It’s been said that losing a city, be it by choice as Joan Didion did once, or by (bad) luck, the way the good people of New Orleans were slapped around by Katrina, well, the experience can be devastating. Approaching three score years, myself, I’ve gained and lost quite a few cities. Most I’ve loved so I rarely dwell on the departures. Too gloomy. But sometimes I can’t help a slight turning back of the clock if just to reflect. To a time when, ah yes, there were bars, cafes, bookstores, theater. A time I even went to some. Bars that is.
Back, back in the day, there were a ton places I fled to when the work day ended (or when any day ended, actually). There was the bar of the Gramercy Park Hotel where me and the crew from Adweek would descend, bringing chaos and thunder to a dimly lit, ignored space with thread-bare chairs and generic, glass-topped tables. Before that, when I lived north of Chicago and commuted by train, there was a bar in Union Station where the Board of Trade runners like myself and assorted low-level traders would congregate after the final bell rang out. In between Chicago and New York there was a sleepy, small-town bar in Whitmore Lake, Michigan where we shook off the insanity of working the graveyard shift (I was working at the nearby auto assembly plant that’d hired a bunch of university kids for exactly 89 days, all of us fired a day short of when management would have had to offer FT jobs and entrance into the mighty United Auto Workers union). Even the early days at GameSpot, after I’d moved to San Francisco, had its late nights, at a hole-in-the-wall Japanese spot next door on Clement. I don’t remember much beyond the bottomless sake tumblers, paid for by the bosses who appreciated the long hours and our hunger for more and more and more page views.
Back then it was all smoke and laughter and never a care for tomorrow. “Headlong into the clutches of vice” I saw it written once. I embraced those clutches, never complained about the morning-after headaches or tested friendships. But I moved on.
Now I drift to sleep before midnight. Snuggled up to my iPad. Lost in the banter of the PBS Newshour. Or maybe for a really good time I’ll stream KQED from the beloved Bay. My lullaby used to be the rumble of an express train on tracks below the street and sidewalk, but we don’t even have sidewalks in Hiouchi.
For a good time, now — when I not helming an evening meal or fretting over a new recipe for the morning, and when Meg and I get antsy and need people more then we need trees — I look around the fridge for the best leftovers of the past few days, reach for a ripe avocado and some cheese, and judiciously pick a mid- to basement-y priced bottle of wine from the stack of Washington reds and Oregon whites I keep in the garage. Then Meg and I scoot on down the lane or pick our way along the rocky bluff to Bill’s place upriver.
It’s an honest night’s silliness that involves no driving, only small amounts of mayhem, and enough laughter and semi-reveals to qualify as high entertainment. It’s the perfect compliment to the off-the-grid/country living we’ve got going here on the riverbank. And it seems to relax Molly, too.
For those who take place seriously, that place you call home, to lose it or be without it long enough to forget, well, it can feel like losing everything. Leaving New York City in the nineties, I thought that could never happen. Leaving New Orleans a decade later, another impossible step outside my comfort zone. But I survived those moves and others. Now I live in Hiouchi and some day it too will change tenses, but not now. Not yet.