Folks who know me know that I am a driver. I take my car everywhere. The Critical Mass people probably have me on a dart board in their club room. I drive a block to the corner store to get some Gatorade. I usually drive to the gym, even though it's a 20-minute walk away. Even Bouncer plays into my driving addiction, as I usually take into account the parking situation when I decide where to go out for this column. But recently I decided to turn over a new leaf. Yes, Gentle Reader, I am walking and BARTing everywhere. It's like a whole new world has opened up for me. I see things that I would never see from my Honda. I have concluded that driving around San Francisco in a car is like Dorothy landing in Munchkinland but never leaving the farmhouse.
"You know what?" I said to my friend Erick recently. "This is really a cool city."
He gave me a duuuhhh look. "No, really," I went on, as if I needed to. He looked at me with undisguised disgust.
Yes, it is embarrassing to admit that I have never really experienced San Francisco on foot before. What a loser. But if you are really the liberal city you profess to be, you will forgive me. Liberals believe in second chances and rehabilitation. It comes from the Quaker idea of redemption. So, although I have been silently sitting in a Quaker service for years, I can now say that I have jumped up and shouted out loud in glory; the overwhelming feeling of God has washed over me. Now when I emerge from the BART underground I can't help but have the song "San Francisco! Open your golden gates ..." running through my head.
Although I am ambulatory and public-transporty, though, I still seem to be gravitating to bars that aren't very far from a BART stop. This week I decided to explore the Montgomery area, and I was delighted to see that the House of Shields was barely a block away from the station. The House of Shields! A place I have been hearing about for years, a bar that holds favored status in the city. It is yet another embarrassing thing to admit that I have never set foot in the place.
I had expected the House of Shields to have a sort of Elizabethan shtick, but was pleasantly surprised to see a beautiful fin de siècle bar with rich wood and amber lighting. The place is really nice. The main bar takes up about half of the space, with dark, high-backed wooden booths along the front and a smallish seating area toward the back. The bartender had his iPod on shuffle, and when I sat down he was playing the slow, druggy sounds of Mark Lanegan.
I'm pretty picky about my bartenders. This guy seemed really bored about being there, but there are worse sins. He gave prompt service and had good taste in music. Good enough for me. He also had the requisite full sleeves of tattoos, which always reminds me of that Life in Hell cartoon with the two old tattooed guys talking to one another at a nursing home. The caption says, "I see you were an idiot back in 1995 too." Yeah, that's not very fair to say, and if it were true it would mean that many of my friends are idiots (shut up). But I think Matt Groening is referring to the people who went out and got the dumbest tribal and retro tattoos that they could find. I am looking at the city through new eyes, though, I reminded myself, and I gave the bartender the benefit of the doubt.
As soon as I sat down, a guy came and sat next to me. He was large, in his 30s, and wearing a panama hat. He ordered a whiskey and a beer. He was in town for a computer conference and was staying at the St. Regis, which has to be the fanciest, hippest hotel in S.F., IMHO. It was ballsy to be a-travelin' and wearing a panama hat. I could imagine walking into the lobby, pulling a trunk behind him with stickers of all the techie places he had traveled, affixed to it: Los Gatos, San Carlos, Cupertino.
Still being unemployed, though, I also had my usual pang of jealousy: This dude had to be raking in the bucks. I decided to pick his brain and/or cry on his shoulder. "Dang," I began. "I have been trying to find a new media job, and it's really hard." It is hard. I had this crazy idea that companies might be looking for good writers, but I've found that what they really want are good bloggers. Never mind that my column is basically a blog.
"Yeah," he said, "I can see that." He suggested that I go on Facebook and post a résumé. Can you believe that shit? New media is so concerned with Web presence that even being on Facebook holds more weight than 10 years' journalism experience and three years of writing a column.
He began to sense my bitterness, and so did I. It isn't a good quality. I think I should embrace the Net as I am now embracing getting out of my car and walking around. I should see it as a new opportunity, not something to avoid. Still, the idea of starting all over again in a mailroom at some Web marketing firm doesn't sound appealing. The computer guy encouraged me to buck up and keep trying.
All in all, we talked for an hour about everything from Hillary Clinton to weight loss surgery to New Jersey. This is why I keep going out: No matter how I get to places, I can usually count on meeting someone interesting.
I got back on BART and sat next to a couple on their way to the East Bay. He was excited to see that the highway patrol was hiring, and made an allusion to CHiPs by singing the theme song. Actually, he just sang the end part, where it sounds like a sort of sproingy, Gary Numan, Giorgio Moroder thing. "Now that is one easy job," the man told his lady friend, immediately adding more zingy sproings to the song. "You jes' sit there, day in and day out. Maybe give a ticket." He was wearing a Rascal Flatts T-shirt, and she was short 'n' sizable, wearing a Bootylicious T-shirt.
Now, had I been driving, I never would have witnessed this interaction. Yes, folks, I am living, damnit.