Memoirs of a Bay Area Bad Kid
I’ve lived in Chicago for the past five years, but I grew up in Northern California, land of wine, cheese and free love. I visit the Bay Area about twice a year, because my family lives there, and the food and weather are amazing. So amazing, that at least half a dozen times on a recent trip home, I sighed and mumbled, “I wouldn’t mind moving back here someday,” between bites of an amazing Mission St. burrito … only to be faced by the cold, hard glove-slap of reality: I’ve been priced out of my hometown.
I love Chicago. Chicago is the second biggest city in the nation, but you can still find cheap rent and delusions of a cosmopolitan lifestyle here, if you can handle six months of winter. (Here’s a secret: Our winter probably isn’t any worse that 90% of the Northeast, but we’ll tell you it is, because claiming that we have the WORST WINTERS EVAR is our #1 favorite pastime besides getting drunk, gaining weight, and cheering on the Cubs as they lose over and over again. Also, we want to scare you away from moving here because it keeps our rent cheap. Go ahead — fly over us!)
I could trade my spacious one-bedroom Chicago apartment for a closet in a house in San Francisco shared with six other urban professionals and I’d still probably pay more for the closet. The only reason my sister still lives there is she’s taken over the house my mom paid $20,000 for in 1970, which is now worth, like, 100 times more than that.
Moreover, my hometown doesn’t want me back. No attractive single people my age live there anymore. They all got married or moved to New York, since it’s actually marginally cheaper to live there and way more glamorous. Every time I’ve tried to move home after college, I’ve spent months underemployed and miserable before being offered an amazing opportunity … somewhere else.
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t grown up there. Sadly, the Bay Area that I terrorized as a BAD TEENAGER is no more, or at least, it has severely changed. Let’s take a walk down memory lane, shall we?
The St. Francis Hotel on Powell Street, San Francisco. This elevator was famous for its clear glass elevators that shot up 32 floors to give an amazing view of the city, if they didn’t give you a panic attack first. As a 13 year-old, my friends and I loved to ride up and down this makeshift rollercoaster about 20 times in succession. (They don’t let you do this anymore). Three of us also once decamped behind a potted plant on the mezzanine and sat there and squatted there for several hours before a guard escorted us out.
A tiki bar that shall remain nameless, for legal and ethical reasons. Mainly because they never checked IDs, and served Bora Bora Horrors and Pina Coladas to my friends. (Never me, oh no. Underage drinking is baaaad!)
The Woolworths in the Powell Street BART Station. Does Woolworth’s even exist anymore? I used to shoplift black nail polish from here almost every day!
Telegraph Avenue and Haight Street. They were basically the same thing, except Haight Street was bigger and my mom didn’t want me going there because she was invariably convinced a riot was going to break out. Broke teenagers pretended to be homeless, begging for “spare change for beer.” (So clever!) Real homeless people lived in makeshift shantytowns in People’s Park where Food Not Bombs served lunch every day. We went to Telegraph every day after school to eat pizza, buy hair dye and fishnet stockings, and shop for records. Records were coming out of vogue in the early nineties when everyone was switching to CD, and you could find incredibly cool stuff on LP for two or three bucks, which might explain why my musical taste in high school was primarily slightly passé stuff like Billy Idol and Duran Duran. Now Amoeba and Rasputin’s mostly stocks audiophile LP reissues that cost three times as much as a download would. Oh well.
Comic Relief. We all sold our ‘zines here and bought our copies of “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac” and “Meatcake” here. They’ve since moved locations, and the owner (who I SWEAR TO GOD the Simpson’s Comic Book Guy was based on) passed away a few years ago. I’m also convinced that Enid and Rebecca in “Ghost World” were based off me and my best friend in High School, but that’s another essay for another day.
924 Gilman. A lot of people are jealous that I went here a lot in the early 1990s, when the venue was spitting out bands like Green Day and Rancid (who were no longer allowed to hang out there once they had “sold out to the man”). Don’t be. It was the only all-ages venue in town that didn’t charge you extra for being underage. The price you did pay was attitude. Berkeley punks are meaner and snottier than the meanest, snottiest Rich Girl/Cheerleader/Class President trope in any John Hughes film. The last time I was there (2002?) to see some At The Drive-In spinoff band, they couldn’t finish their set because some idiots threw a can of Coke at the singers head, which rapidly devolved into a full on punk vs. emo brawl outside the club.
I did get a ride home from Davey Havok, of pre-famous AFI, when I was 15. He was really nice, unlike most of the jerks that hung out there, and I’m glad he’s rich and famous now and they’re not.
I miss my hometown a lot. But it’s never going to be the place I grew up in, not ever again. Maybe, in another 30 years, it will pass out of fashion and I’ll be able to afford to live there again — and to scream at a new generation of teenagers to get the hell of my lawn.