Here is the first chapter from the book My
List, a Novel By Craig Gerard:
After all is said and done, I would
do it again in a heartbeat. At the time, I wasn't so sure that would
be the case. All of the bumps and grinds actually made me love it more
and added ten-fold to the entire experience. When I first moved to San
Francisco, it was in the middle of the "dot-com" boom. Everything
was measured by stock options, size of SUVs and annual salaries. Jobs
were easy to come by, and I landed two of them within two weeks of moving
to San Francisco. The first was tending bar at a swanky Asian-fusion
restaurant call E&O Trading Company. In a micro-brewery in the basement,
they brewed their own beer, which flowed right from the cooling tanks,
up through the tap, into my glass and down my throat. The Golden Ale
went down smooth, quenching a throat singed by the spicy fried rice,
but my favorite was the IPA. It was bitter, but didn't rip your tongue
out. The India Pale Ale had a hoppy, classic flavor, and was a difficult
beer to drink quickly. An imperial pint of E&O's IPA could separate
the beer connoisseur from the 40-year-old ex-frat boy who only drinks
beer on the weekends. There were many times I reluctantly dumped half
of a 20-ounce pint of the sweet nectar down the drain. A fan of good
beer would never leave 10 ounces of a well-crafted IPA unfinished. The
second job I landed was at a San Francisco-based talent agency that
booked entertainment for private parties and corporate events. Being
that all of the start-up tech companies were throwing around crazy amounts
of money for special events, the small company was expanding. By the
time I moved up to the Bay Area in mid-September of 1999, they were
hiring three new people, and I had my choice of jobs. Fortunately for
me, and partly because of the bartending job I had secured three days
before, I took the position that held the least amount of responsibility.
This job allowed me to spend time on the clock looking for an apartment.
More importantly, the job came with a high-speed internet connection
necessary to complete this task, which, as it turns out, was much more
difficult than I anticipated.
As I mentioned, jobs were readily available in San Francisco when I
moved there. With some of the hiring companies trying to woo potential
programmers and engineers, salaries and benefits skyrocketed to unreasonable
rates. With starting salaries upwards of $50,000, $75,000, or even $100,000
and promises for more compensation when the company had its Initial
Public Offering, talented people were flocking to the city in droves.
A gold rush for the new millennium, with about the same success rate,
it made finding an affordable place to lay your head within the city
limits a difficult, if not an impossible, task.
I drove up to San Francisco from Southern California, taking The 5 to
580. In Southern California, all of the freeway designations have "The"
in front of the number, while the freeways in Northern California are
known only by the numbers. In Southern California, you take The 10 to
The 5, but in Northern California you take 380 to 101. In the fall of
1999, my Northern California freeway geography (regardless of name)
was piss poor, and instead of just taking the Bay Bridge into the city
from 580 West, I actually went down 880 South to the San Mateo bridge
because I knew I could get into the city from 101 North. Besides adding
an hour to my trip, it meant that I got into San Francisco after dark.
As I followed the curve around the Fell Street exit from 101, I thought
to myself, "Self... what the HELL are you doing? You have no job,
no apartment, and this city will eat you alive!"
My friend Assaf was kind enough to let me crash on his couch for a couple
of weeks while I got on my feet and got my own place. Little did I know,
his would be one of many couches that I surfed in the next two and a
half months. I had met Assaf a few years before at summer camp, and
we quickly became good friends. More than sharing a common sense of
humor, Assaf and I had a similar outlook on life. We both liked to work
hard and play hard, meaning we accomplished much and partied even more.
Born in Israel, Assaf was raised in Cupertino, California, but his habits
and political opinions meshed more closely with his university alma
mater, Cal. His years in Berkeley gave him a sarcastic, witty edge,
but also made him prone to recycling and other worldly causes. He was
skinny, about 5'6" and had wise, hazel eyes which had seen more
of the world than most people his age. Assaf is a storyteller. At camp,
Assaf and I would stay up late exchanging stories, making each other
giddy by spinning tall tales. It did not matter if I had been present
when the story took place or if the particular yarn was in reference
to an event which took place halfway around the world; it was great
to hear such entertainment. We could relive an event with as much, if
not more, enthusiasm than we did when it was happening in real time.
