked it.” The prize is a trip to New York City, but we JUST CAME FROM THERE.
Then that night I get home and — I believe due to an unsavory cheeseburger — spend the next 24 hours in wretched feverish pain the likes of which I cannot possibly begin to describe.
Day Two: The Yellow Wallpaper
Day One bleeds into Day Two, just like my intestines and, eventually, Autostraddle. It’s a coincidence!
I stay in the dark room. Details: imagine how I felt when Autostraddle broke; now imagine that my primary organs & digestive system are our web server, and I’ve got a bad case of hostgatoritis. If Autostraddle is down, then I at least should be enjoying the respite.
Crystal & Alex tend to me, like the perfect people they are, and then eventually head out to see Fisherman’s Wharf. I lie in bed, thinking about when my Mom took me to Fisherman’s Wharf when I was eight, and we got shrimp cocktail, and I didn’t know shrimp cocktail was cold and it tasted slippery. We’d just been to Alcatraz and I’d had lots of ideas about things I could escape from, already. It was just me and my Mom, and it was really perfect and fun. Maybe people have kids so they can have perfect vacations like that.
I crawl up to the laptop, thinking “I’m a sad animal in a room by myself, crawling towards the bright machine.”
I bury my eyes in a pillow while my hands type. I think, “I’m a fast typer, even under diress.”
Sunshine hits the corner of my eye through the blinds. I drink some coffee and moan like a performance artist in a cage. Then I fall asleep.
Alex ate this, I think it’s a crab cake:
Crystal and Alex return, and I wake up thinking of all the hours I’ve spent in hotel rooms alone while friends are out seeking fun. I wonder if people still expect me for things? I’ve stopped letting myself WANT to have fun ’cause THERE’S NO TIME but enough! Let’s pick it up! It’s time to go see Julie Goldman, star of stage, screen, and our webseries Julie & Brandy in Your Box Office, at Mary’s Futon Shop, which, relative to the distance between Australia and San Francisco, is sort of close to our hotel.
Where the hell is San Rafael? Crystal thinks Ohio is in Michigan.
The cheapest way to get there is by rental car. It’s $30 or so. We pass the Golden Gate Bridge and I remember eating donuts on a rock with my boyfriend and his three-year-old half-sister over Thanksgiving break of 1998. It was breezy, and we were happy. Crystal, Alex and I talk about how ridiculous the BMI scale is until we realize we are LOST.
I am nauseous, I am starving, I AM WOMAN. We arrive only ~30 to 40 minutes late, which isn’t bad, ’cause we still get to see Julie.
Turns out Julie is probs my spirit animal, because just like me, she spent the whole night prior being sick. But both of us asked ourselves What Would Tyra Do and the answer is ROCK THE FUTON SHOP! There’s also cake, but I’m afraid of everything that isn’t a saltine.
We sit in the back because we’re hardcore and then Julie’s up and she makes us laugh so hard we pee our pants and change our pants ten times before it’s over.
Afterwards Julie is famous and signs autographs, but I get to keep the Burger King crown.
I feel I have been cured by the power of lesbian folk-rock music, surrounded by the kind women of the Bay Area and their tropically-printed t-shirts.
I AM HEALED I AM READY FOR YOU CALIFORNIA
Day Three: Where’s Michelle/Tea
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, and for about an hour, Autostraddle actually works!
In the morning, Alex returns the rental car and takes the opportunity to hit up the Blue Bottle Coffee Company:
Alex: I’ve heard good things about the coffee in San Francisco and specifically about the Blue Bottle Coffee Company, so I made it a point to seek out this elusive place. It is a little difficult to find, but that’s all in the adventure right? Right! So you walk into this place, and it’s like a goddamn science experiment. There are like beakers, pipes, glass, steam, etc. Look I found a photo of it! (Right)
There are many different kinds of coffees/coffee processes to choose from. I went with the drip coffee because I was bringing them back for Riese and Crystal and wasn’t sure if they fancied espresso like I do. But even the drip coffee isn’t conventional — atop each cup sits it’s own coffee filter and they pour hot water over the grinds and it sits until the water filters through. There you go. Drip coffee.
