Heart of the City Archives

Back to the heart of San Francisco
by Hank Donat

Returning to the city after a long trip is always a nearly spiritual experience for me and for many others I know. If a prodigal son or daughter is lucky enough to fly into SFO from the north it's a sure bet for rapture.

Above the City lies a beautiful, real life version of Robert Cameron's legendary photography. Cameron recognized San Francisco as a diamond. From the air you'd swear you could see into the solarium of the Spreckles mansion.

On the ground in San Francisco everything is Baby Bear. The temperature is just right. The barometric pressure is just right. The air is just right. It's three parts ocean, two parts eucalyptus, rosemary and sunshine, with a suggestion of recent rain.

Fish has returned to water. San Franciscans understand this. It's like a cup of coffee from your favorite mug, sleep in your own bed, and the sound of birdsong all year long.

A quick inventory shows the new Federal Building rising quickly on 7th Street, where the air is a few parts something other than rosemary. In the Marina, renovation of the dome over the Palace of Fine Arts continues as it has since mid-summer.

At the corner of Market and Castro I find Robert Haaland stumping for Supervisor. Haaland's brief remarks about running as an openly transgender person are moving. He thanks the gay community, as represented by the 40 or 50 people standing and passing through Harvey Milk Plaza as Haaland, Assemblyman Mark Leno, and others speak into a bullhorn. On this corner, in Norman Rockwell's Castro, it seems that things are exactly as I left them weeks earlier.

Later, at Cafe Roma in North Beach, I gathered updates on what I had missed during the weeks I was in Europe. The Trader Vic's opening and the bicoastal banter about Mayor Gavin Newsom's privates were highs and lows, as were the hotel workers' lockout, Warren Hinkle's exit from the pages of the Examiner, and queues for a flu vaccine.

I returned to the City in time to vote for John Kerry and to have the final frank at Pon & Hom's hot dog stand behind the band shell in Golden Gate Park. The concession shut down on Halloween after 24 years.

A party at Comedy Day in the park was a great place to find sunny people like Jackie Holtzman, Dr. Gene Schoenfeld, Famous Melissa of the Artemis Gallery, theatrical producer Jack Anderson, Will and Debbie Durst, and Pinesol lady Diane Amos. (Okay, the Dursts are maybe not so sunny, but they are hilarious.)

It was decidedly easier to catch up with my pal Peggy Dohrman at St. Francis Memorial Hospital's Hip Hop. The '50s dance is the hospital's annual party for joint replacement patients. Dohrman, the sales manager and den mother of the Metreon, had traded in her right knee a few days earlier and so was a captive audience for a few road stories.

Society nun Sister Patrice Burns was on hand for the Hip Hop, along with Judith Bolker, the Total Joint Center's nurse manager. Bolker made a memorable entrance on roller skates. Medical Director Thomas Sampson, Dr. Minx Hong, Saint Francis' CEO Cheryl Fama, Catherine Dodd of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi's office, Victor Prieto, M.D., Cheryl Palmer, Eric Swift, and Linda Gillespie rounded out an esteemed list of familiar faces.

On the heels of the infamous exit polls that suggested Sen. Kerry had an early lead, the mood was very upbeat at Angelo Quaranta's election day luncheon at Allegro. While Sen. Dianne Feinstein held court at Moose's in North Beach, marinara and democrats spilled out onto the sidewalk at Quaranta's place. The lineup outside Broadway and Jones as I arrived could have been the model for a Russian doll of prominent dems - Barbara Boxer, John Burton, Bill Lockyer, Newsom, Angela Alioto, Aaron Peskin, and Holli Thier. Jill Wynns, Tony Hall, Heather Hiles, and Chief Joanne White entertained each other while novelist Herb Gold focused on the penne pasta.

All of these familiar and comforting places and people reminded me why there's no place like San Francisco. We belong to the City, not the other way around. Somewhere between Dresden and Amsterdam I had come to terms with the possibility of a second term for President George W. Bush. Now that it's a done deal, I'm not so sure. But one thing is certain. You won't catch me puffing about ditching the USA for Canada or elsewhere, as some die hard lefties have vowed. I love America and I love San Francisco.

Yesterday someone asked me whether I had found that Germans hate Americans. I spent a few weeks in that country and did not find a single person with a kind word for the American president. However, Europeans appear smart enough to know the difference between Bush and average Americans, at least up to now.

A final note on the election: As someone who was married to a same-sex partner in the City this year, I object to Feinstein's attempt following the election to blame Kerry's defeat in any part on Newsom. The gay marriage movement "energized" the evangelicals who supported Bush, says Feinstein. Of course it did. But it was also intended to energize the political leaders who have enjoyed career-long support from the very same people who lined up around City Hall in a fight for their rights and for a marriage license. For any Democrat to blame Newsom for the party's own failed leadership only piles disappointment on top of disappointment. With that, I take a deep breath and remember, more than ever, there's no place like home.

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Copyright 2004 Hank Donat
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