One of ours finds her way back home
After moving to the Bay Area back in 1997, I settled into my new apartment, without any friends or family to speak of. I was completely alone in a big town. It was at once both terrifying and exhilarating.
I knew very few places I could drive to without getting lost, but I made myself the solemn promise that I would not just stay holed up in my apartment. I would leave the house and explore, even if it tested my bounds of comfort. And it did.
On earlier visits to the area for work, some people I knew in the East Bay had taken me to a restaurant in San Francisco. They had given me directions to get there, and I still remembered the route. I recalled the food was good and the people who worked there were nice.
So it became a steady destination. The restaurant is named Sodini’s, and I’ve spoken about it here before. If you’ve been out to visit me, I’ve likely taken you there.
Anyhow, as I went out every weekend, a little New Mexico girl picking hayseeds out of her hair, the people at Sodini’s began to know me. They looked after me. They gave me advice on how to live in the Bay Area, and they protected me.
Usually, I’d eat at Sodini’s then go across the street to a bar called The Grant and Green to listen to live music. Once in there, a part time cocktail waitress, part time stripper took over looking out for me. She was beautiful but also one tough lady. She would scare off guys she knew were bad news who had come sidling up to me, or would shout down anyone trying to run a scam on me (there were plenty who tried. What did I know? They didn’t have people like this in Albuquerque).
Then, several months later, I began idly dating a blues musician. So now I really had reason to be in North Beach. The blues scene is thriving. Over plenty of nights in various North Beach bars, I became a regular. I became part of the North Beach family. A loose band of a variety of strange and not so strange. Some talented. Some educated. Some rich. Some homeless. We are a little bit of everything. I’ve both been read to from Plato and offered the chance to buy crack in the same evening.
As motley as these folks are, truly, they became my family. I was often alone considering my boyfriend was a working musician. The more I fretted, the more they looked out for me. And I began looking out for them, too.
With all of the people I knew who lived on the streets, I began to worry about them. My big heart would be crushed if I didn’t see Willie on his regular street corner, playing harmonica to cheer passerby. Or if Lorne wasn’t standing outside Café Trieste, looking for some money or maybe to fix someone’s car for a couple bucks. And then there was Millie.
She’s about four feet nothing and would bop from bar to restaurant to bar with a huge gap toothed grin and a Polaroid camera. For $5, she’d take your photo and then give you the biggest hug you’ve ever received from someone so little. Her smile would brighten the entire room.
As the years passed, things turned rather sour with the musician. Then I went through an odyssey of my own psyche. And to add to all of that, then my father passed away. All life changing events.
I stopped going to North Beach so much. When I did go, my family would hug me, ask after my health, worry over me and welcome me home. Then they’d chide me for being gone so long.
Finally, as more years passed, I was alone again and unable to get up the courage to explore like I had before. Things were changing. I was changing. I was profoundly alone and considerably lost.
Then on a sunny day in November, my gray skies parted when I met The Good Man. For a while when we first dated, he lived in North Beach, which meant I visited my old haunts with a new set of eyes and a new man in tow. My North Beach family eyed him warily at first, but were soon as charmed as I over The Good Man.
But, to be honest, that’s not the point of my story. The point is this…recently our friend Millie, the cheery, adorable Polaroid taking woman had gone missing. I’d heard this through the grapevine and was sick to my heart. She isn’t a young lady, and I feared she’d ended up like a lot of my family and succumbed on a cold San Francisco night.
I cried this morning when read this article in the SFGate.
Millie was found in a Reno hospital after taking a bus up there and getting turned around. Some kind folks went up and brought her home.
She’s back in North Beach with her Polaroid and her amazing smile.
I don’t get back to North Beach all that much anymore. The Good Man and I moved into our place on the peninsula and now we’re all married and domesticated and living our new lives together. That’s ok too. It does my heart good to know that even though I’m not still running around North Beach, that my people are there and they are okay.
I’m a strange kid, I’m the first to admit it. I can manage to be homesick over two places at the same time. Both New Mexico and the Bay Area beat inside my heart. I’m not sure how to ever resolve that.
I’m not sure I even want to try.
Photo from the SFGate.