Every year, we return to the City. You can practically set your watch by it.
It's perpetually Spring. The Calla lilies are in bloom, yet again. I stop and smell the jasmine draped haphazardly over the rotting eaves of some garage. I admire floral displays of such hue and abundance as I have never known back East. I ponder why that florist shop on Market below Noe has continuing success with their almost Martian xeriscapes, when there is such a wealth of absurdly lush and colorful flora to be found almost anywhere else. One could assemble a creditable nosegay just careening down any street. Perhaps that is the very reason. The palm trees bloom and send blankets of pollen to cover the cobblestones below them. I sneeze.
It's time for our yearly pilgrimage.
Extreme creatures of habit that we are, you could read last year's account, change a few minor details, and it would pretty much serve as a primer for this post.
To start, it didn't rain. Well, only a little. Of this, I am extremely thankful. I haunted weather.com for weeks prior, hoping against hope that we wouldn't have a repeat of last year's drenching, which truly put the word damp in damper. We were rewarded with a few days of sun, some dramatically foggy moments, and the odd downpour to be sat out beneath a bus shelter or random bar.
Our accommodations, such as they were, still provided a modicum of amusement, mostly when we would mention where we were staying. Oh, the faces! The shock! The requests for our room number! The gating of Beck's has pretty much ended the window shopping scenario that most people seem to imagine when they hear the name of the establishment. Truly, I saw nothing untoward at all this last visit. It's almost disappointing. I've been to cotillions with more action.
The Castro is undergoing the same changes that Greenwich Village and Chelsea have been affected by. Much of the younger, possibly more au courant crowd has moved on, leaving a generation of shopkeepers and tourists scratching their collective heads and wondering where everyone has gone. The Castro business guild has been debating ways of drawing people back to this ancestral stomping ground, including, but not limited to such ideas as a large rainbow arch over Castro, or a giant ruby slipper, or even paving the streets with yellow bricks. Though I fail to see the direct connection between this neighborhood and Oz, I do recognize the last dying gasps of some ancient Judy-ism, as much as I'm aware of all those youthful retinas detaching from the major eye-rolling that is sure to ensue if this plan is facilitated.
And so this is what the Castro seems to be all about these days. Scores of young people, seemingly off a recent MUNI or BART purveyance, haunt creatively named boites like the Bar and the Cafe, while those a bit longer in the tooth head for such old (and I do mean old) standbys such as the Edge and 440 Castro. Both camps pass each other, the older group eying the youngsters warily; the youngsters blank-eyed and mostly oblivious to the fact that they share this environment with fellow travellers on similar journeys. There is little to no interaction between said groups, except general annoyance.
As has happened elsewhere, it seems the received wisdom is that we no longer require a ghetto, that we can now be socialized and assimilated among the general populace. Apparently, the Internet has put an end to actual face-to-face encounters, and bars and meeting places have been rendered obsolete. Hmm, don't think so. I do think it is a function of overinflated real-estate values, and a symptom of the current herd mentality.
And I do find it very sad. Not that bars are closing, because they always have. The idea that we'll no longer be able to share common ground together, to honor and pay tribute to one another saddens me immensely, as does the cavalier attitude that is mostly displayed when the subject is broached.
That said, we had a marvelous time, as usual.
Though our flight was late, we still threw our bags in our room and headed out into the night and the Castro for a welcoming cocktail. At the Edge, we met up with Kelly, our bartender for the evening. He explained, when asked about the blindingly hideous rainbow awning and sign that had been erected at the sight of the extinct Pendulum, that though the new place had been creatively named The Bar on 18th, they have taken to calling it Skittles.
We crawled home shortly after, having been graced with the last two pizza slices at Marcello's gratis, and passed out.