Often the stories revolved around exploits with women, but other topics
broached included traveling, drunken melees from college, experiences
at work or, well, more exploits with women. Assaf lived right off of
Alamo Square, on Scott Street. I arrived on a Monday night around 7:30pm,
looked for parking for 30 minutes and, with a large travel backpack
and a guitar in hand, finally met my good friend, and soon to be savior,
at his apartment shortly after 8:00pm.
We went over to Abir on Divisadero for a beer and sandwich, and discussed
my strategy for the coming weeks. My thought was, if I can get a job,
I'll know how much I have to spend on rent, so that was going to be
my first plan of attack. Armed with a bartender's license and a desire
to do any grunt job in order to get into the music business, I attacked
the pavement and quickly found myself with enough income to actually
afford a decent rent. Now I just had to find an apartment that fit the
My first morning in San Francisco, I made the best investment of my
stay in San Francisco, the Muni Map I bought for $2.00. Despite the
minor rips in the paper, I still have that map, which often functions
to get me from point A to point B. I set out to study the neighborhoods,
to see which places were suitable for me, given my income, the location
of my two jobs and what I liked to do (which basically involved drinking).
None of this mattered in the thick of things, because by the time I
found an apartment, it could have been in Colma and I wouldn't have
To understand the task of finding an apartment in San Francisco, it
is essential to understand the neighborhoods and the people of San Francisco.
To understand the neighborhoods, it is important to grasp the dichotomies
between the cultures, which flow constantly through every aspect of
city life. There is the dichotomy between rich and poor, the dichotomy
between pop-culture and counter-culture, the dichotomy between the bike
messengers and the corporate offices where they pick up and deliver
packages and the dichotomy between the tourist visiting from Omaha who
tries to cross the Golden Gate Bridge in June wearing shorts and the
bum on the street who will wear four layers of clothing in the middle
of an Indian summer. San Francisco is a dread-locked hippie hybrid with
a Yale alumni investment banker. San Francisco is a greasy punk rocker
melted amongst the frijoles y queso on Mission and 16th Street. San
Francisco is a dot-com yuppie wheeling around on a Razor scooter who
has crashed into a gangsta wearing 40-oz pants listening to homemade
rap tapes blaring from his ghetto blaster. San Francisco is the offspring
of a corporate lawyer yapping on his cell phone and a 4'4" Chinese
lady carrying a dozen plastic bags on the bus. All of these elements
define and construct the city, continuously building it and razing it
in a tumbling mass of steel, glass and fiber optic wiring.
These contradictions create a confusing and yet comfortable balance.
On the one hand you have the Marina, filled with great-looking young
people, most of whom are still receiving help from daddy to pay the
rent. On the other hand, (and other side of the city) you have Hunter's
Point, filled with low-income housing projects and toxic waste dumps.
There is Pacific Heights and Russian Hill, boasting million dollar homes
with billion dollar views. And yet, right down the hill, is the Tenderloin,
where crack and heroine are as readily available as a transvestite hooker.
The Castro is filled with rainbow flags, celebrating diversity and freedom
for people of all sexual orientations in an open and beautiful way.
Yet, across the city is the Presidio, an old army base which would still
prefer the "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" policy. Every neighborhood
in between falls somewhere in between with their political views.
The city attracts intellectuals; you will be hard-pressed to find a
group of people in the United States more well-read than the people
of San Francisco. There is culture, art, music and beauty flowing through
the entire metropolis. Diversity is so common, it is almost overlooked.
Freedom of expression and action has been an underlying theme throughout
San Francisco's history. Artists, writers, creators of glorious works
all would be wise to spend time in this fair city, which is one reason
why so many already do. When America was expanding in the 1800's, pioneers
filled with the illusion of Manifest Destiny pushed as far west as possible.
Once they reached San Francisco, there was no further west to go. It
was as if, once the pioneers ran out of real estate, they mentally continued
their exploration, pushing emotions, art and spirit beyond their natural
There are so many inspiring views upon which to gaze. The shimmer of
the sun off of the Bay; the glow of the Golden Gate Bridge at night
from the Legion of Honor; watching the fog slowly creep in, from a perch
in the Presidio; seeing the sun sizzle down into the Pacific Ocean from
Turtle Hill; gazing on downtown skyscrapers from atop Twin Peaks; seeing
Alcatraz like it is only two feet away from Crissy Field; all of these
images are forever burned into my brain. All of them hold tight to a
piece of my heart, which will always belong in this City by the Bay.