I did leave my heart in San Francisco, part III

After devouring our soup and the beer I decided to tempt fate and I threw a hunk of bread to the loitering gulls. That quickly got a little creepy with gulls materializing out of the wharves. We picked up and took off. After a bit more wandering, we found the ticket desk for the ferry over to Sausalito, discovered we’d missed a boat by about 10 minutes (why did I waste that time with the birds??) and bought tickets for the next one.

After studying the schedule some more, we realized that if we went over, we wouldn’t get back until 6:30. Gary Snyder was reading at 7:00 and we’d be damn lucky if we could get up there by 7:00… I’d been thinking we should be there by 6:00 to make sure we got in. After weighing it all out, we decided that forward was the only direction to point ourselves so we would still go to Sausalito and what would happen would happen later on.

The ferry ride to Sausalito was brilliant because we got to see so much of the bay. The boat went right by Alcatraz Island, one of those destinations that is pretty cool but so commericalized and popular that both Katie and my natural instincts were to skip it. It was still cool to see the rocky prison jutting out of the bay. It must have been strange for the citizens of San Francisco to have that prison, with the worst of the worst housed inside, always in plain view and never seeming that far away. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for the inmates to be able to see the inviting hills of Marin County, the jumping city of San Francisco, or the golden gate with the great blue sea beyond it all from their prison, with little hope of ever leaving its shores again. Who knows, maybe they couldn’t even see outside of the walls all that much.

Once we reached the other side of the bay, we made one stop at another port before docking at Sausalito. Marin County over there is pretty but surreal with rough, brown hills dropping into the hostile bay waters, and with giant mansions –all so very, very unique– like salt and pepper on the hills.

The ferry dropped us in sausalito and we knew we were happy to be there, but we didn’t know much about the town aside from that my dad had said we should go to the No Name Bar and get an Irish Coffee and “think of” him. A lady in a visitor’s booth pointed us down the block to where the bar was and we made our way there. The town is small and immaculate. Maybe I compare every posh, medium-sized town to Stillwater, but I feel safe calling Sausalito the bay-side version of my hometown, for what it’s worth. The thing about Sausalito was that there were far less 17 year old punks driving SUVs than there are in Stillwater these days, but maybe they have better places to hang out over in the city.

The No Name Bar was a cozy place. A cool and damp and breeze had come up outside, the sky had grayed over, and the waitress said that it seemed like that had driven everybody inside. There were some locals at the bar… a few twenty-somethings drinking martinis and apparently partying pretty hard for a Monday afternoon, and a couple of pony-tailed guys who looked like dope-slinging loggers but reminded me of the marin county crew seen in the movie Homegrown for some reason. Holdouts of the sixties, but the decades since had stripped their naivette and made them into warm-blooded members of the human race. My dad had told us that back in the day, the No Name Bar really didn’t have a name, that it was just identified by a small neon martini glass. Today, it’s officially the No Name Bar and to my dad, that’s a sad commentary on something. We had Irish Coffees (Katie got one with Kaluha and whatnot in it) and split a sandwich and some popcorn.

After warming up, we wanted to see what else Sausalito was all about so we went back on the street. We walked past some really expensive-looking art and gift shops and then wandered up into the hills above. The town starts with main street at the bottom and then is a vast jumble of funky (and expensive) houses up above. We walked up and up and up for quite a while. The streets were quiet, there were lots of unusual-to-us trees, and at one point we looked down into a row of houses (because they all face toward the ocean, it’s their backsides that face the street) and saw a man sitting in his bathtub, window open, glass of wine in hand. Props to that guy.

We went back down to Main Street via a steep sidewalk that actually had a street name, though I don’t recall what it was now. It made for a very good place to have a kiss. The ferry ride back to the city was cold and we were tired. I got a cup of hot tea for katie and coffee for myself and it gave us a little boost.

When we docked back in San Francisco we knew we were running late to get back to City Lights. We had to walk several blocks to the cable car terminal, then we had to wait a good 15 minutes to get on the car. We were determined though. When we got off the cable car by North Beach, we decided to take a different route to the bookstore. Again, it kind of sneaked up on us and we stumbled around the corner to find the bookstore packed to the gills (and earlier in the day I’d been telling myself, ‘Well, it’s a Monday night, maybe he reads here all the time, it might not be that packed…’). There were about 10-15 people on the sidewalk outside and a sign on the door that said, “Sorry, we are at maximum legal capacity.” Shit. Shit shit shit.

We peeked in one of the plate glass windows and could just barely see Snyder through the books. We were bummed. We’d been in a state of happy disbelief all day because we were going to see Gary Snyder read and now it looked like we wouldn’t even hear his voice. We joined a few people waiting by the door and stayed there.

After a while, some people left the store and they let a couple of the people standing with us in. We stayed by the door. Some more people left. They let us in.