We spent the next day wandering, checking out the new Bloomingdale's on Market Street and the huge mega-mall that surrounds it, which was surprisingly vacant. We headed to the gym, and met up with a bartender we'd made the acquaintance of last year. We work out hard, and head out to the Edge for it's very lively Friday after-work scene. We immediately run into our good friend Noah, who re-located here last year, and now is making plans to head back East. Apparently, it wasn't the end of the rainbow, after all. We hang with him and our bartender friend, Bruce, who we know from the Dugout, and who buys us drinks all night. We meet many new people. I run into the same intense gentleman I met there last year at the very same time. He doesn't seem to remember that he's hit on me before. This year he has a nose ring and tattoos on his neck. He still un-nerves me and Tim laughs at my awkwardness. Tim is very popular on this visit. I'm amused to watch the people behind him regard his hindquarters and take on the expression of drooling, hungry dogs. One gentleman lurches up to us and asks Tim if I'm with him. When Tim gives him the bad news, the gentleman looks me up and down, then plaintively asks him "How can I compete with THAT?". Another announces, as he is leaving late in the evening, that he's been captivated by Tim's ass for hours. Crawling up Castro, we run into our good friend Michael, who hugs us for hours, embracing us as we exchange updates.
The weekend progresses accordingly. We shop. We buy a pile of music at Amoeba Records and Medium Rare. This time I came prepared with a shopping list. We have an early Sunday brunch at 2223 Market Street, enjoying the peaceful half-filled restaurant at that hour. A while later, there's a line down the block. We inspect the new-ish Ferry Building. We hop an empty cable car up California Street, enjoying our very own personal amusement park ride. We jump off at Polk Street and troll the Swan Oyster Depot for bivalves, See's Chocolates for gifts and Bob's Donuts for, well, donuts. We stop into the Cinch for an excellent Bloody Mary. We stroll the SOMA area, looking for a leather vendor to replace the now closed Image Leather, formerly located on Market and Sanchez. I bought Tim a wrist band there years ago, and he wanted to replace it before it rotted off his arm. Unfortunately, the bored children working the counter at the two emporiums we tried before giving up just couldn't be bothered to deal with a couple of old dudes like us. Fill in random eye-rolling here.
We hit the traditional one-two punch of the Eagle/Lone Star Sunday afternoon beer extravaganza, getting to the Eagle just in time to see it fill up with an assortment of misshapen, malformed, downright scary supplicants this side of the Bar in Star Wars. We wave to fellow New Yorkers. We are then introduced to the largest, buffest, most handsome man I have ever seen, and I ask Tim if we can move; I can't stand next to him because he cancels out my mojo completely. Tim laughs and takes me to the Lone Star. I've had more than a few beers and several shots, so I'm in fine humor. In line for the trough, I suggest that if the boys were a bit thinner more people might be able to piss at the same time. A gasp goes up through the crowd, and I am pushed by unseen hands into the private bathroom. When I emerge, I suggest to the assembled crowd that there should be a law against serving vegetarian chili at a Beer Blast. I've had to hold my breath and look at the window the entire time I was in there. The very large handsome man from the Eagle arrived well lubricated and places his arms around me, smiling. I feel like I'm oh, maybe 14. Tim is followed around by a flotilla of darkly handsome Spanish men, who clearly would like to peel him off of me and have their way. He's loving every minute of it. We rock out to songs we haven't heard in years, nay decades, impressed by the scope of the playlists.
We visit friends and have dinner at Chow. We lurch up and down Market Street at varying hours. I look at a deeply discounted biography of Jackie Curtis, Superstar In A Housedress, complete with DVD documentary, and regret not buying it. Perhaps it will be there next year.
We discuss moving here. We do this every year, and stop at every realtor's office we pass to see what's available. It's a pipe dream we have.
I'm not sure San Francisco is the answer for me. But it could be a part of an answer. We'lll just have to figure out how.
On our last night, we have a farewell drink at Twin Peaks, where we are regaled with stories by an old-school New York queen who retired here a few years ago. In his rather Roger Debris (didn't I meet you on a summer cruise?) way, he tries to figure out our New York bar pedigrees. I'm not particularly forthcoming as I regard the yellowed painting hanging in a corner of the bar. It features the bar itself, as viewed from the balcony. A clearly young couple has just ventured in the door, attired in wife beaters, jeans and matching cowboy hats. The regulars have all turned en mass to view the new arrivals, who stand stock still, front and center. The painting has been there for years.
For years Tim and I have caused a similar commotion every time we ventured into this room.
Tonight, the men look up, slide down the bar to offer us a couple of stools, and welcome us into their fold.