If You’re Going (Back) To San Francisco

In the summer of 1993 I was in a pretty bad place emotionally. I was five years removed from graduating high school and was going nowhere fast. (Bonus points if you get the Streets of Fire reference) I was stuck in a dead end job, had dropped out of college and was living at home with no prospects and no real future. 

To make matters worse, I had discovered the Beat Generation and Jack Kerouac a few years earlier so my mind was filled with writing and traveling. A copy of On The Road went with me everywhere and I saw myself chronicling my life in words someday just like Kerouac.

I just had absolutely no idea how to make that happen.

After another fight with my mother (which was probably my fault) I was out of patience and out of options. So I called my friend John who had moved to Berkeley, California the previous year and desperately asked if he wanted a roommate.

To my shock, he said sure.

To this day I’m still not exactly sure what brought on the decision to move across the country. I don’t usually make big, life altering changes to my life like that on a whim. I plan and talk about it, but never actually do anything. It’s a personality trait of mine that I always despised and still do.

But a few weeks later John had sent me a plane ticket he had gotten from a friend and there I was. Standing in the San Francisco International Airport with little to no money, a few possessions and absolutely no clue what the future held.

I was terrified and exhilarated at the same time.

I lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in a crappy part of town with John and another friend of ours named Grant. I slept on an air mattress on the floor next to the kitchen while Grant slept on a futon in the living area and John got the bedroom. I spent my days writing in a coffee shop I discovered while walking around Berkeley and my nights reading, talking and hanging out.

Unfortunately my friendship with John almost came to an end as a result of us living together and numerous other factors that the two of us have only begun to unravel. But my relationship with Grant, who was only really more an acquaintance at that point, turned into a deep bond that the two of us cherish to this day.

Grant and I would take a day each week and head into San Francisco to explore the city and the people who lived there. We spent an entire day roaming Golden Gate Park, another was spent walking around the Haight-Ashbury District. One afternoon we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, which to this day is still one of the greatest experiences of my life. And we discovered a restaurant with the best chocolate milkshakes we had ever had.

When I eventually ran out of money and realized the living conditions weren’t working, I went home. I took a notebook filled to overflowing with writing and some of the greatest memories of my life and spent three days on a Greyhound bus, heading toward Philadelphia.

I swore that my return East was only temporary however. My plan was to save money and head back to the West Coast as soon as I could. I had found a place where I felt like I belonged and where life made some kind of sense to me. I had to go back.

A little less than two years later though, I met Lisa, the woman who would become my wife. And everything changed.

I knew that my plans to return to California were out the window about three months into the relationship. I was quickly falling in love and Lisa had become the entire focus of my future.

That being said, a part of me never really came home from Berkeley. I consider it one of the benchmarks of my life, a period of time that profoundly changed me as a person. And a small part of me always wanted to return.

I wouldn’t give up a single moment of my life with Lisa for anything, even with her terrible illness and eventually losing her. The deep pain of the last few years that has almost ended me is a small price to pay for the two decades of laughs, love and affection we shared.

Lisa is gone. That part of my life is over and nothing will bring it back. But I’m starting to think it may be time to reunite with a part of myself I almost forgot about. A part of me that realized just how amazing life can be, when there are endless possibilities in front of you and nothing to stop you from becoming anything you want.

I think it might be time to consider a new chapter in an old book I thought I was long finished with.

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