November 27, 2020

My Corner of the Canyon—Coney Island of San Francisco


More than four years have passed and, of course, I don’t know where they’ve gone. I lived each day, some suffered, some bliss-filled, most a crazy concoction of both, but I don’t recall their passing.

Where did all those sunsets go? Proof of the march of time is seen too easily in the mirror, in the towering height to which the living Christmas tree has grown, in the sun-faded curtains and in the shape of the now grown man, where used to stand my boy.

Riley Valiant Anapol graduated college last month.

In researching campuses, Riley had seen Oregon, Santa Cruz and Sonoma but San Francisco won out. When we first came to that City By The Bay to visit the school, just by chance we stayed at something described as the “Rock and Roll” hotel. We had randomly chosen The Phoenix because it had a pool (Miranda likes to swim) and parking, (good for the Beleaguered Husband to park the rental), a BBQ restaurant close by (yum for Riley) and a bar (well, need we say more?).

The hotel was originally a sleek 1950s motor lodge called The Caravan. Word was comedian Buddy Hackett stayed there. Tastefully revamped by a new owner, Chip Conley, the place retains a cool ‘60s vibe mixed with contemporary art and flare that attracts an eclectic group of guests. It seemed fitting that we should return there, these four years later, now that Riley was graduating. It was sort of like completing a cycle, a journey, a Mandela. The only problem is that over time the price of the rooms had certainly increased whereas, alas, our budget had gone in the opposite direction. I was forced to explore other more, shall we say, affordable lodgings.

There seem to be a lot of flop houses in San Francisco, many just above liquor stores of dubious nature where sometimes people shout and night ladies walk.

Not that we are not an adventurous, open-minded family—we are from Topanga after all—but after viewing actual, horrific photos posted by guests who had suffered bedbug bites at these more budget-priced accommodations, I longed for the Phoenix.

Sometimes there are gifts bestowed. When I spoke to Phoenix manager Diana Weech, explaining our desire to return, she was immediately accommodating and provided us with a discount that allowed us to be part of that little oasis on Eddy Street. In our room was even a complimentary gift basket and hand-made congratulatory graduation cards for Riley.

In this frequently cold, impersonal, corporate world, to encounter the graciousness and kindness of Ms. Weech and her assistant, Orlando, a man of Shakespearean affability, was heartwarming. So we returned to the “Rock and Roll” hotel and, though I’d like to think we might pass for ageing rock and rollers, being the only people there without tattoos, I’m afraid we were just ageing. Nonetheless and especially after passing through the hinterlands of central California (never stop in King City), we were so happy to be there. We barely set our suitcases down and grabbed a snack bar from the gift basket than it was suddenly time to go to some immense stadium to attend the graduation ceremony.

Though not far from the hotel, we are not intrepid travelers and, with San Francisco being far from a drive-friendly town, we were challenged. Even with Miranda guiding us with GPS, the parking situation was vexing and at every turn we made a mistake. In his usual negative, pessimistic style, the Beleaguered Husband pronounced in the voice of doom, “We’ve come all this way and we are going to miss the ceremony.”

Of course, we didn’t miss the ceremony. We even got good seats. As the late afternoon light faded, another light began to shine. There they were. The whole San Francisco State graduating class of 2015, hopeful in purple robes that seemed to glow. And they were smiling. Riley Anapol was smiling, too, and so was his Dad.

Later we got BBQ takeout and ate outside our hotel room, our family together, watching the late-night revelry taking place on the patio around the pool, including a group there for the Yo-yo convention. What’s more rock and roll than that? Music blared from the hotel lounge and I fell soundly asleep to the sound of the bass, which was somehow as soothing as the sound of waves.

The rest of our time was spent in a variety of touristy activities. We met Riley and his charming lady friend, Karen, at Golden Gate Park and Miranda and I hugged a tree. We had an Irish coffee at Buena Vista and chowder on the Wharf. We shopped on Haight-Ashbury Street, walking amongst ghosts, and admired designer tie-dye apparel.

At the graduation ceremony, an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree was to be bestowed on beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Although many of the students, sadly, might not be familiar with one of the founders of City Lights Bookstore, I was very excited, thinking he would be there in person and speak or recite to us. Unfortunately, he was, due to age, unable to attend and appeared only in a video, which at least was something.

Along the Haight I looked in a bookstore for a collection of his poems and even though there were some of his contemporaries’ familiar names—Ginsberg, Kerouac, Snyder—there was no Ferlinghetti. I wanted to search more, knowing somewhere on that street was sure to be a volume but the parking meter was running out and we had to get back to the hotel so Miranda could swim before dinner. When I opened the passenger door, there on the seat was a bag with a grinning likeness of the Cheshire Cat and inside of it was a copy of “A Coney Island Of The Mind. Poems By Lawrence Ferlinghetti.”

My husband was way ahead of me, having picked it up while Miranda and I strolled from shop to shop. Bless him for his almost constant love.

That night, in festive mood, we took The Graduate and Karen and good Topanga friend, Callum, to dinner at a fun Mexican place. Along with a few presents I also brought the book of poems and shared it with Riley who opened to a page and read to us aloud. He read us something funny about a guy with a patch on his ass, but this is the Ferlinghetti poem I choose for him,

The penny-candy store beyond the El is where I first fell in love

with unreality

Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom of that September afternoon

A cat upon the counter moved among

the licorice sticks and tootsie rolls and Oh Boy Gum

Outside the leaves were falling as they died

A wind had blown away the sun

A girl ran in,

Her hair was rainy. Her breasts were breathless in the little room

Outside the leaves were falling

And they cried

Too soon! Too soon!

So, be bold and bright my boy. Forgive your parents their flaws and mortality. Step over us, love your sister and rise from our ashes to fly in the new golden sky,

Until it dims.

Too soon! Too soon!