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Coming Home

No matter where we live, there is always a place that is home to us, even if it is different than where we reside. For me, that place is California, but particularly the San Francisco Bay Area. My family moved here in the fall of 1981 while I was still in college; it wasn’t until 1998 that my wife and I moved to Florida, where housing prices were at least reasonable (at the time).

Yes, Florida has been a great place for my family and I and I wouldn’t trade our years here or the people we’ve grown close to here for anything. However, there is an affection for California that I have always felt deep inside, and returning here this week for a business/vacation combination has unlocked feelings for the place the intensity of which took me a bit by surprise.

It’s not that the place has remained the same over the past decade – nothing does. It’s also not like I haven’t been back here since we left. Still, coming into the City (in the Bay Area, San Francisco’s place as the City is always capitalized) rekindled memories of every shape and size, from the sour goodness of their world-famous sourdough bread to the brooding magnificent vistas of the Golden Gate.

Mark Twain once remarked that the coldest winter he ever spent was one summer in San Francisco and it was refreshing after 90+ degree temperatures and high humidity in Orlando to come to temperatures that were 20-30 degrees cooler (you folks on the Celsius system, Google a proper conversion from Fahrenheit – it’s a pretty fair amount). The fog rolling in from the Bay in the mornings, the Pacific breezes…things can get pretty chilly here. It also happens to be the wettest June on record here, which also contributed to the lower temperatures as at least one day here was marked by heavy rain.

While Thomas Hardy has sagely remarked that you can’t go home again, of course you can – for a visit. Recapturing the memories and the relationships can be much easier than becoming a resident again. You are reminded you are a visitor in your own home, and it isn’t even yours anymore – there are other people living in it. Some of the neighbors may be the same, but you’re an outsider, even if you are received warmly and with affection.

The shame of it was that I felt like that a good deal while I lived here. I’d grown up in Southern California and when I moved here, I felt like I didn’t quite belong. I was an interloper in my own mind, and quite frankly that was an invention of my own lack of confidence. I managed to create a niche for myself here, beginning a writing career at what was then called Calendar and is now the SF Weekly, and establishing myself as a writer at the Metro, the San Jose arts weekly where I was a rock critic (and occasional movie critic) for a decade.

At the time, San Jose had a fledgling music scene that saw an enormous amount of talent and zero infrastructure. It was largely overshadowed by the scene in San Francisco and getting the people who lived in San Jose to support it was maddeningly difficult. People were much more disposed to going to clubs with DJs playing music they were familiar with than going to the Cactus Club, Marsugi’s, the Oasis, the Cabaret, Puma’s, Niles Station, the Edge, the Keystone, F/X, Agenda or the other clubs where the locals played. It was a shame because there were some very promising bands and performers in the area, some of whom went on to make a national splash – Smash Mouth and Papa Roach among them – but sadly, got much less support than they deserved in their own backyards.

Still, some of my best memories of my 20s and early 30s were of sitting in dark nightclubs, listening to local bands generally with disappointing turnouts but talking about the scene and what it would take to make it work with those intimately involved in it. While most of them have gone on to other things (and many of whom I’ve remained in contact with over the years), there isn’t a one of them who doesn’t look back on that era fondly.

I suppose nostalgia tinges things into a rosy color as you get older. My entire life wasn’t music, although it seemed that way at the time. My first serious romance occurred while I lived there, as did all that followed. Towards the end of my stay in the Bay Area I met my wife (online, of all places) and spent a year of financial hardship trying to make a relationship and eventually, a marriage. It seems we’ve been successful on both counts.

Coming back to a place where such things happened can rekindle those feelings to an intensity that is unexpected but welcome. While those days are gone and left in memory, I had the opportunity to make some new memories while I was here and I’m very glad I did. I’ve been a stranger in my home town for far too long, and I’m already making plans for a return very soon.

No, you can’t go home again – home is where you live now, and Orlando is that, and again, no disrespect – Florida has been very good to us. But visiting the place that is closest to your heart is always possible – and should be done on more than an occasional basis. It’s a good way to recharge your heart and warm your soul. Even if the summer is a cold winter.


2 Responses

  1. I left my heart in San Francisco, easy to do. One of the unique cities of the world. I’m glad you had a chance to reassess

  2. Even Mark Twain House and Museum, home of the writer, Samuel Clemens wrote with Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

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