No Place Like Home…My Other Home

At this moment I’m sitting in the San Francisco International Airport about to return to my home back in Colorado. What always seems refreshing about the Bay Area is the fact that I really never feel like I leave home when I come out here.

I love San Francisco and the entire Bay Area. I’ve been here zillions of times, know my way around, have my favorite eateries and always manage to find new ones. Regardless of where I’m staying, I have any number of routes where I can get my daily run in, everything from three miles to fifty miles (yes, fifty). And just like almost every time before, I spent no more than ten minutes in my hotel room upon arriving before I’d changed into my running clothes, had my shoes laced up and was running at a spirited clip along the waterfront. It always feels so good to see some of the usual suspects of landmarks that remind me that I’ve indeed come back to what I consider my California home.

If you’ve read any of my posts over the past two or three weeks you probably already know that I’ve been struggling a bit with reconciling the overwhelming emotional nature of being at that First Descents camp in Moab, and the subsequent withdrawal symptoms I’m now dealing with. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing! It can feel myself growing as a person, but there are just a couple of growing pains that I need to work through! However, one of the things I was looking forward to on this trip was meeting up with my friend from the First Descents camp, April, and her friend Ilana who had also attended a couple of First Descents camps in the past. I’d never met Ilana, but if she was a friend of April and had attended an FD camp, then I knew without question that she was part of the “family”.

So with a little bit of emotional weight on my shoulders and some time on my hands, I left my little hotel and set off for a run that would hopefully get me back on track with my normally absurd level of perpetual zen-ness. Well, it worked. In fact, it worked so well that when I got to the point where I initially thought I’d turn around, I wanted to keep going, and did. I continued to run across the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito (but just barely). When I got over there I looked out across the bay and could see where I started way back along the shoreline. Love it! A second or two more of taking in the views and I was on my way back. And just as I was running back onto the bridge, a heavy, blowing mist started to hit me. Instead of running for cover as many of the camera be-decked tourists along the bridge were doing, I just smiled a little bigger and picked up my pace.

Thirteen quick and scenic miles and a warm shower later, I was sitting along the waterfront sipping an Anchor Steam  Ale and drizzling some Tabasco Sauce in a bowl of clam chowder. Those are two of my favorite things and having them never fails to remind me that I’m back in the city I love so much. And even better was that as I sat in this noisy and crowded little “chowderia”, I could hear no less than three different languages being spoken — two from different parts of Asia and one from what I can only guess was of Eastern European origin. That in itself is another reason why I love San Francisco (and New York City) as much as I do. Diversity is one of the greatest treasures on earth and this is one of the best places to experience it!

After dinner I was strolling around the piers to absorb a little more of the smells, sounds and vibe of the city when my phone rang. It was April’s friend Ilana (who I hadn’t yet met). She told me that she was heading to a Farmer’s Market there in her Haight/Ashbury neighborhood and that I should come up and join her. Yeah, okay, that was an easy decision. A very short time later I was parked (in the garage of her building since I couldn’t find a surface spot) and we were walking down the hill on Stansbury Ave. toward the tiny little park where the market was. The rain was now falling steadily, but certainly not a deterrent to our outing.

I sort of expected that Ilana and I would have no trouble finding plenty of conversation, but I had no idea just how easy it would be. It was like we’d known each other forever. We decided it was the magic of the First Descents experience. I wish I could tell you how it works, but I can’t…it just does. Anyhow, we walked, sampled fantastically fresh organic produce, met friends of hers, ordered up more organic foods and sampled some unbelievably delicious bolanis (Afghani stuffed pastries) from another of Ilana’s friends. With our food acquired we sat at some cute little tables (still in the rain) and continued our conversation, one that was reminiscent of two friends reuniting after a long time. Why wouldn’t it be like that? After all, we knew many of the same people, had had similar experiences and now we were in her ‘hood hanging with her peeps. So comfortably familiar feeling…like home.

