I have never been to San Francisco before, but as a Friend of Dorothy I have always revered it in my mind as a Gay Mecca; A place I would one day make my pilgrimage to, finally returning to the Mother (which I envisioned sort of like the giant mother alien from the movie Aliens). So when I was invited to go up to visit for a few days last week, I jumped at the opportunity to make my way to the Gay Land of Milk and Honey.
My friend Jolene, with whom I worked at Healthy Chipotle, was staying in Palo Alto just outside of San Francisco for two weeks while she helped open up a new store. My former coworkers, Martin and Corinne, were planning on making a trip up to see her and spend a day in San Francisco. We departed at 7 am, stopping at the Fancy Starbucks I work at for coffee before heading to San Fran, which was six hours away. I have been told, by the way, never to call it San Fran, but it seems to have found its way into my vocabulary nonetheless.
Martin wanted to stop at the Halfway House Diner in Santa Clarita on our way to Palo Alto, because it was featured in a Pepsi commercial in the 90’s starring Cindy Crawford.
“Did you ever see it?” Martin asked, while Corinne shouted “NO ONE HAS SEEN IT, NONE OF US ARE OLD LIKE YOU.”
I found this a bit unfair since Martin is only a few years older than Corinne and I, but I couldn’t argue with that since I had not, in fact, seen the commercial. Nevertheless, we drove to the diner and got out of the car while Martin proceeded to take pictures. I decided there was no time like the present, so I posed with my Ralph’s brand seltzer water and pretended to be Cindy Crawford.
We ate a relatively average breakfast, and then got back on the road. As we headed back to the interstate, we came to a road closed sign. Corinne used the GPS to find a detour, which took us to a dirt road in the mountains that did not seem to be meant for anything besides an ATV. “This is getting pretty dangerous,” I thought, but I assured myself that if what I was doing was stupid, one of the other two people in the car would speak up. Finally we arrived at a part in the road where there were two rivets for tires and a raised bit of grass in between. I pushed on the gas, hoping to rush through it, but of course ended up getting the car stuck.
“This is it,” I thought. “This is how it ends. What will my mother think? I didn’t even make it to San Francisco before I died. Will I go to heaven?”
We managed to get unstuck using the floor mats from my car under the wheels, and I managed to turn the car around without falling off the very precarious cliff nearby me.I wasn’t convinced that we were out of the woods, however, so I took the prayer cards out of my wallet and threw them at Corinne.
“READ IT!” I said. “READ THE SAINT FRANCIS PRAYER!”
“Lord make me an instrument-”
“LORD MAKE ME AN INSTRUMENT OF THY PEACE!”
Corinne kept reading through the prayer card until we finally hit solid ground again. We ended up taking a longer route to get around, but this time felt much safer as we finally got back on the highway.
We got to Palo Alto after about 11 hours, delayed by driving in the wrong direction for 8 miles, being stuck behind a truck going half the speed limit for 10 miles, stopping for Corinne to squat and pee in front of some office buildings off the highway in the middle of nowhere, and a detour to Santa Cruz to visit where the first Fancy Starbucks was founded.
We got there around 4, and stopped in for coffee. I told the barista that I too was a barista and he gave me his shift drink, which I knew he would. There’s nothing a barista loves more than another barista. We got sandwiches and candy next door, and I again entered everything into my food app. I was feeling a bit apprehensive about the amount of calories I was having, so I took the vegetables off of my sandwich.
“Yeah, that’ll help,” said Martin. “Don’t eat the vegetables, but keep eating the candy.”
He had a point, but the candy was licorice wheels, and there’s no way I was passing that up.
We continued on to Palo Alto, until we finally arrived around 6. It had taken us a full 11 hours to get there, even though the trip was supposed to take about 5 and a half. We arrived at Healthy Chipotle, and saw Jolene working behind the counter. Her eyes lit up, but I motioned for her to say nothing because we wanted to pretend to be customers. Corinne wanted a salad, so we waited in line while the people who had been newly hired made her salad.
“Would you like light, medium or heavy dressing?” the girl behind the sneeze guard asked.
“What’s light look like?” Corinne asked, feigning ignorance.
“Light is one swirl around,” the girl showed Corinne.
“So medium is two?” asked Corinne.
“Yep!” the girl said, adding a second swirl of dressing to her salad.
“Oh, well I only wanted one and a half, so…” Corinne said.
“Oh, uh…” said the girl.
“She’s kidding. We work here, we’re just visiting our friend. We wanted to give you guys a hard time!” I said, sparing this poor girl more awkward silence.
“I actually did only want one and a half,” said Corinne.
“Well that’s your own damn fault,” I said.
