I Left My Heart in San Francisco

It’s been over a month since my trip, and a lot (A LOT) has happened since then, but this post is important to me, and I decided better late than never!  (I’ll fill you in on the other stuff later.  I promise.)

So, as I’d said, I lived in San Francisco from about 5th grade through about 7th grade, and I had fond memories of the city.  I also had some unhappy memories though.   Junior high is a crapshoot for any of us, plus, I knew a lot of those memories I’d be re-living involved my mom, who’s no longer with me. (Well, she IS, but not physically.)

I think a lot of people felt like my mom up and whisking me off from the Midwest to San Francisco in the 80’s was a little bit crazy. I’ll admit, I may have thought that a little bit myself.  And I’ve said many times that I would never let an 11-year-old girl loose in that city alone.  I honestly thought I’d feel a lot of grief and other “negative” emotions on this journey back.

Here’s the thing though guys:  I get it now.   The moment I set foot back in San Francisco as a 45-year-old woman, all I kept thinking was, I GET IT.  Of course she had to move there, and of course she wanted me to experience all the city had to offer.  Instead of sadness and concern, the emotions I felt on my trip swayed more toward joy and a lot toward gratitude.

Let’s start with the safety thing.  On this trip I went out a few times alone walking through the city, and a few times with my (female) colleague, and I never felt unsafe.  Okay, that one time we wound up in the wrong part of town too late at night, I was a little uncomfortable.  But in the daylight, no matter where I went, I felt 100% safe.  Granted, I’m no longer 11.  But it’s also a different time, and I was no typical child.  So, I’m basically over the “How could she let me…?!” thing.

Moving along to the weather…amazing!  As I sit here in the sweltering Missouri heat, I long for the cool Bay breezes in SF.  I noticed when I decided to open my hotel room windows and let the city wash over me the first night, there are no screens.  No screens needed, because there are no bugs.  NO BUGS.  Not a single mosquito.  Not one cringe-inducing June bug.  None.  Open up those windows, and let it all in, and believe me, you’ll want to, because there is also no humidity.  My co-worker was a bit chilly most of our trip, but I was in heaven.

Yerba Buena Park Fountain. You can walk under it.

The main thing though, that I kept admiring about the City by the Bay is how creative, progressive and liberal it all is.  Obviously, San Francisco has long been accepting of the GLBTQ(?) community, and these days it’s the hub of technology, but there’s more than that.  Everyone is accepted, exactly as they are.  I saw transvestites and people talking to themselves.  I saw no spray tans.  I saw no Instagram-worthy makeup.  I saw people of every shape and heritage being themselves and feeling good about it.

There’s art everywhere.  There’s beauty everywhere.  Like this fun fountain you can walk under.  Mom used to take me there, and it was right across the street from my hotel.  I could see it from my room.

There are recycling and composting bins everywhere, alongside the usual trash cans (and people actually put the stuff in there).  Restaurants serve organic, local, vegetarian, vegan, raw, macrobiotic, gluten free, whatever health plan you might be on.  It’s there.  It’s delicious.  What I didn’t see is fat people.  How can you be fat when you eat this stuff and walk everywhere, and up those hills?

Of course my mother was drawn to this place!  How could she not have been?  Of course once she visited, she knew she was home, and she knew she needed to raise her daughter there.

Nostalgia fueled selfie.
1530 California Street

Guys, this is our apartment building.  It’s BEAUTIFUL.  It looked exactly as I remembered it.  Inlaid tile, gold accents, colorful exterior with bay windows.  Yet somehow I didn’t remember it being so gorgeous.  Of course Mom had to live there.  How much did she love me, bringing me to live in this amazing apartment?!

It’s raining. Inside. No big deal.

One of the things I just had to do on this trip was visit the Tonga Room.   This is a world-famous Tiki bar located in the bottom of a hotel just a few blocks from my old apartment.  Mom used to take me there for virgin pina coladas and fried won tons.  It rains inside, complete with thunder and lightening.  The band comes out on that boat in that pool.  My 11-year-old self thought this was all amazing.  Okay, let’s be real, my 45-year-old self also thought it was pretty cool.  And she drank a real pina colada.  I’m very happy in this photo.  More because of the rain than because of the rum.

San Francisco skyline from the ferry.

And then there’s the Bay.   Oh how I love the Bay.  We took a bus to Muir Woods (a place I’d actually never been before) because my colleague wanted to do that.  It was gorgeous too, and we had the option to take the ferry back from Sausalito.  Ummm…is this even a question?  Yes.  Ferry.  The wind!  The skyline!  The bridge!  Definitely a wonderful experience.  I actually stepped away by myself for most of the ride and stood by the rail to really soak it all in, and I bawled most of the time.   I cried for how amazing it all was and how grateful I am that my mother gave me this experience then, and that my life brought me back there now.

Some things never change!

We landed at Fisherman’s Wharf, another favorite place of mine as a child.  We docked at Pier 41, just a hop, skip, and jump from Pier 39, my home away from home back in the day.  Sadly the arcade had been replaced with a Bubba Gump.  Whatever.   It was still as much fun as I’d remembered, full of tourist trappy shops and complete with the silly sea lions barking at the far end.

I’ll tell you a little secret, if you promise not to tell anyone else.  Because I think this part is probably illegal.  I took a little baggie full of Mom’s ashes with me on this trip.  I thought it was fitting that a tiny bit of her stay forever in this magical place that began her California journey.  I sprinkled her into the Bay, and it was so beautiful the way she swirled and danced into the water.  I stood there and cried like a baby as I watched her drift away into the waves.  Then, get this, a mother and daughter came up to me and asked me to take their picture.  They felt bad when I turned around and they saw I was crying.  But I told them, absolutely, yes!  What a perfect way to end my little ceremony, to take a picture of a smiling mother and daughter enjoying their day by the bay, just as Mom and I had done so many times so long ago.

The View (!!) from the bar above our hotel.

Several people wondered if I would stay in San Francisco when they found out I was taking this trip.  It’s not a silly question.  I’ll admit, I had several moments of deep reflection on this journey, asking myself if I belonged back in this incredible city again, and a lot of times the answer was yes.  I really did feel at home there, and there are a lot of aspects of SF that truly fit my philosophy more than the Midwest does.  Thankfully that slightly scary evening downtown fell on our last night in the city, and I decided I was ready to come home to Missouri.  But I will happily go back again to the City by the Bay where I left my heart, and a tiny little bit of my mom.


1 thought on “I Left My Heart in San Francisco

  1. Beautiful Janet. Your mom was an amazing spirit. I always wished I had some of her wonderlust in my life. Glad you are breathing her spirit in. HUGS! – Kathy

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