This summer is the summer I will forever remember as the summer I discovered that “Frisco” was not, in fact, a nickname for San Francisco, but an actual city in California. Color me shocked (what color is shocked? a vibrant pink?). I learned this because, last week, I visited California (and the West Coast) for the Second Ever Time in my life.
Technically, I was there for a wedding in Santa Rosa. But this is a very technical assessment at best, because I only spent about five hours actually wedding-ing, and I stayed in NorCal for five days. Only two of those days were spent in San Francisco, and while I could go on (and on and on and on) about the beauty of the vineyards and Pacific coast beaches (positively frigid!), the city is what I want to talk about.
The city is a big place, and it was hugely different from what I recalled about it from my
few hours spent there in May 2013 (the First Ever Time). This time, we stayed in the Mission District in an Airbnb apartment. Let me tell you: the Mission (named after Spanish missionaries who took residence there during colonization) is a darned funky place. There are bakeries (Tartine, the most amazing of bakeries!) and vintage shops tucked into tiny corners, and just the murals make it worth a visit.
As soon as we arrived at out lavender-with-indigo-accents-painted apartment, I felt an excited twitching in my stomach. I was already in Maddie-the-tourist-who-gets-thrills-from-just-looking-at-buildings mode, and my main goal for the entire vacation was a day away.
Setting goals for a vacation is not usually a great plan, because sometimes things just don’t work out, and then you get so terminally disappointed that you can hardly enjoy anything else (does this happen to everyone, or is it just me?). Fortunately, that didn’t happen this time– I was going to visit City Lights Books, and my family (including my sister, who tends to feel harassed after just a few hours in a city) could not have stopped me if they tried.
To give some background information here: I am a poet. I like poetry a lot, and I really, really like the Beat poets, especially Allen Ginsberg. City Lights, as it happens, started out as a Beat bookstore, and published Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl and Other Poems”, which lead to an important obscenity trial that helped open up the publishing industry. Yes, I was more than a little excited.
And the best thing? When I arrived at City Lights for a reading following a meal of the
most delicious Chinese food I have eaten in several years (see: House of Nanking), it was everything I thought it could be. There was a jazz musician playing in the street outside, and every surface of the store was covered in books (three whole floors of books!). There were students discussing the writing of Charles Bukowski in the cramped aisles between bookshelves, and silent, tall young men browsing the selection of Hemingway.
There was a reading that evening by authors Lucy Corin and Adam Wilson, and though I won’t bore you with details, I will say: it was great. They were funny, enthusiastic, and thoughtful. I went home (very late) that evening completely satisfied, with that feeling like when you’ve eaten just the right amount of food.
What I learned from the West Coast is not how to hang loose, duuuude, nor how to plan better vacations (I blame my dad for the general disorganization). It taught me how to be content with what you get– I got to visit City Lights, and it was amazing, and I won’t be able to do that again probably for quite a long time. The next day was my mother’s, my sister’s, and my father’s, but not mine– for one of the first times ever, I stopped obsessing. For the first time ever, I was completely satisfied with my vacation before it even ended.