Jolene came from behind the counter, hugged me, and whispered in my ear, “I hate it here. Get me out of here.”
I felt like an undercover cop talking to a hostage.
It turns out there’s nothing to do in Palo Alto, and poor Jolene was bored to tears. I was thrilled, however, because it was at the candy store next door that I rediscovered licorice whips.
Let me tell you something about licorice whips. I used to have Twizzlers licorice whips all the time when I was a kid until they discontinued them. I have been searching for them ever since. I have only found soft cherry licorice whips, not the stale strawberry kind I loved as a kid. So I bought these hoping they would be what I was looking for. I ripped open the package after paying, and took one bite. It was in that moment that God revealed Himself to me. Images of post piano lesson trips to 7-11 flashed through my head, and all of a sudden I was a child again. I immediately walked back to the rack of licorice whips, grabbed all of the bags that were hanging there, and dumped them on the register. I spent $25 on licorice whips, and regretted nothing. I threw in one of those little fake hands that you can put on your finger as well.
When we arrived at the airbnb that night, I immediately headed for bed, exhausted from the drive. I finished typing in everything I had eaten that day into my fitness app, and then hit the “complete my food diary” button.
“Congratulations!” It said. “If every day were like today, you’d gain 20 pounds in five weeks!”
That app can go fuck itself.
The next day I woke up around 9 am and decided to wake Jolene up with my little hand, a move she did not appreciate. We left the airbnb for San Fran at around 10 am, and managed to drive into the city without passing any tolls. Blasting The Village People as loud as my car speakers would go, we drove around the city until we found unpaid street parking, an apparent miracle in San Francisco, and stopped at The Mill for coffee. I told the barista that I too was a barista and he gave me my cappuccino for free, which I knew he would. We sat to drink it but not until Martin posed each of our drinks for an instagram photo. Apparently, Martin is instagram famous, and likes to take pictures of fancy food for his instagram. I sat there for several minutes while Martin arranged and rearranged our drinks, lamenting the situation I now found myself in.
We drove past the beach, and I recognized it from an episode of the HBO show Looking, where Patrick and Richie had their first real date. I took pictures while driving, a move I’m sure everyone else in the car did not appreciate.
We stopped for pastries and sandwiches at Tartine, while Martin again photographed everything while I sat there hungry. I couldn’t complain, though, since he had bought them all. We decided to walk to David’s Tea, where I bought four ounces of something called “Forever Nuts”. After leaving the store, we walked past a park which I recognized as being the place in Looking where Augustin tells Patrick that he’s slumming it with Richie. I again took pictures, feeling like a part of the show.
My friends then asked me what I wanted to do, so we drove over to The Castro while blasting “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross. Getting out of the car, I felt like I was immediately transported into the past. This was the same street that Harvey Milk walked, the place that so many gay men and women had lived and loved and fought to protect. It was a powerful feeling being there. I was delighted by the rainbow flags, and that every sign seemed to include a double entendre about penises.
We stopped in a place called Castro Coffee, and I ordered a cappuccino.
“Would you like 12 oz, 16 oz, or 20 oz?” The barista asked me.
I was taken aback. In what world is a cappuccino 20 ounces? Good God.
“12 oz,” I said.
I told the woman behind the counter that I was a barista, expecting my free cappuccino.
“That’s cool. It’ll be $3,” she said.
I paid for the cappuccino, and took a sip, but nothing came out. I realized that half of the cup was foam. I tilted it until finally some liquid managed to come out, and I was shocked when it scalded my mouth. It tasted terrible, so we went across the street to another coffee shop where I ordered another cappuccino.
“Can I have a cappuccino?” I asked the barista.
“For here or to go?” he said, hurriedly.
“To go. You know-”
“That’ll be $4,” he said.
“Okay,” I said, pulling out my card. “It’s funny, I’m also-”
He grabbed the card out of my hand and swiped it. Dammit. Looks like my attempts at getting free cappuccinos in San Fran were running thin. At least the cappuccino here was amazing.
At the end of the trip, it was nice to sit and drink my cappuccino in the Castro District of San Francisco, soaking up the history and the queerness of the city. It was everything I had dreamed it would be. The architecture, the people, the two dads walking along the sidewalk holding hands with their little girl. I really did feel like I was a part of something much bigger. I only wished I could have been there longer.
If I could live in San Francisco, I would. It’s the most interesting and beautiful city I’ve ever been in. And the abundance of queer history and people make it incredibly appealing to me. But I know that if I want to be a writer, I have to live in Los Angeles. And it’s not like LA doesn’t have it’s own queer history. I mean, I live in West Hollywood for Christ’s sake. Still, a part of me will always feel drawn to San Francisco. Until we meet again, San Fran.