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Steve & John's West Coast Move
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Last week they were filming a movie in our neighborhood. On one hand, it's pretty cool. On the other hand, the movie is about a ghetto. The movie is "Rent", so for a week we had New York police cars and buses on 6th Street. We watched the filming of a New Year's Eve scene - lots of people in coats, fake snow on the street, and fireworks. Each take ended with the stars (Adam Pascal, Idina Menzel, Anthony Rapp, Rosario Dawson, Wilson Jermaine Heredia) just a few feet from where we were standing. It was quite fun.
Another friend from Denver was in town last weekend, so we played tour guide. I rarely stay out late, but there I was, getting home at 2AM on the night we set the clocks ahead (and so lose an hour of sleep). Rod is, like us, moderate to slightly conservative, so he found our stories of "more liberal than thou" San Francisco quite amusing. We had some friends from Oakland over for dinner and had a great time on Sunday.
We occasionally still talk about moving; just this week it came up again. To be fair, we're still sorting out how much of our frustration is due to San Francisco itself, how much is due to the loft, and how much is due to frustrations with our jobs. I'm thinking of starting an "only in San Francisco" page on the-bear-den as there are so many things here that make us wonder about the sanity of the residents - and I'm not talking about questionable fashion and hairstyle choices. A few months ago, I told someone that "I haven't lowered my expectations enough yet to enjoy living here", and I think that still applies.
On the other hand, we are settling in. Last weekend we helped Friends of the Urban Forest maintain some sidewalk trees. We called some friends last night and just dropped by to catch up for an evening, which was enjoyable. We're planning to go to a few concerts and other events this summer with friends.
In a mirror image of last summer, we'll probably have a few trips to Denver to look for property. We had planned to buy a rental unit in Tucson last year, but with the move to San Francisco, that got put on hold. In the mean time Tucson values went up faster than rents. Denver is one of the few places in the country not in a real estate bubble right now, so we'll look for something there instead. I suppose we will need the breaks from a cold San Francisco summer anyway.
Spring is actually pretty nice here. It's now warm enough to walk the dog during the day without a jacket, although wearing shorts is dicey given the sudden changes in temperature and humidity. Our walk/hike near Land's End the weekend before last is typical - we were a little warm with jackets in the sun near the top of the trail, but as we got closer to the water, it was downright cold even in the sun; then it was cold on the shady part of the return trail; it was actually hot as we got back into town. People here say they love the weather, but I've always enjoyed visiting despite the weather and I'm still not convinced.
This time of year you can drive to different weather, though. That was always something I liked in Denver - if the city got hot, you could drive to the mountains. Here it's the opposite - you drive out of the city to get away from the chill.
Last weekend we spent Saturday in San Jose and we should have had shorts. We went to the Tech musuem with some friends where we showed ourselves to be big kids. I rode a Segway (the controls are a bit more sensitive than I expected, but it was fun) and did the little genetics exhibit where you put a jellyfish gene into a bacteria and grow the colony. We got to the earthquake simulator as they were doing the two California quakes (Northridge 94 and Loma Prieta 89). Spending time with locals changed our view of San Jose quite a bit for the better.
The main reason for going to San Jose that particular day was for the Jimmy Buffett concert. John says Parrotheads are some of the most laid back people anywhere. He commented how "normal" the crowd looked to us after several months of living in San Francisco; this even with the array of men in grass skirts, and hats - cheeseburgers, sharks, parrots, etc. He opened the second part of the show with a tribute to Johnny Carson (apparently he was on the show 9 times) and an audience participation version of "Why don't we get drunk" during which someone held up a sign saying "Jimmy for Pope". An added bonus was that, since the arena is the hope of the San Jose Sharks, there was not one, but two shark baloons circling during "Fins".
Sunday we drove up to Napa. This time I did wear shorts. I went up there to help out at a powerlifting meet and to meet some of the local lifters. It really is beautiful country up there; we'll definitely need to spend some weekends. John walked Tasha while I was at the gym, so she got a nice mini-vacation as well.