I spent the next day in meetings and fortunately met some very interesting and very fun people there, something I TOTALY didn’t expect. And after my meeting I was going to meet April and Ilana there in Burlingame at a place called Kabul Afghan Cuisine. Given the deliciousness of the previous night’s samplings of Afghani food, I was anxious to get there and explore more!! But before they arrived I had an hour or so to roam the super cute little downtown area of Burlingame. Incredibly fun little place and filled with super interesting cafes, bistros and boutique-style shops. Definitely not a hard place to hang out while waiting!

The Afghani restaurant blew us away. It was lively, noisy but not obnoxious, was adorned with lots and lots of traditional Afghani art, textiles and best of all, the people who owned it were far and away some of the most genuinely kind and fun people I’ve ever met. And the food!! Wow, I was totally and completely awed by the beauty of the food and of course the rich, sophisticated (yet simple and earthy) flavors. Afghani food has definitely moved up the list of my faves!!! But what was best about the evening was the fact that we talked freely, laughed lavishly, shared stories, and just like the night before, progressed through the evening like we were the oldest of friends re-uniting after a long absence. And let me say again just how amazingly friendly and caring the owner’s were…and not just because they brought us a free dessert to accompany our Gousch-E-Feel (the name of a pastry which means Elephant Ear) that we’d already ordered. They treated us as if we were family in their home, which in a way we were. Again, such lovely people. It was such a shame that April and Ilana were on their way to New York and had to leave after only three hours.

Then, this morning, I went to my favorite little breakfast place called Pergamino’s. It’s just a tiny little neighborhood joint down near the waterfront in the Marina District. It’s here where the funkiness of the place’s decor is only trumped by the funkiness of the staff. And straight away I noticed that the guy standing out front was new, but more about him in a minute. Once I got my table out on the sidewalk and got settled into the “interesting” selection of music, I strolled back into the inside part of the cafe to choose my cup from the vast array of totally random ones stacked above the self serve coffee urns. LOVE IT! Today was a Rice-A-Roni cup, one I’d selected a couple of times prior!

I soon learned that the new guy, who introduced himself as Scott, had recently become the newest Host, Ambassador of Funkiness, Operations Manager, part-time Chef de Cuisine and Karma Director. Georg (pronounced Gay-Org) who was the previous overseer of grooviness had apparently been deported after a bizarre sequence of events — of which I learned about in great detail over the next hour or so. A shame because he was truly a unique individual who brought a lot to the ambiance of the place. However, Scott brought his own level of coolness to the game.

Scott was probably in his late forties or early fifties, tall, rather skinny and sported some rather tragic stringy, dark hair. He was wearing some sort of baggy style canvas pants (by Dickies I think), a silk shirt unbuttoned one button too far, donned well-worn loafer type shoes as well as at the always essential  Members Only flight jacket. Just like Georg, I guessed he was Eastern European given his dark, well pronounced features. I listened intently as Scott told me a lot about his circuitous life path prior to landing his gig there at Pergamino’s. Had he not reeked of funky suaveness/grooviness, I doubt his tales would have been so compelling. However, I found myself intrigued with everything he said, even with the tales of his lucrative stint as a bellman back in Michigan.  No story was more intriguing than his time spent skiing the harrowing hills of Southern Michigan. His stories were only interrupted by the occasional need to address potential customers as they walked down the sidewalk, all of whom where likely from Ohio or somewhere like that. He’d regale them with the history of the establishment and the fact that they baked their own bread daily. It seemed that most people weren’t as intrigued with Scott as I was. Some actually looked a little leery of Scott and his schtick. In most instances the tourists would uncomfortably look at him and try to politely decline his offer to try the “World Famous Waffles” and would briskly move on.

I actually look forward to the next time I’m in the city so I can come back round and catch up with Scott. As funky and odd as he was, he was part of the city I love, therefore he was part of the family now…in a weird uncle kind of way I guess.

After a couple of complimentary refills of my Rice-A-Roni cup, Scott and I bid each other adieu and I went for one last walk down by the piers. I loved smelling the salty air and hearing the seagulls squawking as they battled over what looked to be a rogue morsel of cioppino dropped by a street vendor the night before. The noisy gulls are a quintessential part of San Francisco, as much as the seals and sea lions of Pier 39, so they too are part of the family.

It was nice to see my assorted San Francisco family members for a few of days. I guess it should really be no surprise that it feels so much like home out there.


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