After HAI, I had arranged to spend one full day in San Francisco (two nights). It had been over two years since I'd been in San Francisco, partly because of traveling to Europe but in large part because visiting San Francisco has become much more expensive. The cheap hotels with weekly rates where I used to stay have modernized themselves and become much more expensive. I was worried, in fact, that the dot-com revolution might have completely wiped out the city I know.
But most of the places I know in the city are still there. And when I went in Vesuvio's, I was lucky enough to find my bartender friend Josie. She's doing well and has a new and improved husband. (Well, she was never legally married to the father of her child anyway, but he still has partial custody of a sort. Visiting rights, at least.) And according to Josie, all the young and nouveau riche dot-com kids are now gone and the city is back to its traditional somewhat older population. My own suspicion was that perhaps a lot of the dot commers are still around, but less visible because they no longer have money to go out drinking.
I had arranged to stay at a hostel in the Tenderloin. The Tenderloin, at least, was still the same as ever, streets full of winos and beggars. It's never been scary to me, even late at night. I look the beggars straight in the eye and tell them No, and there seems to be a recognition that although I may have a bit more money, I'm basically the same sort of person they are.
In the hostel, I was in a room with two bunk beds; i.e. beds for four. Two other people besides myself. I'd been assigned a top bunk. There was no ladder on the bed, just slats on the back one could climb up. As I climbed up and down several times, I wondered just what their liability would be if I fell and killed myself, which seemed not completely impossible. I was certainly glad that I'd brought a flashlight in case I needed it at Harbin. (Not that it helped climbing in and out of the top bunk, of course, but it was useful once I got down.)
Three different people had indicated that they'd be happy to spend some time with me with me while I was in San Francisco, but I didn't call any of them because I realized that I wanted the time in the city to myself. The things I chose to do were certainly not most people's ideas of what to do on a visit to San Francisco. I had dinner at the Pinecrest Café on Mason Street, which become rather infamous during my last stay San Francisco when one of the cooks shot a waitress to death because of an argument over hard-boiled eggs. (The waitress had allowed several customers to order them even though they weren't on the menu. The cook, an immigrant from some Near-Eastern country, considered that disrespectful and felt that he was obliged to kill her, even knowing that by doing so he would bring shame on his whole family. So one day he brought a gun to work and did. His friends all explained to the newspapers what a nice, decent, hard-working guy he was.)
I had a cup of espresso at the Café Flore on upper Market Street on the edge of the Castro District, which is a somewhat trendy place for good looking gay guys (and also lesbians) on the edge of the Castro District. And I had dinner at Sparky's twenty-four hour diner on Church Street at Market, where having a nose ring or other exotic piercing is almost an occupational requirement for waiters and waitresses. I didn't bother to go in Capri Pizza to get a Greek salad and retsina, because now that my friend Christos has gone back to Athens to make movies and is no longer a cashier there, there's no longer any point.
And I walked down Castro Street and noticed that the Castro Theatre was showing a newly restored Goddard film. And I thought it would be pretty stupid to spend a couple of hours in my only day in San Francisco seeing an old movie, especially one I'd already seen on video. But then I realized that I really wanted to sit in the Castro Theatre again and watch a movie, so I did.
I looked in the window at Aardvaak Books, where there are usually lots of reviewer's copies of new books for sale at half price. But they were just in the process of changing the window display, so there was almost nothing to be seen. I hadn't been planning on buying anything in any case.
Earlier that afternoon, I'd gone up to North Beach. Of course. And aside from seeing Josie at Vesuvio's, I found another bartender friend, Auggie, working at The Saloon. He immediately recognized me, but then I knew that Brenda had tipped him off by phone that I was going to be in the City. (She must have an enormous phone bill, keeping track of all her old friends in San Francisco.)
And that evening, after seeing the Goddard film, I managed to make it back to North Beach and went in Specs, which is not open in the daytime. (I've never known why; you'd think that Specs would be exactly the sort of guy who would appreciate people's need for a place to drink during the day.) Actually, Specs was pretty boring. Well, a Monday night, what did I expect? A woman I didn't know working behind the bar, only about two customers I knew in the whole place.
Well, let's see. That must pretty much accounts for a whole day in San Francisco. I think that on one of my trips up to the Castro, I was lucky enough to ride on the antique Milan (i.e. from Italy) streetcar, which is the only one of the antique streetcars that's really interesting.
Didn't ride the cable car. Without a monthly bus pass, that's more expensive than it's worth.
Didn't manage to find time to walk down Haight Street. But already when I was in San Francisco in 1997-98, it was becoming so full of trendy pricey shops that it was hardly worth spending time there.