As John says "I'm liking California a lot more than San Francisco".
After seven months, I can say that I'm comfortable here. That doesn't mean I'm loving it, but just that I'm not surprized anymore. I now expect to wear a jacket whenever I go outside. I now expect otherwise normal-looking people to see Tasha and cross to the other side of the street in fear. I now expect to see people urinating against the wall of a school when we go for a walk. I now expect to be asked for money every block by people smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. I also expect to see the fog playing around the Sutro tower on Twin Peaks in the afternoon. I expect to hear the clank of the cable cars when we go to the ATM. I expect to smell the eucalyptus after a rain.
I expected theater in Berkeley to be left-leaning, but I didn't expect the show we saw last weekend to be a socialist manifesto, and only marginally acted at that. Oh well, at least the tickets were cheap and half price off that. The show at USF on Friday was much better, although a little uneven as college performances often are. It's ashame they're going to turn the theater into offices. Maybe the company could move to Berkeley....just a thought.
On the 'still discovering new things' side of things, a friend of ours in Florida sent us an e-intro to some friends of his here and we had brunch at Tito's, an undiscovered Hawaiian place in the Castro but just off the beaten path.
On the 'starting to feel comfortable here' side of things, we went to a retro dance on Sunday and ran into several friends. It was at the venue that used to be the Trocadero; I expected it to be much bigger. I also expected to recognize most of the music, but only about half was familiar although it all seemed to be from the 70s and 80s. Apparently I was out of the contemporary music even then and I didn't know it. Still it was fun to dance. For the first time since we moved, I didn't feel out of place in a bar here.
Our friend Norm was in town earlier this week and we had a great, although short. He's buying the Miata, which I finally decided I wasn't using enough to justify $250 per month for parking. So, it's now just like when John and I met - living in a one bedroom condo, he with a car and me with a bike. I'm sort of counting on next winter to be less rainy.
This weekend our friend Danny will be out for a visit. He's had to listen first hand to our whining about San Francisco and he's been telling us to "come home". It looks like the weather will cooperate, so we can show him that there are times we really like it here.
I had jury duty on Monday. Yes, it was as interesting a cast of characters as you can imagine when you say "jury duty in San Francisco" - one obvious transexual, a society matron with a little too tight a facelift, lots of computer geeks of various persuasions, and a few people of indeterminate gender. In the end, they did not choose me for any jury. I guess I wasn't colorful enough.
Our friend Danny was visiting from Denver last weekend. He independently confirmed several of my observations - that everyone walking down the sidewalk smokes, that the graffiti is everywhere, that an unusually large percentage of the buildings are gray, and that some of worst drivers in the country drive here. I think he also saw some good sides of the city, as we had great weather for two days of his trip. The last time he was here he didn't have access to a car, so he didn't get to Twin Peaks or Muir Woods like this time.
Someone muttered "f***ing fags" at us in the Castro last night. It still amazes me how everyone believes this is such a great place to be gay when this sort of thing happens to us every month or so. It's not a big enough thing to go running to the newspaper, but it is one of those annoyances I didn't expect here.
I got my info for the AIDS Marathon program today. Typical of organizations here, the packet was missing important information, like when and where the orientation sessions are. If you don't know about this program, go to AIDSMarathon.com. I'm still putting together my page, but it will be here. If I have your e-mail, I'll be asking for a donation next month, so start saving your change.
I'm still finding San Francisco pretty strange.
We had some friends, Valerie and Stephanie, in town from Denver last weekend. Stephanie decided to join me in running the Bay to Breakers, a 12Km (7.46 mile) trot across town, up one big hill, from the Embarcadero to the ocean. I don't think I slowed her down too much; even with a few places where we walked instead of running and one bathroom break, we did a respectable 90 minutes for the course, a little over 12 minutes a mile.
