Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Walk of the Town . . .

Twenty years ago, I lived in Berkeley, but just barely.

I shared an upstairs flat with four other students and a baby on Alcatraz Avenue -- so named because it aimed at the island of the damned. From the kitchen window, I could gaze out to see the Bay and Island as I washed dishes. At night, I would lie awake listening to the "Crack Wars," rival gangs battling in Oakland over pride and turf and addicts.

One Friday night, the war came to our front stoop. A car barreling down the avenue let loose with a shower of bullets and struck down two young men. We found them bleeding and moaning on the lawn opposite our place. That put them in Oakland.

Yeah, I lived in Berkeley, but just barely.

My soul was all for San Francisco. Every Saturday, I'd get up no later than six, quickly eat, catch a Bart train, and head for the City. Soon, I was roaming the hills, a different path each time, but I always ended up drinking an Anchor Steam at Vesuvio's Bar on Jack Kerouac Lane.

I've always liked to hike. Growing up in the Ozarks, I walked all over. In California, I nearly reached the top of Mt. Whitney with Maryska Suda, a Czech friend of mine, but had to turn back due to the lowering sun. An unexpected ice cliff had slowed us down. Thirty feet wide with a thousand-foot drop, so we'd inched across very carefully. That delay forced us to slide down the glacier, but we still only reached our base camp below the waterfall just before the gathering darkness made vision impossible. Exciting but a little too exciting.

Hiking the San Francisco hills had become more my style. I loved the steep, white, concrete streets that glistened in the morning sun before other people had gotten up. The best view was from Telegraph Hill:

San Francisco Morning

Sunday's sun-scrubbed, alabaster streets:

Clean as a hound's tooth ex-
tracted from the gutter,
as a whistle piercing
dark like a shaft of light,
as conscience swept clean
by the brisk whish whish
of inextricable steps,
each incalculably, ineluctably
to a fall . . .

I recited that one on a Thursday evening at Cafe Babar's "Open Mike" on Guerrero and 22nd Street, near the Mission District. Julia Vinograd remarked, "Nice." I guess that counts for something.


At 7:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Bart" in the Bay Area is spelled with ALL CAPs (unless, perhaps, you're alluding to "The Simpsons").

Also, Maryska is only half Czech. I should know, being her full-fledged sister.

I remember you well -- in full alleged 'artist-as-asshole' mode -- when a group of us once had lunch on Telegraph Ave. at an Asian restaurant. Throughout you munched grouchily and wordlessly on the softened peanuts that accompanied your dish.

At 7:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 9:19 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the correction on BART.

I should also have recalled that Maryska is half Dutch. I need to be more careful in my moments of nostalgia.

You seem to remember me too well. I consider myself reserved and somewhat shy, but some people -- maybe not only a few -- are of your opinion.

I hope that you are well. Maryska, too.

Jeffery Hodges

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