We had to stand by the cash register, so we weren’t even in the same room as the poet, we couldn’t see him and could barely hear him. But everyone stood very, very quietly and we listened. Katie and I had to stand a little bit apart so I think we both slipped into our own meditative places, drifting in and out of holding onto Snyder’s words. I don’t remember what all he said or read. He read some very good poems from his new book, Danger on Peaks, and he told some dharma-rambling stories about a visit to South Korea that he had recently taken.

(ah yeah, there was this dick who stood outside the door and yelled and yelled about this place being the bastion of free speech and they wouldn’t even let him in to hear “the beat poet” and wasn’t that a bunch of horseshit and the ever curt city lights employee stepped outside and said, ‘would you shut up?’ and went back in and the guy kept yelling, throwing a real hissy fit about how he works and raises money all day to protect free speech and now these fascists wouldn’t even let him in to hear “the beat poet” and it went on like that for a while. Whenever he was yelling, no one in the area we were standing could hear gary snyder. Finally the cashier went outside and talked to him and the guy really wanted the cashier to throw a punch at him but the cashier asked him if he let him in if he’d shut up and the guy said “of course” so he let him in and then he had to be quiet because we were all still being really quiet and it was really uncomfortable for him and as soon as snyder was done reading he sneaked back out the door and disappeared meekly into the night)

(oh, and while snyder was answering questions lawrence fucking ferlinghetti and a couple other people came down the ladder-like stairs by the front door from the office upstairs and he slipped out the door too)

And now comes the good part.

After he read, Gary answered a few questions (the best was “who do you think are some of the best poets today” and he could just say that that was kind of broad and really to get him started you’d have to narrow it down to like “who are some of the best poets today standing in this room?” but they narrowed it down to women poets and he praised several female poets).

Then everyone applauded and a lot of the people left the store. Katie and I finally got into the bookstore proper and got in line to greet him. Katie realized she had her copy of “The Back Country” in her bag, a stroke of brilliance, and we eagerly stood in the slow-moving line. In front of us was Jim, a pony-tailed fella in his fifties. We asked if he was from around here and he said, “No, I’m from Santa Barbara” and we had to explain that was ‘around here’ to us because we were from Minnesota.

Then we met the guy behind us, Paul, who was a big guy probably in his forties who we talked to for much of the time while we waited. He was a great, warm figure and totally welcoming and jazzed that we were on our honeymoon and he had driven all the way down from Seattle just for this event and here we had just wandered in on a stroke of luck. He had left his native missouri in 1980, aged twenty years old, when he read The Dharma Bums and realized “there were people doing that kind of thing out there” and what the hell was he doing in St. Louis. So he moved to Seattle and has been there since and climbs Rainier occasionally. One of those guys with lots of interesting stuff to say but incredibly interested to get at what interesting things we had to say too. He also had pretty bad breath.

Then, it was our turn. Katie got to him first and joked with him if he could sign just one more. I stood there and smiled. Paul’s buddy was taking our picture with our camera. Paul told Gary that we were there on honeymoon. We were laughing, Gary was laughing but the whole time seemed a little disoriented and tired. Other people were taking our picture with their cameras, don’t ask me why. Katie shook his hand when he had signed her book and then I tried to shake his hand but I don’t know if he heard me, finally he grabbed my right hand with his left and we kind of clapsed for a moment and then we were done.

We slipped right out the door, regrettably. I don’t know why we didn’t stop to chat with Paul some more. We were starving and went across the street to a Chinese place that Jim had said was pretty good and we got some food. Jim and his wife came in after a minute and said ‘Hi’ and then went to the other side of the restaurant. There was another table of kids nearby that had obviously been there and they were talking excitedly. We ate food, I hardly remember what now. I kind of did a funny salute to Jim from across the restaurant as we stood up to leave, he waved too, and then we stepped outside and away from that magic.

The night was wet and a slow drizzle dripped from the sky. We opened the umbrella and walked back to the cable car stop. We had to wait on that corner for a while, the rain splatting on our umbrella, and finally we got onto the dark and quiet car for the ride back to our little orange room in San Francisco.

3 thoughts on “I did leave my heart in San Francisco, part III

  1. Pingback: Stay together, learn the flowers, go light | Greg Seitz

  2. Dad

    Lovely, Greg. I enjoyed every word of it. I’m sure you appreciate what a once-in-a-lifetime experience, that was: San Francisco, City Lights, one of the great bookstores of the world, meeting Gary Snyder and even getting a glimpse of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, all on your honeymoon. Honeymoons are always special, but that had to make yours extra special.

    P.S. Not having a name at all is way cooler than naming a place No Name. That’s cheesy. And it wasn’t a neon cocktail glass; it was just a drawing of a cocktail glass.

    P.S. You wrote this in ’04. Where are Parts I and II?

  3. Dad

    I don’t want to belabor the point, but when the no name bar didn’t have a name you considered yourself hip for knowing it was a bar. When they officially named it The No Name Bar and said so on a sign out front it became just another bar. The mystique was removed.

    It’s the little things in life, Greg.

Comments are closed.