North Beach: The bipolar district of San Francisco
“Where’s your writing section?” I asked the clerk as he folded his pancake stack of infant “Howl” onesies. Without looking up he replied, “downstairs in our ‘Writer’s tools’ section.” Halfway expecting a flask of cheap whiskey, cigarettes, and a typewriter — I walked downstairs to find just about 50 or so specific and well-thought out books on a shelf in the right corner of the basement floor.
every time you attempt to take a picture of someone they shove their business cards into your bag to send them their "shots."
City Lights Bookstore, where Allen Ginsberg and the rest of the beatniks of the 1950s hung around – is a good representation of the current 2013 North Beach district. You want to hate it, with its bullshit ploy tactics to attract tourists and its yuppie store workers, but then you keep walking around. You begin to notice how the walls echo as you walk down oak wood steps. You begin to think about how Jack Kerouac’s voice must have echoed even louder through these walls than your current footsteps. You begin to think about the movement, the history that went down on these very floors during the bohemian era of the 50’s. You start to think about the whispers, the conversations, and the rants debunking the social norm. At this point its 1955 and Allen Ginsberg just performed his now famous “Howl” speech and the air is impregnated with change and individualism. You begin to just about hyperventilate when a 20-something dirty blonde next to you taps you on the shoulder bringing you back to 2013, because you accidentally stepped on her custom Italian leather riding boots.
Just like that you are back from being completely engrossed in the history found in North Beach to pretending not to notice how every time you attempt to take a picture of someone they shove their business cards into your bag to send them their “shots.”
I doubt any of them “checked in” or tagged themselves or updated their status about it. No one came up to me and told me what they ate or lack thereof.
I got off the 52 bus at Union and Columbus to find myself at Washington Square Park where allegedly you can periodically find parrots above the trees. I came for the parrots, but stayed for the health-conscious, middle-aged Asian men and women. Most were in a led group of fan twirling and steady, controlled movements, but others were simply on their own and quietly stretching. I feel like there really is something to be said about the independent nature of these men and women who come out to this park and silently better themselves. For example I doubt any of them “checked in” or tagged themselves or updated their status about it. No one came up to me and told me what they ate or lack thereof. They are here, in the middle of this park, in what seems like the center of North Beach – off the grid.
This was probably not the first time I ate bread as a meal (definitely wasn’t) but this was the first time it felt justified. I went to Liguria Bakery, which has and only uses a 100-year-old oven. And to be honest, that’s all it really has in there. You have to walk past “Mama’s” restaurant on Filbert St., with their line wrapping around the corner filled with “yuppies” in their finest button downs and Northface jackets, and you’ll finally spot Liguria across the street with its faded sign and Niners sign in the corner of their window display. You walk in to see the owner, who is the Italian grandmother you never had, and a couple other men and women talking shop and gossip. You stand behind an elderly man who you soon realize is not in line, “Oh, you’re next. You’re in front” he tells you as you shift yourself to a sign most-likely printed 100 years ago when they bought the oven that displays about a dozen different kinds of focaccia bread, which truly gave meaning to “don’t half ass a bunch of things, full ass one thing.” North Beach is still full of these “Mom and Pop” cafes and restaurants, as long as you walk past the “Mamas” out there.
Coit Tower views:
There is some sort of disconnect found in North Beach between the new school and old. With every City Lights, there is a new “flying book” installation on Broadway, for every Liguira Bakery, there is a “Mama’s” across the street, for every Cafe Triste where “The Godfather” was written, there is some douche barista working there. North Beach is the land of parallels. But then when you least expect it you find yourself on a solemn, reflective bench in Washington Square Park or overhearing the kids playing at Garfield Elementary near Coit Tower as you look down Telegraph Hill and you silence the old as well as the new and for that quick, fleeting minute you live in the present.