Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hip to T²

Kansai airport in the rain. The place seems more Asian these days, with the package tourists bottle-necking the duty free shops. One guy stares at me for the 15 minutes it takes me to drink my coffee. I get into my seat and on take off, I watch air currents thick with water curl around the wing like a flexy straw.

On the other side now. Less than an hour in town, and I'm already awed by the polycultural faces I see rushing toward me. I pull CLo out of work and we go eat sandwiches in Yerba Buena Park. We jaw away his lunch hour. Perched on his big rock, CLo looks all the sage. I have to kill time until he finishes at 5, so he gets me free pass to MoMA, a perk of his job. I wander the galleries, finding the surrealist paintings completely in tune with the fuzzy edges of a jag-lagged brain. Calming in a way. The abstract expressionists seem too linear. I've now been up close to thirty hours. I walk over to Market Street and head toward west. After a few blocks, I'm moving through sections of the city literally corroding. The people on the streets too seem in various stages of decomposition. (The irony here is that these folks represent a higher percentage of the American population than those of the yoga enclaves where I spend most of my time while in country.) The people here pace and talk, pace and talk, either to themselves or on their cellphones. Teenage Vietnamese gangbangers look much younger than I remember. Has crime too been outsourced? A few blocks over in City Plaza, it's all marble and gilded accents, suits and capped teeth. A small group of potheads fire up in the grass outside City Hall. I soon come to my goal for the day, Hyde Valley. I grab a coffee at the Blue Bottle Cafe, a walk up kiosk down the street from a chop shop. I find a seat amongst the young urban hipsters in a nearby park. A pair of women sit cross-legged facing each other. The rapt attention on their faces means they're either doing an energy reading or going through a lesbian break up. An Asian guy sits on a bench, playing the same straight four-beat djembe tattoo over and over. I finish my cup and begin my walk back. There are Obama posters everywhere in this city. I feel somewhat conspicuous since I seem to be walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk. In front of Yerba Buena is a large Catholic church, so I go inside to light a votive candle for Ken. It has been an especially long October 14th this year. I'm shocking to pay $5 for a candle, but I convince myself that part of that is for the ambiance, as a dozen or so elderly Latino women chant prayers behind me. My own prayers finished, I make my way to meet CLo.

After dark, we make our way down toward the Mission. We decide to grab a beer before dinner. The Argus is dark, the clientele young hipsters again. The same can be said later over at the Latin American Club. In both bars we can't seem to get the IPA I've been craving for most of the year. Distributor seems to be out. We sit under the pinatas drinking Anchor Steam, laughing at all the 80s tunes that come over the sound system. They come across much cheesier having played the soundtrack to teen memories. We are finally able to get a seat at Barretta, a new Italian 'comfort food' place CLo had been wanting to try. A place so hip that when we'd originally balked on joining the wait list, the hostess shrugged like, "Don't care if you eat here or not." The food was outstanding, but would've tasted better in sobriety and on more sleep.

The next morning, we do the morning ritual at Liberty Cafe, where Miki and I ate often last year. CLo finished work midday, so we drive over to the Haight for lunch and a walk. Our legs take us up over a few hills and up Fillmore. We go into the Japan Center, all the kanji messing with my head so soon off the plane. We check out Yoshi's jazz club, with its beautiful pre-war vibe, high ceilings and spiral staircases. Fillmore looks pretty beat down. We see three instances of road rage on three consecutive blocks of a single street. The Fillmore Auditorium plays bookend to yesterday's Warfield, two names often seen on cassette tapes of Dead bootlegs.

Drop the car up in Bernal and watch some of the debate. Growing fat on slogans and hungry for a meal, we make our way out. The debate continues, flashes coming from every bar or shop we pass. Even the butcher is tuned in. Down the hill, the seedier pool halls opt to show a futbol match instead. A fine representation of the artist/workingclass vibe in this part of town. We pop into El Rio for our long sought after IPA, downing them as CNN begins their spin. We finally make it over to Popolote, now bustling with amateur spin of its own. We've eaten late a lot these two days, testament to CLO and I getting caught up in our gab, scattering our attention. I ask him about why everybody in this city just vibrates with hipness. He said that most people here are able to work some kind of cool job which allows for a certain lifestyle. I think about this as we pass a Hello Kitty piñata in a store window, under the buttery light of a harvest moon, hanging high above the Victorians.

On the turntable: Haco, "Happiness Proof"

On the nighttable: Dervla Murphy, "Full Tilt"

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