They had some awesome foods, too, but since I wasn’t staying, I grabbed an arborio rice cake for myself. IT WAS AWESOME. I crave it to this day. So anyway, that’s my San Francisco coffee story. Go to Blue Bottle when you’re there, it’ll be an enjoyable coffee experience.
We take the trolley to The Castro to visit Harvey Milk. Unfortunately he’s dead now, but they have some nice pictures up in his store instead:
Here we are, sitting where James Franco sat once!
We go to a bunch of bookstores so I can buy books that ensure our luggage exceeds the weight limit for our return flight. I’ll go to any bookstore anywhere, that’s the truth. Except New Age. Too much waterfall.
I pick up Women, Money & Power, Warring & Whoring: Memoir Poems and an anthology of gay & lesbian short fiction called Indivisible for reasons which fail me now.
Then we head over to The Mission District, the home of Dave Eggers’ 826 Valencia, the New College San Francisco (Jack Spicer, one of my favorite poets, taught there) and lots of other landmarks of Great Importance.
On recommendation from one of the kindly bookstore queers, we have lunch at a magical place called The Samovar Tea Lounge. The teas cost a billion dollars each and require complicated preparations and exist to cure all things that are evil or sad in the world, except not Autostraddle.com, which is still crashed. But the food is perfect, and I feel instantly healthier and positive about life!
This is the Women’s Building, where women get built:
One of the women who was built there has a haircut like my hair:
At a vintage clothing shop on Valencia I dig through racks of mesh tank tops and ten-dollar designer jeans. We’re at our third thrift shop when Tess BBMs to let me know that hostgator has no f*cking idea when the website will be back up, and the cost of eventually getting it back up is like an arm + two legs = $600.
This renders me unable to speak for approximately an hour, which is most of the way back to the hotel where I talk to a nice man at Hostgator about the difference between Ohio and Texas. In the meantime, Alex & Crystal enjoy some adult beverages and when they return, Alex clearly wants to go to the strip club!
I’d read about The Lusty Lady in Whores & Other Feminists and also seen the documentary film Live Nude Girls Unite! and then accidentally mentioned it and now, I guess, we’re going to it. They lead you to a tiny black box where you sit and put money in a slot and a curtain raises and on the other side of a plexiglass wall, a girl puts her vadge in your face. You have to keep putting more money in to see more vadge. It was super weird and so we left and ended up getting roped into something even weirder: a totally hetero non-feminist strip club called The Condor Gentleman’s Club, where I was able to get us in for free, though I cannot recall specifics. We were not drunk enough for that place.
Autostraddle, eventually, is restored. All is well in the world, and I don’t want to leave San Francisco.
Day Four: Let’s Get Literal
When we awaken on Day Four, we are babies. Much later, when we eventually sleep, we will have become much smarter babies because of all the smart literary things we did.
Firstly, however, we have to do a stupid thing, which is go to Alcatraz without tickets. JK you can’t go to Alcatraz without tickets! You have to buy tickets like 50 years ahead of time, before we got born.
Crystal refers to Alcatraz twice as “San Quentin.”
But look you can see it!
We walk along the wharf and make Crystal eat a corn dog. Corn dogs these days are always cold in the middle, have you noticed that? Nobody knows how to cook a corn dog anymore.
I have a giant headache, but we do a little detective work and discover it’s just that my head is too big for my sunglasses, so I switch with Alex and then everything is fine.
Next up is The Beat Museum, staffed by skinny hipster boys and assembled like a really serious school project. I probs could’ve spent the whole day there.
Look it’s the original draft of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl!”
Mostly I keep thinking, “somebody designed these shoes I use to walk around, somebody made this museum and other people work in it.” Mostly I keep thinking: this exists. It’s always like that for book people when we’re up and out in the world, interacting with books in multi-user environments.
Confession: I’m a cliche, I’ve been wanting to live in San Francisco/Berkeley since the spring I worked at The Olive Garden in Times Square and read On the Road for the second time. They had a house in Berkeley in The Dharma Bums. I was supposed to live in San Francisco that summer, but it fell through.
I don’t really know why to go anywhere besides what I read in a novel once.
