There is such a variety in this country that gets missed during the immersion into city life. City life is not empty and vast, not expansive and full of variety, no. City life in the USA is a bubble, an illusion. It comes in a few different flavors, one to suit everyone.
There is the grungy and dank gloomy pacific northwest slouch of Seattle, the pure speed in the vein of the effervescent New York. There are smaller cities like Modesto, with expanses that can only be covered by vehicle of some kind, and surrounded on all sides by boundaries of beauty and wild. There is the half way house of LA, with its rows to skid down on two roughly shod feet, your soul slipping away from you in stomach churning dives, and then the capitalist scrum of Rodeo Drive and the Hollywood ilk with their noses firmly in the pig pen of life.
Then there is San Francisco, infinitely walkable, but charges a toll in hills. Gorgeously surrounded on all sides, but with the promise of as much trouble as you like over on the east bay drive. Bustling and busy, but with its own definite flavor of bubble gum and sunshine, lsd and mushroom tea, our culture encapsulated in a dance of the have …..and have nothing fucking at all… at all…. at all…To the north there is surprisingly nothing except smalltown life, wild untamed paradise until the next habitation. To the north what is there? Vacaville – cow town, Eureka on the water. Oregon. Miles of world that does not exist within our parameters of urbanity, our illusions of settlement, our collective consciousness that cannot live without boba tea, weekend farmers markets with gigantic pomegranates held out like an invitation in the Garden of Eden, wondering if you, or you, or you want to take a bite out of bad knowledge. Here on the Bay where life is expensive, but losing it can be cheap; where every dream inside our hive-soul longs softly for some hippy paradise lost. Make no mistake paradise has fled for the hills of Sausalito, gone south east to some lake or valley where golden ponds pretend it is not 2022, and the rich can play and gambol, can make their little plays for immortality in the metaverse or else try to heaven on this earth. Fuck all of them. I am at the point where all I want is anarchy. I have reached that point of no return where all I want is for people who are not me to remove their morality from my way of life. I must be feeling harassed today, there is no other explanation for my flying the black flag of freedom, shaking a skinny fist at the constriction of it all.
San Francisco lets you fool yourself that you are free. It lets me make believe that I walk these streets with the water pot on my head, unbalanced, running downhill, arms windmilling, heading for the wide blue yonder of the bay, not caring when I tip off the pier into the domain of the sea lions and the thick toxic soup that ‘civilization’ has made out of nature. But I know, deep down that this is not really how it is, it is just a hard won folie à deux where we all fool ourselves that we are all free and we are all now equal, and we are all decent sorts of people that believe in all the good stuff we are meant to. We are all out for number one. It is just how it is and how it should never have been. Nothing I can do about it except throw up my hands and say ‘not me, pal; i’ve no interest in anything other than you being you and me being me, and the two, or three or however many of us living our lives unmolested.’
No, cities are limited by their very definition. Urban playgrounds. Sandboxes for those of us who do not want to deal with the vast nothingness out there past the neon lights, and night lights; past the cocoon of supposed civilization. Urban jungles. Any flavor you like. Culture a la mode.
Ever done something….spicy, something….out of the accepted boundaries…ever been a gun on the run, or an idiot who smashed a wing mirror (not me, Guv!)? Those city limits look mighty fine in the distance. If you need to do more than get outta town, then I have no good news for ya, that is your own damn fault, don’t look to me for succour. “Indiana Wants Me….Lord I can’t go back there…” is a very real and present danger in this disunited states of confusion. There have been times, pursued by a man who means me no good at all, that I have been popped, been found, been bubbled on and had to make haste for the south, flying out of whatever habitation I was existing in that week, or month, and just getting the heck out of dodge.
I would always put Jim Morrison on the Beastie’s stereo, him drawling drunken and expressive-like, that he ‘never was so broke he couldn’t leave toooooowwwwwn.’ Good for Jim. To never be trapped anywhere through lack of money or power is something that only a privileged lizard king could pull off. Urg. Just the thought makes me sick. That is no good at all. To all of you who have been too broke to leave town, from me, who regularly found myself in trouble thataway, solidarity. Peace. Understanding. And perhaps a flower in the barrel of the gun, or tucked behind an ear, or woven into the hair as you stroll down Haight Street wondering where all tomorrow’s parties disappeared to.
The city has to learn when to let go. It generally does so with no ill effects once you decide to break up with them. Sometimes they linger on, like a lover you wish would get the message that they were an ex, and stop damn well calling you on the telephone. Sometimes they whisper seductive things about that good pho you can find down on this street, or that shop that sells cheap trinkets from Japan, or this bookshop, or that…this park or that space, this show or that view. Sometimes in these constrictive ways of promise of ease and delight, they draw you into their sphere once again, trapping you in a bubble of convenience. I happen to like bubble gum and sunshine, lsd and ‘shrooms, and the scent of the crab being boiled as it comes off the boats and waits sweetly for ravenous mouths to suck the salty juice from the legs and the life.
I don’t want San Francisco to let go. I don’t want it to have to. I wish I could live within it’s sphere of influence forever more. I feel safely encased within its boundaries. I feel like I might somehow not hate this place in the end. There are some places that I come to detest. There is one particular coastal town a ways up the coast one or two states north that is a hole of inveterate right wing trumpism, small minded small town mentality, and the most dully dreary drive towards despair that I have felt anywhere in this country. The cops there are all on the make and can’t wait to catch a passer by, who has no choice but to drive through, set as it is on the 101, which is the only road that heads up that particular piece of the west coast, hugging the coastline.
You either go up the 101, or else head 100 miles or so inland and go up the 5. The 5 is an artery that takes you through all the worst places. You want to go somewhere that will drain your soul, heat you beyond tolerating or freeze yer ass off in winter, head for the 5, that inland road to hell. Besides, there is no point heading up the 5 to sit on a freeway when the 101 with all of it’s charm, lighter traffic, scenic beauty and sweet towns is sitting there ready for the plucking.
Sometimes, though I just want to pick up my bag and run into the wild. I want to head for the door, head for the hills, head for the nowheresville. I want to head towards places that require an entire debate about how to pronounce them. Butt or Bew-te? Yah-hots, or ya-chats? Sometimes I feel as if the tentacles are gripping my neck and squeezing the life out of me, but then that is life…that is not the city. I love the way that this city on the bay doesn’t torture someone for being gay. I like the way we do things here for the most part, and when I don’t it is no big deal. I like the fact that my ‘where do you come froms’ have been reduced by 85 percent on a good day. I like my apartment and the walkability of it. I like the cool weather and looking out over the water.
Perhaps it is time for me to accept the restrictions of staying still in the city. Perhaps it is time to accept that as far as sandboxes go, this one ain’t half bad. Perhaps I need to accept that I am too tired to be tipped back out into the wild that owns me. Perhaps there are worst fates than staying put somewhere that makes up in style, what it lacks in substance and reality. After all, who need that much ‘reality’? Who actually needs the here and now-ness of embers burning hands, of broken bones in North Dakota prairies, of nowhere to camp, of nothing to eat, and nothing to do except find enough gas to get on down the road? I did once. Perhaps that is enough magick and beauty for me. Perhaps. It is at least enough for now.