An Afternoon in the Castro District, San Francisco

Today I did some grocery shopping, walking, sightseeing and general farting around in one of my favorite neighborhoods, the Castro in San Francisco.

The intersection of Market and Castro is roughly two miles away from my home (confirmation of the exact distance may depend on which app you’re using), but finding fresh produce in an independent store is easier in the Castro than in my neck of the woods.  Good vegies are one of many excuses to visit a neighborhood which is safer than the area right outside my front doorstep.

Usually, I get the subway.  Walking used to be a good option, but many people around here agree that respiratory allergies are worse than ever now.  The wind in San Francisco kicks up too often to walk two miles when you plan on spending your visit outdoors, so the transit fare is well spent.  Also, use sunscreen.

The weather was warm today, so the conditions were ideal for staying comfortable while relaxing.  I didn’t see any of the naked guys who often take advantage of warm weekends in the neighborhood, but maybe I’m just jaded and have stopped noticing them.  Those guys are no less obnoxious now that a city ordinance forces them to cover their genitals, so the only option is to get used to them.

Now, to share everything that was worth seeing during my adventures.  Photos are included:

Although I wasn’t aware of the City’s transit agency, Muni, running restored motor buses, this afternoon one of them was parked at Castro and Market.  I couldn’t tell if the bus was actually in service.  It appeared the driver was on a break.

I rode buses of this type in the late 1970s.  I wasn’t on the 35 Eureka line, but I used to get the 55 Sacramento Street bus from the Financial District toward Nob Hill.  Later, that line was replaced by an electric trolley bus and christened the 1 California.  The 1 California still exists, climbing the hill and lurching when it isn’t falling slightly backward.  Many people driving cars directly behind those buses know to keep a safe distance, and the rest learn through experience.

The bus shown above has the original destination signs, suggesting the line terminates at Army Street.  Technically, Army Street doesn’t exist anymore, since being renamed after Cesar Chavez.  A man I spoke with on the sidewalk was aware of the old street name, and it was refreshing to meet someone who could recall a landmark that existed before our famous sinking condo complex, Millennium Tower.

Then there was the limo with the shark fin on the roof, parked on Market Street near the Chevron Station.  I wasn’t sure what that was all about, but it was good for a laugh.


Oh, and by chance I met Armistead Maupin.  He and his dog were resting, presumably after a busy day at the dog park.  I didn’t want to create a nuisance, but couldn’t resist approaching him to tell him how much his first two collections of Tales of the City installments helped me cope when my life was in crisis.  I didn’t add that I first read the books around 1980 because that would have dated both of us.  *giggles*

A lot of people can attribute something in their lives to the fact that they read Tales of the City.  The fact that I defied the odds and kept my wits intact when my life was nearly hopeless is what makes the adventures of Michael, Mary Ann, et al important to me.

I remember being on a tight budget, and buying a mass market paperback of the first Tales book from Charles Gillman at the Walt Whitman Book Shop on Sutter Street in San Francisco.  Mr. Gillman — whom I never addressed by his first name because I was only about twenty years old — was one of the kind adults whose occasional presence made it easier for me to come out as bisexual.  That made the book special before I ever read it.

The second set of installments, More Tales of the City, was released in a trade paper edition at about the same time, and due to my insistence that I was good with money (I wasn’t) I bought that book at Foley Books on Sacramento Street.  Foley Books offered twenty percent discounts on the store’s entire stock, so I was very pleased with myself until a day or two later, when I learned that Armistead Maupin was signing copies of the new release at Stacey’s Books on Market Street.

I made a point of taking the public transit into San Francisco from Oakland and visiting Stacey’s on the day he was there, but was too shy to approach him.  I wanted to tell him his writing was protecting me from losing my buttons, but that would have sounded weird so it’s just as well I was too shy to say anything.  So, I stood back at a distance, dealing with multiple conflicts — including noticing how handsome he was, when I knew he was openly gay.  Darned if that wasn’t a difficult time.  On top of everything else, I was lonely and lusty, dammit!

Enough of the past.  I’ll just be grateful I had those two books.  I’ll also be grateful this weekend finally offered a chance to tell the author how much his writing helped me — and to go about it more appropriately than I would have in 1980.

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