February 24, 2005

coming home

Dear California,

I love you. I love going running at Inspiration Point at sunset: I've been doing it at least three times a week for almost two months, and it never gets old. I hope it never does. I don't think it ever could. I can see the Bay to the west and the San Pablo reservoir on the east side of the hills, and the weather is different every time. The first time I went, there were thick bands of cloud that turned fiery colors as the sun went through them, and the Bay and the ocean beyond the gate sparkled. I've been when it's raining and the world feels full of secrets and growing things, and when there's not a cloud in the sky and the sun sets in glory beyond the Golden Gate. Tonight there was a layer of clouds across the whole landward side of the Bay Area, but the sun went down past them as I ran and turned the Bay golden. The hills are green right now, but I know I'll still love them in the summer when they turn golden-brown as the grass dies, and I will still love them as I'm watching the fog creep over the Bay.

I love that it's February and there's a full-blown rose on the arch above the steps, and the magnolias in the back yard are covered in flowers. I love that this summer, there will be the world's most amazing blackberries, and raspberries will cost 89 cents a half pint at the Berkeley Bowl. I love that Tilden Park has coyotes and hawks and baby newts and cows and people with babies and dogs. I love how drivers stop for pedestrians and pedestrians don't jaywalk and people line up in the subway before the train even gets there. I love Telegraph, even if it's commercial and stupid, and I love the gourmet ghetto, even if it's elitist, and I love the Mission, even when it's scary, which is less often than it used to be. I love all three bridges.

I love San Francisco, the city itself. Telegraph Hill is beautiful, because you can see so much, but the whole city and the East Bay are all full of places with beautiful views. Ocean Beach is full of surfers and swimmers and people walking along the beach, and I could sit at Land's End for hours watching the surf come up the rocks and the ships go out to sea and the sun go down past the keyhole rock. I have. I will. I love the city part of the city too. At City Lights, they tell you to have a seat and read whatever you want. The Pride Parade I went to was wild, a carnival of topless dykes on motorcycles and guys in assless leather chaps, firefighters and teachers and the local police and half the city. There's a bar I like at Valencia and Duboce, full of bike messengers and punks. Like every bar I've been to in San Francisco, it serves good beer. I love the city's stupid obsession with internet access, crepes, and sushi. I love that everything's painted light colors. I love how people dress - it's not like the East Coast, where everyone dresses up, but it's also not like the Midwest, where no one does. There are people in fancy clothes and people in sweatpants and lots of people who dress like me, but with better style.

And the East Bay. People in my neighborhood have lemon trees. There's a plum tree at the bottom of the stairs in my house. Everyone drives battered old cars, because the climate allows it. The Monterey Market has the best and cheapest produce I have ever seen in my life. They have things I've never heard of. Every library in Berkeley has a shelf full of books at 25 cents each, and one library will lend you tools, including a 30 pound electric demolition hammer and a piano dolly. The Albatross will lend you a board game to play while you drink your beer. All the houses in the Berkeley hills are different, and each one is surrounded by some perfect, riotous garden.

San Francisco isn't just San Francisco. It's the East Bay and Marin, and most of all it's all the beautiful places around it. Sometimes I think I should live in Bolinas, this tiny town near Point Reyes, so I could go walking and see pelicans circling below me along the side of the bluffs. Sometimes I think I should live in Big Sur. Any weekend that involves breakfast at Zachary's in Santa Cruz and a trip to the central coast is a good weekend. I could move to Big Basin. Or the Sierra. Or northern California, in with the redwoods.

The ocean makes me happier than I have words to express. Whenever I'm sad, I can, eventually, take a bus out to Land's End and sit on the rocks and look at it, and I will be happy again. I can feel it filling me up with its own kind of peace. The Pacific is wilder than the Atlantic. The coast is rockier, and sometimes you can't even get to it - you just stand at the top of the cliff looking at the waves smashing into the cove, and the waterfall coming down to meet it. I could watch the sun set over the Pacific every night and never get tired of it.

I know I have no right to be here. There are too many people here anyway: 35 million and counting. LA is worse, but there are too many people living in northern California too. We're going to wreck this place I love if some of us don't give up on living here. That's not why I'm leaving. I'm leaving because my friends aren't here, because I have promises to keep 3000 miles away, because much as I want to be here - the only place I've ever been where I wanted to live in the place itself - it's not home. Not yet. Maybe some day.

I love you, California. If I come back, will you still be here?