Apparently, wherever we’re going, you do not want me to drive.
I’m forever being reminded by Sean and Laura, two who claim to be friends, that rarely do I dare drive more than thirty miles an hour on the freeway, but that I’ll happily plow over the center divider and zip down the wrong side of any city street if it gets me through the light faster.
I’ve also been told that I’m not very good with driving directions. On this point, I have to agree. I have never enjoyed having a car. As with most of society, I don’t like putting gas into it and I don’t like having to insure it, but my disinterest in the entire idea of automobiles goes even further. I have no desire to keep the interior clean. If a knob falls off of something and hopelessly rolls under the seat, as far as I’m concerned that’s the knob’s new home. Somewhere in the trunk I may have jumper cables or a spare tire, but they’re completely buried underneath old laptops, empty luggage and 1990s mix tapes I made with my 1990s boyfriend. For me, the automobile is mostly a trying and unfortunately necessary nuisance. If Henry Ford and I met one day, it would be interesting to see which one of us would beat the shit out of the other first.
I can do a great many things well, but getting someone from Point A to Point B in my Chevy Malibu is not one of them. Sure, like anyone I can be occasionally absent-minded. Who among us hasn’t temporarily lost a pizza in their house only to find it under the bed after three hours of exhaustive searching?
But when it comes to successfully reaching a destination behind the wheel, I am only what can be politely called a pure and total abomination. I have lived within the same twenty-mile stretch of Los Angeles for the last fifteen years, and I still get lost on the way home from work. I once had to pull over to the curb and call my boyfriend to remind me what his cross-streets were. As for the friendly British woman who tells me from the little box on the dashboard, “In one hundred feet, turn left…” she needs to learn that advance warnings like that do not help me. They merely create a ball of anxiety in my stomach that increases over the next ninety-nine feet until I’m so worried I’ll disappoint her I completely forget what she told me to do in the first place. And instead of ending up at Disneyland, I end up in Venezuela having to ask a rebel para-military group how to get back to the 101.
There have been times I’ve gotten so lost driving that I’ve considered giving up on finding my way back and just re-locating to wherever I currently am. “It’s not too bad here,” I cheerily reason with myself. “This place has a lot of appeal. There are many available apartments. I could rent one today. And look, a FotoMat! That’s convenient. Yes! This is making more sense the longer I consider it. I’ll just pull over and live here now. True, I’d have to buy all new clothes, new furniture from antiques world ( ehich I wouldn’t mind since I’ve always wanted to buy from them), and replace the cat. Plus, since I don’t know where I am, it would be impossible for me to tell friends and family how to get here for a visit, so I guess it’s out with them, too! But that’s not a bad trade-off for such a quick solution to my problem. It’s just like the sign says… If I lived here, I would be home now.
But something curious and stimulating happens to me whenever I’m San Francisco. Freed of my car in a town where walking is often easier and faster, I find I’m suddenly imbued with a superior sense of direction that emerges so unexpectedly and is so remarkably accurate it frightens everyone I know, me most of all.
It’s odd and unsettling. I don’t understand it, but it’s true. I can’t get you to the Hollywood sign though I live less than five miles from it, but I can get you anywhere in San Francisco. If the City by the Bay is a charming, fog-infused maze, I’m the smartest baby rat in the box.
I can get you to Union Square just in case you want to say hello to the silver guy standing motionless on a box with a donation cup in hand. Or I can take you to Clown Alley on Columbus Street where Sean and I once encountered a traditional jazz funeral complete with brass band, dirges and hymns proceeding right through the middle of the Financial District. If you want to see articulated skeletons of bats and rabbits, I can get you to Paxton Gate on Valencia Street. It’s right next door to the city’s only independent pirate supply store where you can scoop your own lard!
And once an afternoon of street performers, music and trying on hook hands has come to a close, I can get you to the hamburgers.
