14.9.08

Party in Yo Pants



An old piano with indented ivory sits like a dunce in the corner. It partially covers a painted mural adorning the wall next to framed pictures of Papa Gianni and Mama, enmeshed in an artillery of smoky scenes and noir snapshots from years whittled by. There are wrinkly bespectable heads; accordian players, opera tenors and actors. A grand mural on the back wall depicts a rustic scene, Italian men smoothing sailboats by the beach of Positano as matriarchs gasbag by the bay. Smooth bassy swing and soft, dust-vinyl Gershwin mellows out from vintage brown speakers eliciting vibe, smoothing the air with sonorous texture and the flavour of romance. I look up and view stolen snaps of Coppola penning The Godfather in the very same red chair I sit in. My palette sups the history. I inhale roasting espresso.

CafĂ© Trieste of historic North Beach is my kind of place - one of many reasons why San Francisco and I were always going to get along…

The grand allure of San Francisco for me centered largely around the romantic legacy left behind by Jack Kerouac and beat vibe that he sprouted from his live for the moment adventures throughout America in the 1950’s. One sultry Autumn night when I lived back in Fitzroy, my housemate Rusty dished over a beaten up copy of Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’. Familiar with the name but not to the content, I instantly fell into Kerouac’s hedonistic mysticism, ‘live in the now’ world, his lush prose and spirit of life, love and mystic consciousness. His adventures along the pacific coast, across San Fran and Big Sur, and the trails from coast to coast across postwar America were intoxicating; a way of life that appealed awesomely to the rebellious non-conformist that lingers like a sleeping giant inside me. The man’s words spoke true and real. An echoing voice vindicating what I knew to be true to my soul, that life is too goddman short to not be making art, making music and creating love.

Rusty would wake up nine hours later to find me wired on the couch, surrounded by piles of plates and mugs, having plowed through the book, the night and a two days worth of caffeine. I got through the whole damn thing. It’s what Kerouac would have done. The result was that the allure of San Francisco was now evermore heightened by the visions in my mind alight with the legacy of JK and the life he breathed, the vision he expounded, and the truth clambering along, clasping, white knuckled to edge of his coattails.

When you build something up in your mind there’s always the risk that the reality of it will never match up to your lofty expectations. Like a blockbuster movie with more hype than substance, many a destination hath suffered thine fate. An initial gobsmack of ‘wow’, followed by a steep decline of acclimatisation and diminishing novelty. Let it be said that San Francisco not only scaled the lofty echelon of my demanding imagination, it excelled and exceeded, and blew my mind in the process. Setting first steps into the mid-morning city sunshine of San Francisco was the first time on this lengthly trip that things felt truly surreal. I was here. I’d made it. And it was unbelievable.

I discovered a small hostel called ‘Pacific Tradewinds’ right by Chinatown and managed to secure a place to crash for the night. I’d initially planned a rendezvous at the ‘Green Tortoise’, an old mansion hostel up on the main strip, and a clear sister to my old workplace the ‘GreenHouse’. Alas, this chapter would come later.

Tradewinds was a cosy spot, full of Australians and English, with the customary smattering of Scot and Saffir. I met Chris from Perth, running the desk, and his partner in crime Bryan, a beefy, kilt wearin ladies man dubbed simply and suitably the ‘Scotsman’. My body clock was still smashed beyond repair and despite my physical displacement and disaligned verterbrae courtesy of the LAX concrete floor, I set off for the sights and went roaming. Everything was there as I’d expected. Sparlking water, amazing views – Alcatraz in the guts of the bay, the amber bridge far off in the distance. The theme song to ‘Full House’ followed me the entire day, as I soaked up the vistas and steep streets lined with Victorian three story row houses with archetypal half-barrell windows. My jetlagged mind could not contain the joy at finally arriving at a place I’d dreamed about for so long.