The race was the kind of thing that make San Francisco fun - lots of people running in costume (or nothing at all), pushing floats, drinking beer (at 8AM) and generally being San Franciscans. People here assume that this is the sort of thing I mean when I say San Francisco is strange, but this is what makes the rest of the strangeness tolerable.
Typical of San Francisco, but strange anywhere else, the start of the race was in the sun and the end of the race was in fog and rain. Back at home (near the race start) it was still sunny. Made me real glad to live in SOMA rather than Sunset; but that feeling faded quickly when someone on my block offered to sell me drugs.
The weekend before last, we went to one of the shows we got through TIX, the half price program. It was a cooking themed comedy show, but wasn't much of either. Strange.
We are finding it quite amusing to try and explain the politics here to visitors. No one can quite believe just how disconnected from reality things are here. When I tell people that one of our Democratic Senators was picked for this year's "pink brick" award at Gay Pride (i.e. person or organization who did the most harm to the LGBT community in the last year) over Focus on the Family, they're pretty speechless. But here, people see nothing unusual about it. That's what I mean by strange.
I do feel like I've passed a milestone in becoming a Californian though - the other night we felt an earthquake. I looked it up on the USGS site and sure enough, there was a 4.something near Napa. No damage reported, but I'm glad that I now know what it feels like.
Outside of San Francisco, that might be considered strange I guess.
Some busy weeks....
We had a great time in Palm Springs with our friends Norm and Ron, despite the record heat and the fact that I bombed in my powerlifting meet. I bombed on bench, which is usually my strongest lift. The fact that I don't have my 'regular' powerlifting buddies to work with is obviously hurting my performance; I hope I can find some good lifters to work with before the Gay Games next year.
As I said, Palm Springs was a great time. We went to a nature reserve and did a hike from one oasis to another. I really like the desert - I'm prety convinced that we'll retire to some desert climate. There were several ex-San Franciscans at the pool party our friends held; we had a lot of fun dissíng the city.
We stayed home over the Memorial Day weekend and helped the local economy with several hundred dollars spent at the Union Square stores. The weather has been pretty good, so our moods are definitely better.
I'm realizing that one of the things I don't like about San Francisco culturally is the "all or nothing" attitude. There is no middle ground here. It's not just the politics, where you're either left of Jesse Jackson or you're labled a right wing radical; it also permeates the culture. For example, we went to the big men's dance on Sunday night. Basically, there were huge guys or skinny guys; we sort of stood out because at roughly 200 and 260 pounds, we weren't either. We asked some friends if they were going to a fundraiser for the symphony that we were considering, and the response as basically "that's a straight event".
This observation was confirmed when I struck up conversation on the plane on the way from from a business trip last week. The guy next to me grew up in the Sunset district. He confirmed that the Chinese ghettoize there just as much as gays ghettoize in the Castro. He said he had neighbors that were born in San Francisco but spoke only Chinese; I related that I know people who say they haven't dealt with a straight person in months. It's strange to me that in a city that prides itself on diversity, there are such pockets of homogenity.
The other news here is that I'm starting the AIDS Marathon training program, with the goal of runnning the Honolulu Marathon in December. (shameless promotion) I'm of course looking for sponsors.
It's the second day of summer and we've been enjoying what everyone here is (again) saying is "unusual weather for this time of year". That means that it's sunny but the fog hasn't started rolling in every afternoon. It's actually pleasant, if a bit cool for my taste.
Because of the long days and the sunny weather, we've been getting out quite a bit. We've done a few local bike rides, some local theater, and the occasional Castro stroll. In one sense, I'm beginning to feel like I belong here: I'm starting to lower my expectations, so I no longer expect stores to be open late, or things to start on time, or organizatons to function any better than I was used to. In another sense, I don't believe I will ever really adapt: I still can't believe some of the "mainstream" (for here) political positions. Hey, at least we haven't had any crime problems in a few months or any anti-gay slurs in over a month, so I really am feeling better about the city.
