I had learned a lot about San Francisco in the past year. On my previous visit I didn’t really know my way around and exploring the city had mostly centered on my temporary home base – the hotdog place on Market Street – where I had hung out with new friends while awaiting my separation from the Navy, and a bit beyond. Since then the words and music of Rod McKuen and Glenn Yarborough (and Tony Bennett) had led me to see San Francisco with yet new eyes and to learn much more about this city with which I had fallen in love. Most of what I had learned however had been from afar.
But now I was here, and with a rental car I was free to roam. I could explore, and see, and experience firsthand all those things about which I had read, or seen in pictures or films, or learned from studying maps. From my hotel room on Van Ness Avenue, I traveled to the Italian neighborhoods and beatnik hangouts of North Beach. To the Sunset District (Pete Seeger’s “little boxes on a hillside”) and the broad sands of Ocean Beach. I drove from the Presidio and the Marina to the Haight, and from the University to Marin County and back, as I tried to pack everything into this all too brief visit.
Recalling lines from Rod McKuen’s poem*, in the evenings I too would ride the bridge from Sausalito home; but unlike the poem, I felt that San Francisco and I would always be friends. And I knew I’d be back.
And as I roamed, the music on the car’s radio would be “Lady Madonna” by the Beatles, “Pictures of Match Stick Men”, by Status Quo, “Love is Blue” by Paul Mariat, and “(Sittin’ On The) Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding – a song which maintained its No 1 status in this city long after its popularity had faded in other parts of the country. A song which will forever remind me of San Francisco – as it was in the spring of 1968.
Not only the glamour of Fisherman’s Wharf and the Top of The Mark, but the then un-restored Victorians of the working class neighborhoods. The bars and clubs on Broadway; Vesuvio, the Condor Club, and The Hungry I. Keezar Stadium, and the double-decker freeways, which survived until the earthquake of ’89. And the old Embarcadero highway, hugging the bay shore past the piers, and warehouses, and the freighters at China Basin – where now the Giants play baseball – and bending the corner and past the bridge to end at the Ferry Building. How I loved it all.
But soon enough this California adventure came to an end as I returned at last to Aurora, and the milling department at Thor, and to a still uncertain future.
* Stanyon Street and Other Sorrows” Rod McKuen 1967