Dispatches: I left my heart

December 1, 2009

imagesBY DAVID CONGALTON

I write this from San Francisco, and you should be envious.  Most people I know hate LA, but no one says a discouraging word about the City by the Bay. San Francisco is truly one of the great cities of the world, right up there with Paris, New York, and Rio.

Early December is a lovely time to be here, especially downtown by Union Square. The large department stores have gone all out with lavish holiday decorations. Gleeful skaters glide around the ice on the rink across from Macy’s. Like New York, San Francisco is a 24-hour town. The energy can be contagious.

In truth, I don’t come to San Francisco often enough–perhaps once every two years if I’m lucky. I live less than four hours away, but I tend to go south, mostly because my family lives in Los Angeles. I love LA, but San Francisco has my heart. The emotional bond is pretty strong.

The connection started early. As a teen back in Chicago, I saw “Bullitt” with Steve McQueen repeatedly. My friends were hooked on the car chase. I was drawn to the city, unlike any other I had seen. Now, when I come up to visit, I still cruise by the intersection of Taylor and Clay where Frank Bullitt supposedly had his apartment.

Later, I discovered the author Richard Brautigan. My guy. He lived in San Francisco for more than two decades. A “Beat” writer who was popular for a while by being whimsical and quirky, before drifting into obscurity. Brautigan ran into his ex-wife one afternoon in North Beach. Went home and blew his brains out. I visit his old haunts at City Lights and Enrique’s and think about Brautigan. How talented he was. How messed up he became.

I came to San Francisco with my soon-to-be ex-wife in the summer of 1981. Our marriage was in trouble. We both knew it. This was supposed to be the City of Romance, but not even that could save us. Still, it was a magical weekend. The Golden Gate. Great restaurants. Wine tasting in Sonoma. Even the sex felt right. But we only delayed the inevitable.

I was last here in 2007. A friend and I drove up to see Billy Joel in concert. Another friend, Lani Silver, put us up at her place over by San Francisco State. We drove through the rain for Thai food, caught the concert, and crashed at Lani’s. The next morning, we all went for breakfast at The Greens near Fort Mason and Lani gave us a guided tour on the way. It was the most perfect weekend imaginable. That’s the last time I saw Lani—she died a year later of a brain tumor.

So it’s great to be back in San Francisco, but I still find it hard to wander Chinatown or see Coit Tower and not think about Brautigan. Or the Ex. Or dear Lani.  Love being here. Just wish I could leave some of the baggage at home.


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