Heading east on Clay Street with a left on Hyde and another left on Union will lead you to Roam Artisan Burgers, where Laura and I checked in for an inaugural visit earlier this week. Laura is not one to hold back her opinions with food she deems sub-standard. Luckily for me she was, in her own words, “pretty damn comforted” by the comfort burgers served up at Roam. I was able to determine this for myself by the fact that her attention never drifted away from her meal long enough for her to start assigning disparaging names to the other customers like “Houseplant” “Soft Head” or “Bird Face.”
Roam’s burgers are 100% grass fed beef and free-range turkey (bison and veggie are also available options). Ordering is at the counter, and seating is casual and roomy with long communal benches and traditional tables for smaller parties. Our arrival time proved to be spot-on as within a few minutes of snagging our condiments and collecting them at our table, the line to order was spilling all the way out onto Union Street.
Laura ordered up the Turkey Tejano Burger which arrived oozing with pepper jack cheese mixed with a fresh jalapeño relish and topped with chunks of soft avocado, crisp tomato, white corn strips and herb ranch dressing. Mine was the Pacific Blue Burger which came topped with blue cheese, watercress, tomato, steak sauce, and a landslide of caramelized onions. The Pacific Blue was thicker and more indulgent, while the Tejano was a perfect fusion of hot, spicy and creamy. Laura and I could have easily swapped burgers and been just as happy. Both came nicely held together by soft and sweetly flavored sesame seed buns, which can be substituted with a whole grain Pacific Coast Bakery bun for no extra charge.
Sides include russet fries, sweet potato fries and the fried zucchini “haystack.” Or you can order a combination of all three in what Roam calls their “Fry-Fecta.” Additionally, the fries can be topped with specialty seasonings including truffle parmesan, fresh herbs and chipotle maple. Beverages include Artisan sodas sweetened with house-made agave, traditional milk shakes along with more exotic flavors like white peach, salted caramel and coconut, plus a selection of microbrews and sustainably-produced wines.
If you find yourself near Civic Center, make sure you steer your sneakers over to Pearl’s Deluxe Burgers, located on Post Street between Leavenworth and Jones. The décor is decidedly underwhelming in the face of the yuppy zing you’ll find at Roam. The menu is presented on an old school cafeteria board with additional items added on plain old copy paper taped to the wall. The burgers don’t arrive at your table with any kind of upscale presentation either. Mine showed up cradled in a standard plastic bucket tray lined with wax paper. But the no-frills approach Pearl’s takes to showcasing doesn’t seem to have fooled any of the locals when it comes to the quality of what’s coming off the grill. The exchange I heard between two customers in line said it all:
“What’s good here?”
“Everything’s good here.”
Fully acknowledging I might hate myself for it later, I took on the Spicy Sly: a half-pound burger topped with mayo, jack cheese, a bounty of red and green grilled peppers along with grilled onions and pumpkin habanero chili sauce. The pleasure I felt as this stinging, sloppy meat creation dripped and clumped its way past my lips was matched only by the stamina required to keep my watering eyes from overflowing down onto my cheeks in public.
And for those burger buffs not interested in taking an “eat the heat” approach to their food, there are plenty of other burger styles at the ready: The Bula (pineapple and teriyaki), The Phat Bob (BBQ bacon with Jack cheese and onion rings), The Pesto (pesto, tomato mayo and Jack cheese). And then there is… The “King” Burger: a quarter pound patty crowned by a hot dog and smothered with American cheese and Thousand Island dressing. Currently, it does not come topped with a deep-fried Twinkie, but I’m sure the Pearl’s test kitchen has it in the pipeline.
I never worry about eating beyond my waistline when I’m in San Francisco. In fact, when I’m in San Francisco, I don’t worry much at all, another side of personality that only seems to emerge when I’m here. It could be the burgers, or the bay, or it could be Sean and Laura. I don’t think I ever want to know what it is. But I’m happy to know there’s at least one place in the world where I’m able to say that I know where I’m going.