Tag Archives: travel writing

The Official Snotting Black Guide to Loving San Francisco

san francisco twin peaks san francisco state university USF1. Love at first sight isn’t real. That’s true with humans, parakeets, human-parakeet relations, and cities. You think you know a city but then it starts raining and housing is hard to find and strangers talk to you while you’re in line for the bus. Give yourself space to find the reasons you love the city for yourself. Or go back home to Oklahoma.

2. The city will be just like you thought it would: hilly, tree-ridden, and expensive. Rejoice in the fact you knew what you were doing when you came here. Make sure your confidence level is as high as possible.

3. The city will be nothing like you thought it would be: you had no idea what you were getting into, people take themselves too seriously or not seriously enough, and it turns out that dreams don’t come true automatically with geographical relocation. Beginning with a surfeit of confidence, however, was the best way to beat your bird-brained assumptions out of you.

4. You can make it work. Believe this despite the fact that no one will blame you if you fail or decide to move away or change course. Maybe that’s what you should do anyways–you shouldn’t rule it out at least. It’s hard out here, but people make it work every day. You can too.

5. Attitude changes everything. Either you’re stuck in a job you don’t like or you’re getting the skills you need to move on to something better. Either you’re stuck with a cat at home or you’re learning how to love felines in order to relate to your cat-loving boyfriend. There’s always a lining to the cloud, but you choose what it’s made out of.

6. Everything your parents and your pre-calc teacher told you was right. You need skills. You need to be able to offer something valuable to someone. You need an income and somewhere to live after your friends get tired of you squatting in or around their apartments.

7. Everything your parents and your pre-calc teacher told you was wrong. I’m still trying to figure this one out, but I’m pretty sure it’s true.

8. Be prepared to talk to people either about their dogs or about food. It’s the surest way to the San Francisco resident’s heart. Be sure to call it “Frisco.” Locals love that, almost as much as they love instant coffee. (The last two sentences were jokes.)

9. Learn the secrets of the city, the way things look at night or from the tops of hills, the vistas you earn through inner thigh sweat, the places that everyone says are good but actually aren’t (I’m looking at you Bi-rite ice cream). In this way, you can make the city your own.

10. Don’t be afraid to be who you are, even if that means using a flip phone and eating McDonald’s soft serve ice cream occasionally. Singularity (both kinds) is what San Francisco’s supposed to be about, I think, so don’t go changing to try to please it.

11. Remember it’s all going to burn anyways.

What are your secrets to loving your city?

If you liked this blog post, you might also like: I’m not a local, but then again who is and Finally, a Bachelorette Party that Celebrates Pain, Confusion, and Fear and The Oatmeal that Changed My Life

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San Francisco: the 9th Circle of Hell

san_francisco_cold_winterDante sets out on quite the spectacular journey in The Divine Comedy. His buddy Virgil leads him through the onion-like trappings of the universe beginning with hell and ending in Paradise. He meets a whole pack of interesting characters on the way, and even talks to a girl!

Dante learns a great many things about the metaphysical world, but this blog post is mostly concerned with the temperature of the 9th circle of hell. For those who haven’t read it, this circle is not a fire pit with little devils poking bare-bummed sinners with pitch forks. It’s frozen solid, and at the very epicenter, Satan is frozen mid-waist, eternally munching on Brutus, Cassius, and Judas in his three mouths. It’s pretty gruesome but not unlike what’s going on in San Francisco this winter.

It’s freezing here. I’m talking walk-in freezer temperatures, the kind of environment conducive to housing animal carcasses and supermodels. At night, I wear all my clothes to bed and still wake up shivering. I go to restaurants and find them cold. I go to church and find it worse. At work, I huddle under a shawl like a widow and pray for the winter to end. My productivity suffers. How can I type if I can’t feel my fingers? How can I be a thought leader if my brain synapses are firing at the pace of cooled weed molasses (is that a thing)?