My first night in SF was a baptism of fire. Forever a fan of bad 80’s music, I was well enticed by the hostel group outing – “80’s night with 80 cent Cosmopolitans”. Alarm bells should have rung loud and clear at this point, but I remained oblivious. Though welcoming of all persuasions, the 80’s night turned out to be unequivocally, without a smattering of doubt, a flaming gay bar. This was indeed a first. Unaccustomed to being pinched on the arse by men, the night became an educational role reversal as I endured the level of subjugation that women in any run of the mill hetero meat den are exposed to on any given Saturday night. I was particular hit with one bloke, who, in steep Itali-Frisco drawl declared “I looove your look”. Indeed flattered, I made it extremely clear that regardless of the pink drink in my right hand I was indeed spoken for. The eighty cent cosmopolitans had gone down quicker than the clientele, and as more and more Spandau Ballet sidled covertly onto the playlist, we made a cosmo-tampered beeline for the exit and directed blurred attention back to our digs.

Tradewinds was solid opener to the SF experience but it wasn’t the sort of heavy duty, big vibe hostel that I’m accustomed to. Migrating up to Broadway, I made my new home the ‘Green Tortoise’ a great, historic old mansion converted into a backpackers den, complete with mammoth ballroom with booths and pool tables. In the guts of North Beach, I found my niche and met some great people.

North Beach is a rich, amazing neighborhood - a relic locale that retains the vibe of San Francisco’s diverse, vibrant Italian heritage. Coffee shops buzz, saloon bars cook, tramcalls roll uphill and characters around Washington Square dance and laze. North Beach was once home to Kerouac and the beat movement – his local haunt ‘Vesuvio’ hums with revelry across all hours, parked conveniently on Kerouac Lane adjacent co-beat owner Laurence Ferlinghetti’s ‘City Lights’ bookstore. Though true to its’ past to a degree, the stretch down Broadway has lost its soul since the beat days, home now to a wide range of seedy strip clubs and pinstripe porno purveyors spewing ad nauseum pitches like “it’s a party in yo paaants”. The strip re-defined the term ‘Broad’ way. Indeed, it is a way to see broads. Kerouac would tilt his head and wield ice cool jive at these degenerates if he could see what has become of his digs. Shadiness aside, North Beach rules.

I spent a number of nights in a great bar called ‘Specs’. Adorned with wild shit all over the walls and ceiling, every regular had a story to tell, and on most nights, piano players churned out smooth boogie-woogie with the accompaniment of passing through Ecuadorian vocalists. Sitting atop the bar near the wheel of cheese sits a basket full of postcards from every obscure nook and cranny of the wild corners of the USA. Almost all of them are from one guy – a mysterious character who forever traipses the country searching long and hard for the ‘American Dream’. He signs his postcards with a squiggle; no one knows his name, and each postcard is a progression of thought, a few lines that usually declare his inability to find the wily bastard dream anywhere. A few times a year, the dude finds his way back to Specs for a session. Sits at the bar. Never speaks. Never says nothin’. Just drinks his beer, hits the road and continues the search.

It is now two full weeks since that first night at the gay bar. Time has unfurled greater wings and flown with haste. It is a cool, sunny day and again I sip a doppio macchiato in the warmth and rich vibe of Trieste. A sextet of worldly local women and men serenade the morning coffee patronage with traditional Italian trills and accordion 1-2’s, rehearsing for the afternoon concert. My mind filters through the freshly laid memory reel of the past weeks. The sights, the smells, the tastes…The relaxed nature of North Beach and the remarkable characters that roam the backstreets, giving life and purpose to the great places to dwell.

I kinda thought that when I got to San Francisco everything would make sense and my dreams would be answered. Things would go off with a bang and I would find my niche and a new sense of self. I can say that I’ve found some great things. Breathed in some new energy and inspiration. And certainly, I’ve found a destination that I could live in aside from Melbourne. But the journey is far from over. The travel bug continues to nip and demand more. San Francisco therefore, acts now as a distinct marker, a signpost along a much longer road than I’d initially forseen. Next Tuesday I fly to New York. From there I have no idea what lies ahead. In the spirit of Kerouac I may have to buy an old car, hit up the great beyond and just drive to my hearts content. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll pip that dude at the post and grasp hold of the elusive dream that refuses to be found.

3 comments:

wiboLibrary said...

excellent read mate.
Get down and dirty in NYC!

Lucas said...

Electrix Six would be proud of you man! Gaaaay Bar Gaaay Bar!!!
Touche Wibo, excellent reading.

Sheep said...

More posts please.