Once upon a time, before my family moved to Texas, we lived in a small suburb of the California Bay Area. My dad rode the subway to his San Francisco office every morning, but we rarely visited San Francisco as a family. The big city was like a distant next door neighbor. So close, yet so far.
I explored San Francisco through the experiences of other people. When my dad came home from work, I hugged him and breathed in the scent of the city stuck to his clothes: a fragrant mix of ocean spray, corporate coffee, and printer paper. My mama told me bedtime stories about how she fell in love with my dad as soon as she landed at the airport, and fell in love with San Francisco as soon as she hit the streets. History class taught me about the San Francisco Gold Rush, Dragonwings showed me what it’s like to live in Chinatown, and The Pursuit of Happyness changed how I look at subway stations forever.
Since I rarely visited when I was young, I didn’t think of San Francisco as a city. No, San Francisco was a collection of stories.
I moved to SF eight weeks ago. When I was looking for a place to live, I stumbled upon a Craigslist ad that said, “How would you like to sleep in a big, brass bed? Gay senior has furnished room available in Victorian flat.”
I visited the gay senior’s home, which he built with his bare hands over 50 years ago. The interior was filled with non-IKEA furniture, and there was a meditation garden, gazebo, and three redwoods in the backyard. Forest elves stalked me as I made my way around the cottage that barely had working WiFi.
At the end of the tour, we sat down at the coffee table, and he told me his life story in scattered vignettes. We flipped through an old photo album of faded pictures, and he introduced me to his former partners and pets. His voice was frail, but his eyes shone with excitement.
I didn’t end up signing the lease with that gentleman (there wasn’t a Burger King in the neighborhood, and that was a deal breaker for me), but that lovely encounter set the tone for my life in SF: full of wonder, surprises, and stories that I can’t wait to tell.
On the beach, sea foam and small dogs chase after my heels. During dim sum picnics in the park, the wind picks off layers of BBQ pork pastry like flower petals, and sends the flakes through the air. I smile at fellow hikers in the morning, and rub elbows with live music lovers at night. Church bells ring, electric trolleys chirp, and sea lions bark.
I’m so blessed to live here among friends. Friends who do impromptu spine exams at cherry blossom festivals. Friends who cancel bar hopping plans to search for a missing wallet on a pitch-black beach. Some invite me to intimate house warming parties with Mexican pastries and egg salad, and others greet me at the door with a shot of afternoon whiskey. We tell love stories on roof tops, popcorn read sensual poetry on the street, and rehearse stand-up comedy sets in Ubers. Our discussions revolve around our biggest dreams and insecurities, our personal brands, and choosing between going for a “soak” or a “dip” in the hot tub.
I haven’t lived in this city or known these strangers for very long, but I feel like I belong. Texas may have its southern charm, but California will always be home.
During my second week in the Bay Area, before I even moved to SF, the most historic restaurant of Fisherman’s Wharf invited @rogerlamchop to an all-you-can-eat crab fest because of my “influence and following in the Bay Area’s culinary scene”. That same week, a friend and I bought tickets for two concerts in the summer, as if we somehow knew we would still be friends by then. Spoiler alert, the concerts are now only three weeks away, and we don’t hate each other yet.
When it came time for me to make the big move from my Mountain View AirBnB to my SF apartment, I was mentally prepared to lug three suitcases onto the train and figure things out from there. Instead, a Canadian coworker who was in town for training picked me up, shoved my whole life into his rental car, and drove the 35 miles to my new home. That same day, I met up with “The Dog Walking Club”, my first group of friends in California. We ate chicken wings outside of a Starbucks and went on a casual eight mile walk.
After yearning for this city all my life, I can finally experience the sights and sounds of SF first-hand. I used to think that SF was a collection of stories, but it’s actually so much more.
San Francisco is a pop-up book. It’s colorful, dynamic, and irresistible. I can taste the wind and hear the mountains. The beaches and sloped streets are full of people who I can learn from and play with.
I don’t post many Instagram Stories because photos don’t do this place justice. A 280 character Twitter post won’t suffice either. I would much rather embrace every moment with my phone in my pocket, and my hand over my mouth. I want to wholeheartedly capture these sensations and memories so that I may one day share them with my children over hushed voices and dimmed lights. Or maybe when I’m retired and live in a pink Victorian home facing the ocean, I’ll publish a Craigslist ad: “Visit San Francisco’s first pop-up book library. Open to the public. Warning: old man may ramble about his beautiful life.”
Thanks for being good to me during my first two months, SF.