Some of you may be scoffing. Yes, the temperature is a seemingly mild 44 degrees, but San Francisco’s disgusting secret is that it never gets warm. Buildings are made out of Popsicle sticks and pipe-dreams, devoid of any kind of insulation that would make them inhabitable in temperatures below 60. Heaters were installed mostly for stylistic purposes, if at all, and it seems the average business owner doesn’t believe in turning them on for any reason whatsoever.

The chill sinks into the bones and stays there, making its home where once useful body cells now lie shivering against the walls in despair. In this rendition of hell, Satan is the Zynga dog eternally chewing on 3 members of the Big Four.

Dear Lord when will this end? How many techie geeks do we need to sacrifice? How many hippies? We have too many of both! What quantity of kombucha will save us from the never-ending ice? Just say the word and I’ll see if TaskRabbit can get it for You. Please oh please oh please.

Save us.

If you liked this blog post, you might also like: Notes I Took While Watching Your Date, Hi Everyone! I Changed My Profile Picture, or Watching Dogs Crap and Other Joys of Living in the City.

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Experimentation in Pastries at Craftsman & Wolves

craftsman and wolves the rebel within

the rebel within

Craftsman & Wolves is a new-ish bakery on Valencia St. It is not a carpentry supply store or a bizarre dance studio/cult. It’s one of those bakeries where it’s easy to be overcome with blind fear, the same fear a child experiences when they begin screaming after discovering they’re holding a stranger’s hand.

At first, everything looks delicious and I’m feeling confident.  I’m like, “Bakery….I know bakery. Bakery has cookie, has cake, has bread.” But then bakery turns out to have things called “the rebel within,” and “pain au cochon,” and a scone with “mango, ginger, coconut, and kaffir lime.” And when the woman helping boyfriend and me decide points to something and explains, “this is a financier,” I know that this is not the bakery of my homespun, capitalist youth (Panera).

Nevertheless, we persevere, wading through the muck of over-descriptive pastry names and decision-anxiety. We purchased one (1) brewed coffee, one (1) small latte, one (1) chocolate chip cookie, one (1) “rebel within,” and one (1) sesame passion fruit croissant. The total cost: a cool twenty (20) dollars. I wonder what my sister would say, the one that called $1 popcorn at the Wichita botanical garden “a rip-off.”

The place is packed and we’re forced to sit next to strangers. I’m not mad, I’m just telling it how it is.

We dig into the food, delicately placed on square ceramic plates that are clearly not from Ikea. The first surprise is that the rebel of “the rebel within” is a soft-boiled egg. BOOM. SURPRISE. The yoke is gooey and fairly delicious (if you like egg juice), adding to the flakey, hammy, biscuity, exterior. Unfortunately, the dough around the egg is a little raw, disappointing for a place that calls itself “a notion.”

The cookie was tantalizing, salty enough to make sure everyone knows there’s salt in it, and plenty of chocolate even for the women. It wasn’t doughy at all (though it was described as such by a review in 7×7), but I’d definitely stop back in on a day that I deserve a treat and dunk that mother-nucker in some Nescafe instant coffee (BRING ON THE BOOS! I FEED OFF YOUR HATRED!)

The third baked item, the croissant, was a little sad and dry. The flavor was good, but if I’d had a pat of softened butter or some edible lotion I would have moisturized the crap out of it.

Upon leaving Craftsman & Wolves, I knew I would probably return, if only for their carnitas and machengo mac and cheese. It was fairly tasty and certainly interesting. Maybe next time I’ll get something even more inscrutable, like a buckwheat, concord grape, and peanut butter cube cake.  Just try to figure that one out.

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Oh Travel, Why Are You So Magical?

A carnival around the bend? Only one way to find out.

It’s the feeling of being between two places, a temporary state, what an ice cube feels right before it becomes liquid, where nothing I do is real and when I walk into a gas station and I know I’m on a different plane than those around me, moving in between them and above and below them but not with them, and the candy bars even taste different when I’m traveling. Tomorrow I’ll be gone, but Mr. Gorman will still be here, restocking the Snickers.

