Saturday, March 1, 2014

San Francisco, Part I: a dream deferred

“Up and Down the Samish” was a column I wrote for a local paper, The Argus.  I was “hired” to write about clean water, but my very cool editor would occasionally give me some creative latitude.  This post and the one next week were published in the Argus in October and November 2010 and are reprinted here with the permission of the owner.

Ok … here we go …  

“San Francisco – The Dream”

The fog comes on little cat feet…” a poem about San Francisco, right?  It turns out that Carl Sandburg wrote that memorable line about Chicago. Nonetheless, when I read the rest of the short poem: “It sits looking over the harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on,” I hear Tony Bennett singing softly in the background about where he left his heart: San Francisco.

 I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley in the middle of California, so my family made numerous treks to San Francisco in the 1950s. We took visiting relatives to have crab at Fisherman’s Wharf and then across the Golden Gate Bridge for clam chowder in a funky place called Sausalito.

One of my favorite trips, with just my mom, was to see “West Side Story” which opened in some theater where the seats were plush and the screen was huge. When we came out to the street, walking to our car, I can still remember the absolute exhilaration I felt at the energy exuded by thecity. I felt it pulsing through me, and decided at that very moment, I would make this magical place my home when I was old enough.

But I got derailed, and wound up in Alabama for several years, before I managed to make my way back to the West Coast and Washington, where I’ve lived for so long, I feel like a native.

One real regret, at the banishment to Huntsville when I really had my sights set on San Francisco, is leaving California before I was old enough to have a martini at The Top of the Mark. In the fifties and sixties, to some kid in the middle of farm country, that was classy: sitting at a table by the window, above the stacks of city buildings with the harbor beyond, sipping that romantic drink – either with an olive or a twist. I hadn’t yet decided.

They didn’t have any hippies in Alabama, so I missed all that, as well. No Free Love South of the Mason Dixon line. Instead, there were drinking fountains and bathrooms labeled “colored.” And most of the restaurants had reserved signs on the sea of empty tables, to ensure the color of their clientele.

Much has changed in fifty years. All those ugly signs are gone; schools are integrated; we even have a black president. What hasn’t changed is that I’ve never had that mystical martini at the Mark Hopkins Hotel.

Time has a way of slipping by. We get caught up in family and work and daily struggles. Even when we travel, some of us don’t slow down and take the time to make those old but never forgotten dreams come true.

Why do we let those dreams slip through our fingers? Surely there has to be some way to set aside a bit of time for dreams, regardless of the hub-bub of our lives. How foolish we are to believe that feeling indispensable hides the cloak of mortality we all wear.

My daughter, Lis, interrupted my lamenting about lost dreams by calling and telling me she ordered two round-trip first class tickets to San Francisco International.
“We’re going,” she said. “Enough about this dream of yours. Time to stop dreaming and start packing.”

My assignment was to find us a place to stay.

She was right, of course. My bunnies (and the dang cat) can do without me for a few days. The Husband might not even notice I’m gone … except for the quiet that will settle over the place.

I surely will enjoy that first sip of an icy cold martini, with extra olives on the side. And then, “… while watching the fog inch through the Gate,” like Mr. Sandburg did in his later years, maybe I, too, will tell some nice waiter at Top o’ the Mark: “It doesn’t come in on little cat feet after all, does it?"

1 comment:

  1. Oh, Dorothy, this brings back so many memories of a magical summer in 1961 when I was blessed to be able to spend part of my 10th year on this planet with my 28-year old sister and her husband. I was their summer child for many years and went to so many wonderful places. They lived in Mountain View. We visited San Francisco many times and I really did leave my heart there and the surrounding area. I remember all the things you mentioned. Like you, I did not get up to the Top of the Mark, although I'm sure my sister and her husband must have gone several times in the two years they lived there. Thanks for the memories...
    And I eventually ended up in Alabama. Odd, isn't it?