San Francisco Buttermilk Biscuits


At work, everyone asked with vibrant hopeful faces, “What are you gonna do in San Francisco, Gary?”

“I’m gonna sit on Sean’s couch, drink coffee and watch tv.”

Then everyone at work looked at me with sadness and pity lines around the eyes.

Why they expected more is a mystery. When regularly asked, “What are you doing this weekend, Gary?” I always answer the same thing: “I’m going to stay home and put things away where they belong!”  This is who I am.

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I Can Get You to The Hamburgers

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, 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.

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Stay Alive on the Train!

Today, I am taking the Amtrak Coast Starlight Superliner on an 11-hour trip from Hollywood to San Francisco to spend a week with my friends Sean and Laura. Sean and Laura will be happy to see me. And I’m looking forward to seeing them. But none of us are kidding ourselves. The three of us are all perfectly aware of what I am most excited about. Riding the train.

Have you ever noticed the face of a little kid when the family car gets stopped to allow a train to pass through town? Is there anything more exciting for that little kid than counting all the cars, waving at the passengers, and imagining where they’re headed and all the fun they’ll have when they get there? Even when that little kid is old and gray, there’ll always be something in that experience that will bring them back to the excitement and endless possibilities they believed in when they were young.

There is no mode of transportation more romantic and open to mystery than a train. Anything is possible. That’s why every time I’m on one, I cross my fingers and pray that someone will get murdered.

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Lefty O’Doul’s – 333 Geary Street, San Francisco

Francis Joseph “Lefty” O’Doul was a home-grown San Franciscan who played for the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, as well as the New York Giants and went on to manage the local San Francisco Seals from 1937 to 1951. He is credited as being instrumental in spreading baseball’s popularity in Japan, serving as the sport’s goodwill ambassador before and after World War II. The Tokyo Giants, sometimes considered “Japan’s Baseball Team,” were named by him in 1935 in honor of his affiliation with his New York team.

Lefty opened his hometown restaurant and pub on Geary Street in 1958. The place is dark and woody, crowded with baseball memorabilia, and throngs of patrons who clearly feel at home and no doubt crowd the place on a regular basis.

The term “watering hole” may not have been invented for this place, but it certainly applies. Ask the guy next us at the bar who was about 3003 sheets to the wind (“I’m forty-fooour… of course next year I’m gonna be forty-threeeee…. I look pretty good for forty-nine, don’t IIIIIIIII?“) And of course, this was at about 11:30 in the morning. The lengthy bar and comfy stools stand directly across from a steam tray line where cooks serve up hand-carved roast beef, ham and pastrami, filling the stomachs of the business district at lunchtime.

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Joe Dimaggio’s Italian Chophouse – San Francisco

Perhaps you’re actually old enough to remember and relish the era of Joltin’ Joe Dimaggio and his 1941 record hitting streak (56 consecutive games). Or perhaps you’re just someone, like me, who every so often imagines hopping into a time machine, slipping into a dark gray flannel suit, cuff links and fedora for an evening of decadent wine and Italian food surrounded by dark mahogany walls, high-backed leather booths, crystal chandeliers and Marilyn Monroe peering at you from across the room. Either way, if you’re in San Francisco, you’re bound to end up at Joe Dimaggio’s Italian Chophouse.

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