This weekend is Pride, and we've got some friends coming into town that we're going to have dinner with. We signed up for the Bears beer booth so we don't have to be in the middle of the crowd during the most crowded time. In order to do the booth we had to attend an alcohol board training class on checking IDs, etc. at the community center. I'm a little surprised that they don't use the drink ticket and single ID check systems I've seen elsewhere - it seems much more efficient, but I guess we'll see.
In a mirror image of last year's July 4, this year we will be San Franciscans visting Denver to look for property instead of vice versa. Yes, we're going to buy at the height of a real estate bubble, but then after last year that shouldn't be too surprising. I never sold my condo in DC when we moved to Denver, so it's now on the market and we'll need to buy something else to defer taxes. It should be a good move in the long run, but in the short term, it means we've spent a lot of money three years in a row renovating condos (the Denver condo in 2003, our current San Francisco loft in 2004, and getting the DC place ready to sell in 2005). So when our friends who were on the cruise with us last year ask which one we're doing this year, I just show them pictures of the condos and say "there's our cruise".
The other news here is that I had vision correction surgery two weeks ago and I'm doing well. I didn't really realize how ingrained the rituals of contact lenses had become. I still feel like I'm forgetting something when I go to bed and haven't cleaned contacts. But I'm really enjoying being able to see clearly when I wake up and (much to John's chagrin) not having to take glasses to read restaurant menus.
I'm going to end this one with two "only in San Francisco" moments.
We were having lunch at an outdoor cafe on Market Street when a group of 30 or 40 nude bicyclists rode by. I thought they were pretty crazy - I wouldn't ride in the street on Market no matter what I was or wasn't wearing. Then I wondered where they put their clothes - in our neighborhood, clothes left on the street would disappear in five minutes. John brought be back to non-SF thinking by pointing out that a few were pretty hunky and they were cruising us.
We received a survey recently which asked for gender and gave the choices "Male", "Female", "Transgender" and "Other". We haven't lived here long enough to know any "others", but if there are so many of them in town that they rate an entry on a survey, the city must be full of them.
It's been a month since the last post. Guess we've been busy.
Pride was a fun whirlwind of activity. On Saturday we caught up with friends from Denver and Washington DC. Sunday, we had brunch at a friend's house up above Castro with a view right down Market street, so we could watch the parade start from high above the city. We then walked Tasha and saw about 2 hours of the parade before we did our shift at the beer booth. It's certainly very impressive for the length of the parade and the variety of organizations represented, but in many ways it seems rather self-indulgent. How much better would the world be if we as a community could channel the energy and money spent on Pride into solving the problems we face as a community!
We were no sooner done with Pride when we were off to Denver for July 4. We were on separate flights because I had a business trip that week; John had a major ordeal with flight delays and finally got in about 4 in the morning - yuck. We saw a few friends, but mostly this was a property-hunting trip. We saw lots and even put an offer on a condo in a new building. The big news of the weekend was that we got an offer on the place in DC that we were selling, so our hunting was not in vain. We spent the 4th proper visiting with some friends who had just returned from 5 months in Australia and New Zealand and watching most of the metro area fireworks from their balcony. I dutifully did my running for the AIDS Marathon program but was quickly reminded that I'm not used to the altitude any more.
As soon as we were back from Denver, we had some family come out for a visit. We played tour guides, which we love to do. Tom had never been to California and he was constanly amazed at the landscape, the redwoods, etc. And the weather was appropriately San Francisco - Twin Peaks was fogged in by 4PM on the first day we met up with them, so we went to Coit tower for the panoramic view of the city.
