November 1997
s m u g
by Joe Procopio


San Francisco Treats

Until last week I had never seen the Pacific Ocean. That's right. You heard me. I've been all around this historic crapshoot that we call a country into almost every nook and cranny. I've seen and done more at 27 than some guys see in a lifetime. I'm gonna have stories for my grandkids that won't begin to repeat until I'm senile enough to start making stuff up. But I'd never been to the left coast. The farthest west I had ever gotten was Phoenix, which, for sure, isn't very far. And, like any other East-Coaster, I had always known that the sun comes up here and goes down somewhere out there in a place I don't care very much about.

In the last couple of years, I've noticed a trend among the tragically-hip-and-wired; chuck it all and move to the Bay Area. It's beautiful, warm, friendly, a cultural apex, and there's more work than you can shake a hippie at. This year alone I've seen three former co-workers become rabid San Franciscans. It borders on cultish, as they cram their worldly belongings into U-hauls, trade their Hondas in for SUVs, and merge onto Route 66 or I40, riding anew into the sunset. Then you don't hear from them for a couple of weeks. Then they call you and their speech is suddenly peppered with the word "Dude".

I've been told that if you're going to go to San Francisco, you should pack everything you own. Do it now. Because you'll just end up sending for it anyway. It's that cool. And I've got to admit that advice is almost spot on. From the minute I got off the plane until the minute I got back on, I found myself constantly in awe of my surroundings. It took about an hour in San Francisco before I wanted to move there.

As soon as you hit the city, you notice the first big difference. Comfortable, clean air. East Coast weather tends to run from yearlong spiky, icy cold in the North to oppressive, searing heat in the south. There's one spot on the East Coast where it gets comfortable for about a week in June. Not to mention that the East Coast is plagued, plagued I tell you, with moisture. If it isn't raining, it's damp. If it isn't damp, it's muggy, and if it isn't muggy, it's moist. In contrast, the air in San Francisco is just plain fresh. So fresh, in fact, I soon noticed that I no longer had the headache I'd been ignoring for years.

Okay, I know what you're thinking. Fresh air. Big deal. That's why God made Canada.

The landscape is also something to behold. My friend (and most gracious host and guide), Tony, suggested one of the first things we do was take a hike up Mount Tam, a mere five minutes from his house in Mill Valley. I quickly suggested back to him that he was out of his freaking mind. But apparently, as I learned later, West-Coasters hike for enjoyment. Go figure. East-Coasters drink for enjoyment. We hike to the store when we're out of cereal.

Tony, a recent transplant from DC, went on to explain that he initially had the same reaction and asked me to humor him. I did. And I was glad I did. Our hike took us up a mountain trail that had an amazing view of the city. It was four or five miles before I noticed I was exerting myself. The trail peaked at a cliff overlooking the Pacific (my first sight of it) and then followed the coastline back down to the most pristine beach I had ever seen.

Score: West 2, East 0

By the way, Mill Valley gets my vote for the most nauseating display of unchecked wealth I've ever seen. Good show, people!

There's way too much to do in San Francisco (and please note that I've refrained from calling it "San Fran" or the aptly dreaded "Frisco"). To make a long story short, the weekly events guide dwarfed Raleigh's and gave New York's a run for its money, both in quantity and quality. But...

The first thing I noticed was the bottled water. Everyone drinks it, and they drink it in place of everything else. In the morning, you don't have coffee, you open a bottle of water. See? And it comes with a huge dose of subliminal zeal and that stringent, health-aware attitude. But, I overlooked the uber-health angle. The bottled water can be explained away. The tap water is pee.

It didn't die. Clue number two was the "smoothie", the current social beverage of choice. A smoothie is a sort of blended fresh fruit and yogurt thing with an addictive quotient rivaling that of crack. Or those KC Masterpiece BBQ chips from Lays. The smoothies were amazing. And you could get one everywhere.

Which brings me to the restaurant scene in general. I began to notice a spooky trend everywhere we ate. Each restaurant was disgustingly hip and annoyingly super-healthy. We went to an "Italian" place that was so not Italian that, had it been in New York, the owners would have gotten whacked for producing such an insult. We also found a Mexican place where everything was baked and there wasn't any cheese on anything.

This went on. And on. So I politely asked Tony, out of curiosity, if there was a McDonalds or something nearby where I could maybe get some fries. He got this glazed-over look in his eyes and calmly and matter-of-factly answered, "McDonalds? Never heard of it. And what are these 'fries' you speak of?" Uh-oh.

So there WAS some kind of mind-control thing going on. I was sure of it. It wasn't long before Tofu and "Wraps" were being offered to me like so much Soylent Green.

And I buckled, man! I gave in. But come on! They fill those wraps with teriyaki chicken and broccoli. They're sooooo good. So I slipped up. Just once, you know. One little wrap wasn't going to hurt me. And the smoothies were around a lot but I could stop, you know? Any time I wanted to.

I mean, what bothered me wasn't so much the staying-in-shape aspect of it all. I don't mind being healthy or being a big slob at any given time of the year. Whatever works.

But it's the way they look at you when you don't get in line and follow along. I don't know, I mean, California is where most TV and movies come from, so maybe there's more opportunity to be easily susceptible to whatever Hollywood and the glitterati dribble out. But I can't buy it. They're just trends! Can't you people see that? Can't you just… SMELL the evil on that bottle of Evian? It's "naïve" spelled backwards, for God's sake. Can't you tell that this paradise around you is no more than a front for an industry that churns out videotapes and powders and ankle-weights and smoothies by the truckload?


I'm sorry. It's difficult to write and stay coherent after having been that close to the flame. It took about a week of deprogramming, supplemented with generous amounts of coffee, Twinkies, Banana Rum, and shipped-in Freihoffer's Original Chocolate Chip Cookies to get the shaking to stop. I'm all right now, I guess. There are still nights when I have rough dreams and think about how I may have been scarred by all the... hey... you people know way too much about wine!

I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Where was I? Oh, scarred by all the hints and implications of my "imperfect" lifestyle. I mean, just because you eat meat doesn't mean you're a bad person. Right? Right?

All in all, San Francisco is a beautiful place. The people there are incredible, polite, and charming. There's a lot to do. The scenery will take your breath away and the climate is so comfortable that you feel like being outside all day. So if you go, remember, pack everything you own. Do it now.

Because you'll just end up sending for it anyway.



in the junk drawer:

October 1997
September 1997
August 1997
July 1997
June 1997
May 1997
April 1997
March 1997
February 1997

and such
and such

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