Updated: Dec 23, 2019
Everyone else in San Francisco was starting to celebrate the start of the festive season and it was hard not to enjoy some of the fuss. On the outskirts of the city trees with lights where being hung everywhere and it all looked rather jolly. That night I stayed with friends of my sis-in-law, Lisa Thomas of 2ridetheworld.com fame, and the next night in the city with a friend of a friend.
Instead of reportage, the next day I walked around the Castro District with my proxy new mate Chris. We stopped by Castro Street which runs from Market to the 19th and the neighbourhood it crosses extends a few blocks in either direction. It is not only the gay village of San Francisco but also the epicenter of gayness for the whole of America. It’s the original LGBT friendly city. Whiffing of scent a bloke built like a truck brushed past me wearing a pink camisole and tight red trousers all of which was pulled along by what looked like a long eared Abyssinian Rabbit. Chris turned to me and said, “Chihuahua, every man you see here is gay.”
“What, every …”
Pausing to absorb that thought, “fine, but that dog, if it is one, actually looks like a rabbit. That’s cool right?”
“You wouldn’t catch me walking down my High Street with a daft looking rabbit.”
“Yea, get a clever one,” Chris said and we smiled.
The next day I came across a famous hidden gem in these parts, Clarion Alley. It runs one block - 560 ft long and 15 ft. wide in San Francisco’s inner Mission District between 17th & 18th and Mission and Valencia streets.
It was brought together in 1992 by a volunteer collective of six residents and artists who were inspired by the murals of Balmy Alley nearby. They remained in pristine condition without a single tag or moniker daubed anywhere. The ‘Kings’ and “Angels’ of the graffiti world would have had a hand here because the work was breathtaking.
I rode out of the city, the easiest exit of any large place I know and straight out through Daly City following the signs for Pacifica. It’s a gentle drift onto the Pacific Coast Highway, which soon is to partner one of the most beautiful scenic coastlines in the world. Meanwhile I continue to give free consolations to confused middle-aged men about life and why life can be a screw-up. Clearly I wear a tee-shirt on which is printed the words ‘unload your hard luck stories on me!’ because wherever I sit, in a café, by a tree, walking across the road to buy a coffee, here, there or up and down bloody Big Sur there’s a bloke who tells me every detail of why his life is tipping into Dante’s Inferno. I took a deep breath each time because each tantric moment of self-centeredness was now off the charts. Yet I listened because it’s polite to. The structure and thematic events that are present in a large proportion of world myths extend to the basic outline of conversations like this because it's useful to have a bottle of bravery handy. All of us need a small heroic act just to get through the day and for me, I ride my bike trying to be the metaphorical hero. I started to look around in cafes, in Starbuck’s in case someone was around who wanted to talk to me. I needed to wash this tee-shirt that said ‘I love sad stories,’ to ‘buy me a coffee and I’ll tell you one of mine.” because in the Starbucks at Carmel, by the Safeway, a couple of stop signs from my anonymous accommodation I enjoyed the previous night, I had a queue.
Humans are drawn to the curious. A human wants to be found out, identified and then heard and just then another Isolated American Man came into the shop wearing clothes I think he’d found. Immediately he asked an intelligent question and then offered apologies for approaching my space. My space wasn’t mine I told him, just leased for the amount of time it took me to drink the coffee I’ve purchased, including 8% tax but still I couldn’t hide and he insisted on shaking my hand and said, ‘my wife left me, don’t s’pose you could spare a few bucks huh?’ and just stood there.
There is a German fable about two porcupines who need to huddle together for warmth, and when they find an agreeable distance where they can share the warmth without spiking each other, it’s called good manners. Over arching politeness is a contrivance that says I am here and you are there and I’m asking permission to come in. Without this mannered acknowledgement it’s like ‘don’t move sucker, stab me and I’ll blow you away’.
“Oh please, it’s cool,” I said, “thanks for the engagement.” He was the first person who had spoken to me all morning so any validation was encouraging. If it’s true how politeness is the first thing that you lose when you make money, the opposite is logical. I’m inherently self-polite, or should that read ‘platitudes’ or calisthenics with words. What do I know about man-stuff, I’m just a man! How else could I put up with someone like me, here on the outskirts of Carmel by the Sea breathing in other people’s miserableness in hot little packets. I couldn’t find a reason for being where I was except to pass though. The splinter group in my own personality profile which usually handles my own self-importance had been blown away by the strength of these psychological sit-ins. Full in your face bleakness. Historically I rode through the night and lay in the rain under a plastic sheet knowing I would never sleep, now I can afford coffees in nice places with bookshelves and bearded guys and I get this!
I am now on the Pacific Coast Highway and everything is jolly nice. Houses along Big Sur start at several million and up. At the strawberry farm I could have camped for free but wanted to shoot the breeze instead of dealing with the dark. As Kerouac said about how people you want to know are the ‘mad ones, the ones mad to live, mad to talk, mad about Pluto no longer being a planet.’
Hard into long sweeping bends along the coastline the bike and I raised and fell from small cliff to road surface level and back. As I swooped and dived around the curves some guy was playing drums through the rooftop of his car, I stopped, he talked rubbish, I rode on again.
Outside the Coast Gallery on the left by a bend, three miles out of Big Sur, a guy chatted to me in a rare exchange of relaxed conversation. I was filming my low interest pass bys and not capturing any essence of movement apart from a speeding motorbike when he invited me to call in at the renovation job he was doing half a mile up the road. He was his own Clerk of Works and when he explained how he had to infill deep clefts in his land to remodel the lawn. To understand what mowed grass is out here is to imagine looking down from space onto a thousand knitted quilts and only one has it and even then hidden somewhere on the outer reaches hanging on a cliff face by the Pacific. It was a taming of the edge and in the midst of raw nature this man had created a precise piece of grassland. To the south and far into the distance outcrops of brutally lined cliff edges shrunk in the distance but all faced out to sea. Huge rocks and a hand built wall hundred of metres long protected a walkway strong enough to damn a river that partnered whoever would walk this way to a point over the Pacific Ocean where you would take-off or receive guests as long as they had their own helicopter.
“It’s got grass,” said Matt standing by his son Weston. They had springs from the hills that directly fed their water sprinklers. “There are people here at war over 6 litres an hour and I get 80 free.” It was a $60 million property bought for three with twenty on top for complete renovation. This man had won the lottery.
It’s a short drive from Google and Facebook and if you wanted to be here you wouldn’t really bother about a twenty million discussion. In the eves of the barn, large square bolts were held by nuts so perfectly formed that they created symmetry of simple metalwork, which works best when being engineered into place by hand.
As if everyone in these parts knows someone famous, “talking about music, Dave Crosby is a friend, we’ve traveled in the bus. You know his history, the past, the crystal meth, everything.” I knew he got a lucky break, the music got heard. “When they got three million for 25 gigs at the start, Neil Young got in touch and said “I want to play,” and the deal went to thirty, he was that in demand.”
By Big Sur, just after the gas station and opposite a lodge, I popped into the Roadhouse, a wooden built restaurant that fielded a warm log burning fire. Chalkboards advertised an amalgamation of coffees and local wines. As an environment, the convenience and comfort was amongst the least challenging I’d known.