Craig's Travels

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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 bill.

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 cared.


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 borders.
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.


Are you a publisher or literary agent interested in my work? Are you a fan of my writing who would like to purchase a beta copy of the book? If so, email me at:

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