Two loves. One I came by quickly and things haven’t always been smooth – I might never have technically strayed, but, as Jimmy Carter said, I’ve lusted in my heart. The other took a long time in the making, but I’ve never looked back.
I’m talking, of course, about San Francisco and tomatoes.
San Francisco. I first came to San Francisco the summer between my junior and senior years of college. My friend wanted desperately to go to Gay Pride. She had just come out to her family; they had then visited and refused to talk about it. She wanted to connect, to celebrate, to be larger than her own world. I had one boyfriend who was bugging the shit out of me, two part-time jobs, three days free, and a strong desire to get the hell out of Portland.
We hit the I-5 early with coffees from a new cool place called “Starbucks” and, thanks to some speed demon driving I learned from my mom, were in San Francisco in nine hours.
We drove over the Bay Bridge on a brilliantly sunny blue-sky Friday afternoon and for that one moment towards the end of the bridge it felt like we were driving straight into the buildings of downtown. It was magical, it was Dorothy’s Emerald City. We made our way to the Castro, I found a parking spot and managed to park on that stretch of 16th between Market and Castro without destroying the transmission on my Subaru Justy (a fact that still impresses me to this day every time I go by it), we got out of the car and I was gobsmacked by the hills and the houses and the color.
This was 1991. People were rebounding from the sucker punch of AIDS. People were more angry than sad; determined to celebrate rather than mourn. Anger and partying pretty much fit my mood at 21. It was bright lights and lots of dancing, with ACT-UP keeping it real every once in awhile.
I was back two years later, my dashing then-boyfriend in tow, moving from Paris to go to grad school. It was a drought year, so the gorgeous blue sky that greeted our U-Haul in August stayed through to the next fall, or so it seemed. The city was still beautiful, but it also felt small. A cow town. Then slowly and yet somehow suddenly, the 90s really showed up and we were living in a boom town. The restaurants we had loved became impossible to get into, the traffic insane. El Niño came with forty days and forty nights. We thought about moving, but by then my dashing husband had a business here. Then one week I ran into three different people I knew in places I wouldn’t have expected to see them and the city started to feel a bit like I really lived here instead of a way-station. The economy tanked and the city became somewhat livable – or at least you could get reservations at restaurants without a month of planning – again. I switched careers, I started going to farmers markets, I took up early morning open water swimming for awhile and would watch the sun hit Alcatraz on my way out and the moon set over the Golden Gate Bridge as I headed back. Then we had a child and bought a house and met our neighbors and found a school and now we’re here.
For now, anyway. I can’t help but look at real estate listings in New York, in Paris, in Vancouver, in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, in Bergen, Norway. Who doesn’t imagine a life rendered more interesting by geography? But for everything about it that drives me crazy – I’m talking to you, you hippie who knits in variegated rainbow yarn during school meetings and wants to talk about “process”! – I do love San Francisco.
Tomatoes. I didn’t like tomatoes until I was about 30. I didn’t eat tomatoes – other than just the teeniest bit of sauce in something – until I met my dashing husband. (His part Italian-American heritage made avoiding eating tomatoes any longer pretty near impossible.) I moved from eating actual sauce to eating the larger pieces of tomato that might show up in a sauce, to having a bite of raw tomato as part of a dish, to eating a plain piece of raw tomato. That all happened by the time I was 25. I didn’t really like them, however, for several more years.
Now, of course, juicy, meaty, sweet, acidic tomatoes are part of what I love about San Francisco (well, that and all the other fab produce), part of why it’s difficult to imagine moving. I like to eat them chopped and tossed with olive oil, spooned onto toasted bread that’s been rubbed with the cut side of a raw clove of garlic, sprinkled with salt. If I eat them on our deck with a glass of rosé while shielding my eyes from the power of the setting sun as it dips behind the city I call home and that I managed to cross despite the goddamn street closings for Folsom Street Fair (how did I space the date?), all the better.