Then we go to City Lights Bookstore, one of my favorite bookstores in the universe.
Crossing the street to get there I remember a photograph I took ten years ago of my friend Magali on this street as we were leaving the City Lights Bookstore. She lived in Berkeley and I was visiting. I remember her hair was longer than it had ever been and she wore sunglasses and a grey tank top and there was traffic behind her and a cigarette in her hand.
This is the actual photo, so I must have made up or remembered the rest:
City Lights stocks not only a shit-ton of zines but even devotes its entire upstairs to poetry! I pick up Eileen Myles’ Not Me & a book called This is a Blog ’cause I think it’s a funny. Secretly it costs way more than I expect and I suffer silent guilt all afternoon thinking about it, which I did not reveal to anyone until THIS VERY MOMENT.
Then we walk through Chinatown, where we stumble upon good friends and girls.
Crystal looks very excited here, doesn’t she? It’s ’cause she’s already thinking ahead to our next journey, which is to The Commonwealth Club to see Bret Easton Ellis “in conversation.” Alex isn’t coming on this particular journey because she can’t read, and we don’t like to rub it in.
The Commonwealth Club is, as far as we can tell, a special club for rich white people with PhDs in the liberal arts who subscribe to newspapers because they like the feeling of print between their hands and use the “Internet” with bizarre, bemused detachment, like it’s something kids made up. Which is true.
[I’ve since re-read Less Than Zero because Crystal got it for me and had Bret Easton Ellis sign it, and I liked it this time. I think at the time I couldn’t relate to how anyone young could feel so empty and detached and jaded about everything already, or how anyone could feel like floating all the time but not change it, but I get it now, and getting it made all the difference. Books aren’t really about books so much as they are about readers.]
A crisply-dressed man with a radio voice asks Bret Easton Ellis questions. Sometimes the interviewer asks Bret Easton Ellis things Bret Easton Ellis has already said in answers to previous questions. Bret Easton Ellis sounds alternately proud and tickled, and his answers intrigue and fascinate me, even though I am disappointed to hear the Literary Brat Pack was created by the press and wasn’t real.
You can read a better description of the event in The San Francisco Weekly!
After The Beat Museum AND the Bret Easton Ellis reading, I feel a deep literary bond with Crystal that I don’t feel can be penetrated by other humans. I eventually even read Imperial Bedrooms for her, and I think it made me crazy.
But we must snap out of our literature trance because it’s time to go meet up with our new BFFs for dinner at Osha Thai, where we grill FFAF on her life story, talk about Autostraddle crashing and how Alex thinks San Francisco is too cold and wants to live in Los Angeles instead. We progress onwards to The Lexington Club to DEMOLISH OUR OPPONENTS AT PHOTO HUNT!
FitforaFemme, Alex, M., Riese, Crystal, Kate:
At The Lexington Club, the alternative lifestyle haircuts are more alternative than anything I’ve ever seen before or since. There are things happening with hair that I’ve never even conceived of before. So many new ideas everywhere.
Although I’ve roped in many prospective paramours by telling them that I don’t know how to play pool and then letting them ‘teach me’ to play pool, I still don’t really know how to play pool. So I was talking to Kate about, I believe, Health Care, while the rest of the kids apparently had a life-scarring experience involving a desire to play pool.
Here is Crystal’s account:
Alex and I wanted to meet some of the locals, so we decided to challenge them to a friendly game of pool. Howevs upon approach we realised that the filthy looks the girls had been throwing us ever since we walked through the door weren’t figments of our imaginations, the girls seemed genuinely offended by our presence. When we asked how we could sign up for a game, a girl summoned us over to the waiting list on the wall and in the place where our names should have gone, she wrote “NO!”. She told us that she was going to make sure her friends took a super long time playing pool so that we wouldn’t get a game before the bar closed. I wasn’t in the mood to cut a bitch and so I was relieved when she didn’t follow through.
We were confused by the hostility, but also challenged — we wanted to show this fancy-haired girl and her fancy-haired friends that we were good company. But every time Alex tried to make peace, she’d shut her down by calling her “No!” She called me “Austria.” I still don’t really understand what went wrong. Have you met Alex? It’s impossible not to like her.
