There’s a quality that places I like have in common, and that is gratitude when the going is good. In Boston, I saw it in the pale, uncovered bodies that would starfish across the grass in the Boston Common and the Public Garden when the sun emerged and the temperature began its first languorous reach toward 60 degrees. It happens in Seattle too – the weather gets juuuuust good enough, and there’s suddenly a preponderance of sunbathers in Cal Anderson and kayakers in Lake Union.
San Francisco has it easier than us in the winter, I think (or it did in the very last days of it last weekend), but even if this day wasn’t remarkable, it was sure as shit seized. Look at that. When we first walked up to Dolores Park, I looked around for the stage, because I’ve never seen a park crowd like this that wasn’t summoned by some kind of music festival. But no: it was sun, and blankets, and picnics, and the joy of being a bit stoned under the sun (overheard: “Could I light my joint off your joint?”), and the very real pleasure of being in a small grassy area with a bunch of people who came there for the same reason as you.
Here’s my park plan for you, which I recommend because it worked for me. Set out into the city, aiming for burritos. Get waylaid when you pass, by happenstance, an HONEST-TO-GOD ZINE STORE. Buy the new Optic Nerve and a copy of Murder Can Be Fun, restricting yourself to that for the sake of next month’s rent. Keep on going; get in a long line for a burrito at Taqueria Pancho Villa. Be very very clear if you don’t want meat – and you probably only need a baby burrito, not a regular one. Take that and your quickly sweaty cup of horchata (or bottle of Jarritos, if you swing that way) and wander to Dolores Park.
Gasp at the crowds, and spend a long moment wondering if maybe you should find some other grassy incline to recline on in some less-popular park. Spot a shady patch under some shedding palm trees; go for it. Smile at the bold woman in the bikini and the fuchsia party hat. (Later, you’ll see her in that same getup in the portapotty line; your amusement will be replaced by concern.) Smile at the guy sitting, clad all in black in the full sun, playing the quietest accordion in the world, like he was transported from 1920s France, but his sound was left behind.* Say no thank you to the well-shod woman in the black-and-white dress who offers you brownies from her basket. (Your companion may chide you for telling the woman selling pot brownies to go away, so don’t answer too fast.) Discuss how curiously European the whole scene is, down to the unconcealed alcohol. It’s all so very civilized.
I hadn’t been to San Francisco in about three-and-a-half years; too long, and I forgot (or never fully discovered) just how much I like it there and why. For me, it has the variety and intensity of New York with the, I don’t know, West Coastiness of the West Coast. Ambition and groundedness. Or so it seemed on the Muni as I spent my time staring at people, as I always do.
That afternoon, we saw men with tiny dogs, and we saw families with children who will grow up to be weird and worthwhile. Young women in full flower having very good days that will warm them in their dotage. A woman in a stellar brown dress selling cookies (“Pot-free,” she quickly assured us) and Rice Krispy treats from a basket.** And this guy:
So far as I’m concerned, this guy is freaking Merlin. He brought his bag… of rainbow ukuleles… to Dolores Park… for all to purchase and enjoy. Canonize this man.
So go to Dolores Park. Or go to Cal Anderson Park, Volunteer Park, Central Park, Forest Park. The beach. Find a warm-enough day and go outside where the people are and remember what it is to be a person, the same way pets only know themselves when they have another animal to play off of. We are made for the sun and grass, and for being next to people we love on a grassy hill on a day with a fine breeze and a faint, persistent smell of high-quality California weed.
And always, always buy something from the woman with the basket.
*Or maybe he traded his accordion’s voice to the sea witch for legs, I dunno.
**It’s a killer business model and a pleasure to behold once, let alone twice.