Begin the begin

San Francisco is full of crazy people. My hotel in North Beach is more like an apartment complex for people in transit, some in body, others in mind. With my window open I can hear a guy in an apartment across the way. He’s spent the past two days yelling. I assume he’s yelling at someone on the phone because no one else is audibly responsive. Maybe there’s no particular object of his anger. Maybe the intended receiver is simply the world at large. Clearly he’s insane, plus probably drunk. Someone owes him money. And the government isn’t to be trusted.

My arrival in the U.S. was mostly uneventful, except for some money troubles. I had forgotten my Wells Fargo debit card had expired. So I spent far too much time knifing my way through a haze of sleeplessness and 15 hours of travel to figure out how to bulk up the seven measly dollars I had in my wallet. I cashed in my leftover won for $39, and took the BART to Montgomery Street, knowing that Wells Fargo HQ was there to help me out.

BART is a nice way to re-integrate to my home town. From the airport, you move through South City, hit the fog of Daily City, and then you might get a spot of sun as you intersect the Ingleside/Balboa Park area. Here you can look out at the vast arrangement of multi-pastel-colored houses on the hillsides. From there you dip underground, tunneling past the more vibrant cultural aspects of the city — The Mission, Haight, and downtown.

BART was also my first reminder of how expensive these trips home are. $8.10 one way from SFO to the city. Ridiculous. In Busan I can go from Kyungdae to Pusandae, roughly the same distance, for a fifth of the price. Sure, BART’s fast. But its interior is a shithole. For that amount of cash they could at least clean up the puke and piss stains on their 1970s floor carpeting.

With a fresh wad of cash in hand, I thought I’d take the bus over to North Beach. But seeing the Transamerica building about five blocks away, I decided to hoof it. Along the way I stopped into a Chinese market for a smoothie. I asked the lady if I could use her toilet. “What?” she asked. “Your toilet. Can I use your toilet?” She seemed confused. The man next to her pointed it out for me. Walking over, I wondered what caused that brief communication breakdown. Toilet. That’s what it’s called right? And then I realized I hadn’t asked to use a public bathroom in English in… well I don’t know how long.

North Beach is a great place to be. It’s very much alive, with a lot of variety in things to do and see. San Francisco is full of great walking neighborhoods and this is one of the best. You could spend an entire afternoon just walking and taking pictures. The food in this area is outstanding. I had to really think about what to eat first. Italian is of course prominent and universally excellent. But it’s also right on the border of Chinatown, with Hunan, dim sum, and noodle joints everywhere. There’s Thai and Vietnamese and Mexican. In the end I chose a hole-in-the-wall Indian curry place. Chicken Tikka Masala is my favorite food, so why not. Lunch today was spinach and ricotta ravioli at Steppes of Rome. Dinner was a spicy Hunan place I remember my dad taking me to when I was young.

So it’s good to be back. It’s good to begin alone, feeling my way back into this world mostly in silence, observation, and reflection. Tonight I see an old friend and former roommate. Then the social events really start to kick off tomorrow.


2 Responses to “Begin the begin”

  1. Holes-in-the-wall in San Francisco are wonderful!

  2. czechmates Says:

    Shortly after my arrival in San Francisco I met a guy at Golden Gate University. His name was Glenn from Toronto, Canada He was just finishing up his undergrad work whle at the same time working for a shipping firm in the east bay. We were both taking accountig courses. Both of us were living in a residence club, but looking for a more permanent place. We decided to look together and settled on a place on Russian Hill, on Filbert Street, just off of Hyde Street. On most nights we would take the short walk up to a local bar at the corner of Filbert and Hyde Street, listening to the clanging of the cable cars as they made their way up Hyde Street, before they began their descent down through the fog and into the Fisherman’s Wharf area at the edge of the bay. For me it was magic: to be living in San Francisco, on Russian Hill, one of the choice areas of the city. Magic, because my frame of reference is, and always will be, the millrow where I grew up.

    The apartment we lived in was a hole in the ground. Something which, at the time, was called a Mother-in-law apartment. Meaning it was very small, very old and hard to keep heated. But it was Russian Hill, San Francisco. Every Saturday morning I would walk down
    Filbert Street, take a right at Columbus, and point myself in the direction of City Lights Books at Columbus and Broadway. Once inside the store, I would walk down the flight of wooden stairs, select some reading material, and take a seat for the next three or four hourss on one of those hard wooden benches, and start my reading. Sometime around three or four o’clock I would lift myself out of my seat and make my way back up Columbus to look for a nice Italian eating place to sit down to a nice full plate of spaghetti. I tell you it was magic. Just pure magic

    After living on Filbert Street for six months Glenn got married and so we had to give up the apartment and move out because the rent for one was just too much for a struggling accountant. He and his wife quickly had their first child. About two years into their marriage I got a call from the wife of my old classmate / roommate. She told me Glenn had cancer and if I wanted to see him alive I had to do so immediately. Right away I drove down to San Mateo where they were living. I remember the scene well. He was lying in a room on a single bed. In the course of our conversation he asked me if I wanted to see what the cancer had done to his back. He struggled, as he lay there in his bed, to do a half turn of his body so that I could get a full view of his back. I just couldn’t believe it. His back looked as though a wild animal had been chewing away on it……endlessly. I doubt I will ever forget what I saw that day. I drove back up the freeway from San Mateo, in a mild state of mental unsettlement by what I had seen on the body of someone I had gotten to know. I was devastated. He died the next day or day after, I can’t remember which. I still remember him as a very nice person, intelligent, a good accountant from what I could see. But most of all just a nice person to go have a beer with.

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