Once again, we barely had time to catch our breath when we were preparing to go camping in Russian River for Lazy Bear. The traffic through Marin on Thursday was spectacularly slow moving; I can't imagine people actually doing that as their commute. All the issues there are with living in San Francisco pale in comparison with the prospect of fighing 101 north through Mill Valley every day,
This is the first time we have been to Lazy Bear. Good thing we had our friend Howard to guide us, picking a campground that was just far enough from the center of town to be quiet, turning us on the Sacramento Valley Bears meal deal, etc. I could see where it could be very expensive and frustrating (lots of lines) experience. As it turned out, we had a great low-key time, opting for the shows and pool parties rather than the big disco parties and 'be seen' events. We came back to the city on Saturday so I could do the group run and returned that afternoon. My attempt at a relaxing Sunday afternoon motorycle ride was only marginally successful because of the very impatient traffic between Gueneville and Jenner. We came back to town late Sunday night and the fog had rolled in. You could see sheets of fog blowing across the freeway and the roads were slick with condensation. Crossing the Golden Gate bridge in those conditions on a bike is marginally better than rding the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in the rain (an experience that still gives me shudders). Guess I'll have to get used to that as well.
That brings us, one short business trip and broken clothes washer later (which stopped during the post-camping cleanup), to today. Weather.com says it was only 75 degrees F today, but I was sweating before this morning's 10 mile run (uphill from Golden Gate Park to SeaCliff) and sweating again in the condo after the run, so obviously I'm still not used to the humidty. Hey, at least the fog has broken for a day or two.
So here we are, ten months since moving to San Francisco. I'm about as comfortable as I'm going to be with the liviing space, but there will be a 'next place in San Francisco' and it probably won't have stairs. After seeing rush hour from inside, I appreciate the virtues of living in the city, but the dirt, crime and homeless hassles are still big issues for me, as is the politics. The weather is better in the summer than I expected, but worse in the winter. On balance, this move was a definite step down in quality of life, but better than any of the other choices we had last year. There will definitely be a 'next city', and part of me will miss San Francisco at that point.
Next week will mark the 11th month of living in San Francisco. I'm in the middle of a four week schedule of business trips, so I'm "coming home" a lot. SFO is familiar to me now - I know where the United Red Carpet club is, how long it takes get from security to almost every gate, the security line that the tourists don't know about, which fast food is by which gates. But SFO isn't 'home' in the sense that DIA was - I miss the morning shift TSA bears, the suitcase gargoyle, the recorded message on the train, the "are we driving to Kansas?" taxi to the runway, the blast of thin dry air as you exit the plane. For nearly ten years, those things signaled the start or end of a trip, whether Souix Falls or Sydney, AUstin or Amsterdam. SFO hasn't lodged in my subconscious like that yet.
The rest of the city is much the same. I recognize the panhandlers (and their pitches) in our neighborhood, and there's even a certain expectation that they will be at specific places, but it's not the automatic, subconscious neuron-link that says "this indicates that I'm 'home'". And there are still surprises. On the good side, like seeing a free dance show at Yerba Buena Center. On the bad side, like seeing someone in the process of shooting up.
Hairrison Fair is this weekend, but we've now been to most of the major gay street festivals that San Francisco is famous for. As a tourist, they were big events to plan for. As a resident, they are events to plan around because you have to keep the event weekend free to catch up with friends coming into town for the event. I now understand why our friends here were always happiest to see us when we visited after IBR; I need to remember that when visiting friends in other cities.
Still, I'm looking forward to seeing what Hairrison Fair is all about. The calendar is pretty full already, but I added to it by scheduling one of my midweek runs for the marathon program to end at the host hotel for the weekend. I figure I'll see some of our out-of-town friends there even before the wekend starts.
Hairrison Fair was fun but really cold. The sun broke through the fog for about 3.5 hours then retreated again. Unfortunately, the cold weather followed me to Calgary, where it was appropriate for the sense of gloom and doom my colleagues had for the project after our meeting with the client.
By Thursday the weather in both Calgary and San Francisco had improved. I found myself talking to a couple in the Calgary airport who were making their first trip to San Francisco; their excitement was palpable. We flew over the city during landing and it sparkled. I really want to like it here, and moments like those make me think it's possible. The fact that I have been smacked down by the bad here so many times tempers my enthusiasm; I'm almost waiting for the 'other shoe to drop' after every really cool experience. The last time I felt that way was when I lived in Washington DC in the 80s.