Thursday, December 9, 2021

Spirits of San Francisco

 Imagine meeting someone who loves your home city (in this case, San Francisco) as much as you do, who first arrived here at almost the same time (1971/1973), who walks some five or six miles daily attuned to the quirky eccentricities that give character to a place. Imagine that this same person loves jazz, had the good fortune to work in a place where “the inmates ran the asylum,” was connected to a student you taught. Someone with a good sense of humor who writes well, is mildly nostalgic for things that have passed while happily embracing some of the new faces of this city, is properly outraged at senseless, ugly, intrusive changes driven by the dollar. And on top if it all, was born at almost the same year (1953/ 1951) on exactly the same day! (July 28). 


And there you have the chronicle of a two-hour lunch my wife and I spent in the company of Gary Kamiya, author of The Cool Grey City of Love and Spirits of San Francisco. He indeed is the half-brother of a student we taught back in the late 70’s and early 80’s and really does share the same birthday! As well as all the other qualities and similar life experiences listed above.


And the occasion of the lunch? Simply that my wife Karen was the first to read the “Cool Grey City” book and could not stop quoting from it and insisting I read it. And also brought it with us on our pandemic “get to re-learn San Francisco” walks to illuminate information far beyond what we could see with the naked eye. From geological information to hidden watersheds to depiction of former native lives on this land to the colorful (and destructive) Gold Rush beginnings of this city of vice, all the way down to yesterday’s news. History, mythology, folk lore, urban legends, science, all with a personal touch shaded by an obvious love for this place and its stories and an eloquence that can do it justice. 


So I looked up Gary Kamiya on Facebook and somehow got his e-mail contact information and simply wrote to him inviting him to have a lunch with us. The half-brother connection helped give it a context, but even without it, I suspect he might have accepted just for the pleasure of talking about the city— and hey, why not get a free lunch? If we were horribly boring, he could excuse himself to go to the bathroom and come back announcing he just got a call from his 91 year mother and needed to attend to her right now. In fact, he didget a call from his mother and opted not to take it! Good sign!


So on we went for two plus hours, ping-ponging back and forth. “Remember the twin sisters who dressed up and strolled up and down Union Square? The Human Jukebox? Fleishhacker Pool? That scene in Vertigo?” On we went with unbridled enthusiasm and like the felt sense of when the jazz solo is over, got up refreshed from the conversation. Joined together in the feeling of loving the same city in similar ways, with an appreciation for the things that any Risk Committee would shut down. 


Whether or not you live in SF, both books would make perfect Holiday gifts. (No, I’m not getting a cut.) Thanks to Gary Kamiya for his work, his humanity and his willingness to have lunch with two strangers who left as friends.



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