Go Ahead and Call It Frisco, What the Hell Do I Care

The avant garde does not always age so well.
The avant garde does not always age so well.

The problem with being part of any vanguard is that, if you do your job properly, there’s eventually no van to guard. But the world doesn’t owe you a living for getting it right. Excellent instincts should be reward enough. Still, it is hard to watch what is happening to this city.

In the beginning the Beats begat the Free Speech Movement which begat Haight Ashbury which begat The Castro which begat the AIDS Crisis which begat the Y2K bubble that burst which begat communal non-office office space. Somehow, the spirit has changed. If history teaches millennials anything it’s that a CEO telling you something is cool usually means it isn’t.

In retrospect, my generation happened upon a gold mine when the bourgeoisie fled the City for the pre-fab dry wall and concrete driveways of the suburbs. What they left behind were Victorians and pre-war apartment buildings that were pretty much intact. Though we did not have the money to decorate them properly there was still something dramatic about having an India print covered mattress on the floor under a 12 foot ceiling.

Today’s influx also sees the value of these properties but it’s more of the investment opportunity kind. They no more than move in than they start waiting for the opportune moment to flip. We were just looking for a place to live.

My friend Thom always had a novel take on things like going for walks after a big storm because the air smelled clean. When he found a place in Hayes Valley, however, I thought he was nuts.

In the 1980s it was a neighborhood of abandoned store fronts, junk stores, drug dealers, muggings and police harassment. Some could see the potential, like the Punks and Goths, but nothing seemed to make a go of it over there. I had friends who opened an apparel store on Hayes called Dog Meat that only lasted a few months.

When I first visited Thom’s apartment I could see the appeal. High ceilings, well proportioned rooms, crown molding, and plenty of light from the rounded windows in the turret. It was a wonderful apartment. Getting to and from it was the issue.

Thom was hassled daily, mocked and yelled at on the street. He tuned it out and thrived on the neighborhood telling me he once bought some crack and smoked it with a guy in an alley. He just wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  (And no, he did not become an addict.)

One night walking home after the bar closed he was mugged. They took everything on him and beat him badly. The police responded but nothing ever came of it. When I saw him a few days later he was severely bruised, his eye was swollen shut, and he was still stitched and bandaged up.

Thom didn’t walk home late at night after that but neither did he move out. I think of his face today when I’m walking down Hayes Street with my $5 scoop of fast frozen ice cream, admiring $95 Japanese baby booties in the window.

Next: Hitler Youth
Previous: Tina and the Spoken Word
The complete saga, From the Beginning

Contact: ellistoellis@gmail.com

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