Obviously Crystal has no choice but to tag the bathroom wall:
Day 5: Return to New York City
FitforaFemme takes us to the airport in the morning and tells me she’ll help me find an apartment when I’m ready to move. She’s so nice I can hardly believe she’s a real person.
Anyhow, I am ready to move. I’ve been in my room all day. I need some air.
At the airport, I somehow ensconce myself in five different g-chats on my blackberry at the same time while waiting for a Panini to be properly microwaved and think, “is this life?”
On the plane I sleep a bit and start re-reading Less Than Zero.
I’ve been asking around: anyone know of a place that isn’t life but isn’t death either, a place where a person can hang out for free before moving on to the next stage of life?
If I had more time to think I might think about how I’ve got nothing besides an abstract sense that ‘things will work out’ and ‘I’ll get to San Francisco.’ It’s just that this city has become too much. I got to New York in 2004 with cash and ambition, and I spent it. I love New York, but we need a break.
I think I left NYC in 2007, but I didn’t take my body with me. No. I came back. I’ve been coming and going but my body’s been right here all this time at this desk. There’s a postcard of Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs super-glued to my desk. I know it’s not a big deal but it kinda is.
In 2000, when I went to Berkeley to see Magali, I wrote this in my diary:
“Here I am in Berkeley. Magali is parking the car, we’re seeing the Indigo Girls tonight. Berkeley is so beautiful. I wish I lived here. I will someday.”
That’s how I decide what I want: one part ‘novel’ and one part ‘memories from my past of liking this place,’ because I’m convinced that we get less and less authentic the more we know. I’m thinking here of unwrapping squares of chocolate with my Mom and looking at the ocean, of being stoned/eating burritos with Magali and her brother in a hot, crowded taqueria, of driving from Reno to San Francisco in the rain, taking turns with my then-boyfriend reading Franny & Zooey out loud to each other. I’m thinking here of being calm.
So what I’m telling you is, I don’t care if it’s nothing like the books I read or the things I remembered, it’s where I’m going. They have like ten wax museums. I like the weather.
Cockblock — “PUMPING UP DANCE FLOORS NON-STOP SINCE early 2006 and featured as ‘The Best Place for Chicks (Who Like Chicks)’ by the SF Bay Guardian’s Best of the Bay in 2009, COCKBLOCK is SF’s Hottest Dance Party for lezzies, lovers and friends.”
Lexington Club — “Just your friendly neighborhood dyke bar” – 3464 19th Street @ Valencia
The Lusty Lady — 1033 Kearny Street.
The Condor Gentleman’s Club — 560 Broadway @ Columbus.
The Blue Bottle Coffee Company — 66 Mint St (between Jessie St & Mission St). San Francisco, CA 94103
The Beat Museum — 540 Broadway. San Francisco, CA 94133-4507. (415) 399-9626
Bret Easton Ellis reading at The Commonwealth Club — 595 Market Street
Fisherman’s Wharf — home of Musée Mécanique Antique Penny Arcade. Encompasses roughly the northern waterfront area of San Francisco from Ghirardelli Square or Van Ness Avenue east to Pier 35 or Kearny Street.
The Castro — Market St. to 19th Street. “Widely considered America’s first, currently largest, and best-known gay neighborhood. Having transformed from a working-class neighborhood through the 1960s and 1970s, the Castro remains a symbol and source of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) activism and events.”
The Mission District — Mission Street is the principal thoroughfare of the Mission District, bordered by U.S Route 101 to the East and Noe Valley to the west. Valencia Street to Dolores Street is known as “Mission Dolores.” Home of The Women’s Building (and MaestraPeace Mural) and the Adobe Book Shop (3166 16th; No. 3) and lots of vintage clothing stores like Mission Thrift.
A Different Light Bookstore — Serving the gay community since 1979 at 489 Castro St.
City Lights Bookstore — 261 Columbus Avenue at Broadway (North Beach) “City Lights is a landmark independent bookstore and publisher that specializes in world literature, the arts, and progressive politics.”
Mary’s Futons — 4100 Redwood Hwy, San Rafael, CA 94903. Bay Area’s biggest futon store, lesbian owned and operated.