I get on a bus and go somewhere I didn’t intend to be, somewhere no one knows or expects me. I’m disrupting the time-space continuum. My body in this place wasn’t supposed to happen, but here I am. Maybe my past self, one time when I was going through the laundry room in Oklahoma, made a decision to go to Target that day and that made all the difference, so now here I am, in the present, and I’m in a city I’ve never heard of, just wandering the streets and thinking that life here is much more interesting than it actually is, feeling the world is very fragile and that gravity is the only thing holding me down.

The most exciting time of travel is on the train, when I’m not anywhere at all. I’m not in point A. I’m not in point B. I’m drinking a coffee and I am option C. This is like time that was carved out of the real world, sealed up and made into railroad cars, and in this moment I can do nothing besides travel. As the world flies by my window, maybe I’ll daydream about point B or reminisce over point A or read that book I’ve been lugging around with me. Maybe I’ll draw.

I can’t draw. I’m awful at it. The only things I can make are psychedelic doodles with rigid aesthetic rules that I don’t fully understand, so maybe I’ll do that for a while and it doesn’t matter because I don’t exist right now. My computer’s off. My phone doesn’t work in this country. My friends are on my left and my right and in front of me, so maybe the whole world is right here.

At this moment, here in the train, anything is possible. It is the moment of greatest potential. When we reach point B, we could meet a roving band of musicians, or a documentary film maker, or a group of college students who like to dress up in 80’s clothes and go out dancing on Monday nights. We might sit in a café and pay too much for coffee and remark on how fashion is or isn’t different here, and how fanny packs (bumbags) really should (or shouldn’t) come back. We might see an opera, if it’s free, or start up a conversation with a mustachioed gentleman.

Everything will happen and we’ll see fireworks and run along the canals and laugh in the sun and shade and generally agree that life has never been better.

From the train, Point B seems like paradise and ultimate freedom, which are the same.

The train makes this world possible. The in-between gives finite points meaning. Stopping makes traveling worthwhile, but the transience makes it magical.

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Why Bluegrass Night is Unlike Other Nights

A real picture taken by a real person (nokapixel on flikr) of bluegrass night at Amnesia in the Mission

It’s a Monday night in San Francisco and about one month ago I ironed patches onto my skinny jeans to stave away the quite serious hole progression in the upper thigh area. The patches are not the same color as my jeans and they are huge. Are they a fashion statement? Are they hideous? It doesn’t matter. I can sit cross-cross-apple-sauce in them without exposing myself, and it’s bluegrass night and my boots are on.

For me, bluegrass night is also improv lesson night, and while we play games and learn to forget our inhibitions, my boots have a mind of their own, stompin’ and gearin’ up for the pluckin’ and strummin’ of the folksy tunes we’re about to hear. Somehow, improv and bluegrass go together quite well, based as they both are in community and doing something for the love of the game.

And bluegrass night is unlike the other nights of the week, no matter how special they are. Other evenings don’t hold the same perspiration-scented twang that homespun bluegrass tunes carry, or the madness inherent in the wild twitches of the banjo player’s hand. Other nights have 20% less stomping, 38% less twirling, and 72% less “yips” and exclamations of yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-haw.

It’s a very present call to the past, an invocation of a time that may not have existed, a rootin’ tootin’ shindig.

At Amnesia, the bar that feels like the hull of a forgotten ship, which has an octopus in the corner and a selection of Belgian beers on tap and in the bottle, bluegrass draws them in. Some don’t understand what’s going on, don’t quite get the spirit or understand how to stomp and clap at the same time and which foot and which hands to use. Some are caught up in the stereotype. But the energy is contagious, the mixture of nostalgia and booze, the fire-spirited fiddle and plum-drum bass brewing the night’s mood.

Sway a little to the beat, pick up your feet and set them down, in rhythm. Don’t be afraid to believe in the myth, in the fields and the honky tonk and the sweet smell of hay and betrayed love. Because it’s bluegrass night, where the music is too good for pretention. It’s only simple if you let it be.

Grab a Maredsous, pick a partner and do-si-do, if you dare, or at least stand a little closer to the stage. Biting is for afterwards.

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