Recently I attended a going away party for a friend. At the age of 52, Karen is heading for New York City. She’s given up her wonderful Potrero Hill apartment with its city and Bay views and is moving to a ground-floor, furnished sublet on the corner of 145th and St. Nicolas Avenue in the middle of Harlem. The company she writes for, Dance Magazine, is leaving Oakland and finally putting down roots in Manhattan. It makes sense, I suppose. Still, I’m going to miss her.
A part of me is envious. To pull up stakes at our age, to start over in a city arguably one of the most exciting in the world... well, sometimes I think I’d like to do that too. Then I hear stories of the recent blackout, the continued repercussions of 9/11, the price of an almost mandatory pair of pointy, uncomfortable shoes and I wonder. Maybe I don’t want to move there after all.
The young daughter of a friend of mine is going to school at Barnard, located at Broadway and 116th Street in Manhattan. She called home recently and told her Dad, “You know, it’s so horribly hot and muggy here, it feels like I’m walking around in a big ball of phlegm.” A rather graphic description, but, hey, I’ve been there and it does feel like that sometimes.
But I envy Karen for making such a significant change in her life when others might not do so out of habit or fear of the unknown. I know it won’t be easy. She might get lonely. Her feet will start to hurt if she buys a pair of Manolo Blahnics. There will be things about the Bay Area she’s going to miss, like Trader Joes, good coffee, soft tacos and earthquakes. We tried not to point this out to her during our get together, but it was hard not to mention the sound of the cable cars, the amazing light at sunset, the sea breeze, the fog, the Transamerica Building.
At the end of the party one of our friends, Doug, pulled out his 35-year-old, six-string Martin guitar and serenaded us.
“I left my heart in San Francisco,” he softly crooned, “high on a hill, it calls to me.
“To be where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars, the morning fog may chill the air, I don’t care.”
Karen began to sob and the rest of us wiped away tears as Doug continued, “My love waits there in San Francisco, above the blue and windy sea. When I come home to you, San Francisco, your golden sun will shine for me.”
Slowly we rose from our seats, gave Karen a hug and made her promise that she would come back and visit soon. My friend Martha and I headed for the Bay Bridge but all the onramps were blocked by police cars and red flares. We learned that the highway and bridge had been shut down by a dangerous truck fire. We scooted around the city, but finally realized that the only way home was to drive south on Interstate 101 to the San Mateo Bridge. The roads were jammed with everyone else who was trying to make it back to the East Bay.
Two hours later, weary and frustrated, I arrived home. The fog had beat me across the Bay, of course, and my little house on Dover Street was engulfed in a blanket of misty, sparkling gauze. It was nothing like the big ball of phlegm my friend’s daughter had described as sometimes covering New York City. I realized that I was more than just happy to be home in the East Bay. I was positively grateful.