The more things change

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The more they stay the same…or so the saying goes.

Is that really true? It seems anymore that everything just changes. And changes. And changes.

Am I becoming my folks? Lamenting for days gone by. “Better days.” “It didn’t used to be like this.”

Is it an inevitable side effect of passing years?

Somewhere along the way in my tenure here in the Bay Area, just over ten years now, I crossed a line, passed a barrier, ticked off a marker. I had finally lived here long enough that I could pine for “how it used to be.”

Yesterday evening I had occasion to drive The Cute Boy™ to San Francisco. He’s laid up with a bum ankle (don’t ask). So Cute Boy is now Gimpy McGimperson on two crutches. He had some business in our fine City, so I took him there and decided to bide my time and wait for him to be done, más o menos, three hours all in.

So while waiting I decided to visit an old haunt in North Beach, a place I’ve waxed ecstastic about in these very pages. A lovely family owned restaurant called Sodini’s. Owned by the venerable Mark Sodini, when I first moved, a hay-seed-in-my-hair girl from New Mexico, Sodini’s was one of the few places I knew how to get to in that big mean city.

Back in those days I was trying to catch the eye of a local musician (it ended badly, don’t ask) who played at the bar across the street. So I’d go to Sodini’s for dinner and some liquid courage. It’s always a bit weird being a girl going to a restaurant or bar alone, but any trepidation I had quickly dissolved in the kind presence of the good people of Sodini’s. These folks couldn’t have been more cordial, and kind, and they took good care of me, looked out for me, and became my friends.

So it was a melancholy bit of business to sit, once more, by myself on a barstool, drinking a well made drink and tucked into a gorgeous Caprese.

My eyes wandered to the strangely quiet Green street out the windows, and my retinas were burned by a neon sign blaring FAX, COPIES, PHOTOS. I said to Mark, “What’s with the copy place? Didn’t that used to be a frame shop?” He laughed and said “Yeah, but it’s been a copy place for about two years.”

Two years? How do two years slip past without me knowing it?

Then I looked over at the old North Beach Video shop. It’s now an upscale restaurant (I don’t even remember the name) and the video store moved into a much smaller space next door.

I started getting depressed. “My neighborhood is vanishing!” I thought, nervously sipping my drink and spooning in Minestrone for comfort. That sort of demoralized anxiety was setting in, until I really stopped, took a breath, and looked around.

There was Mark at the end of the bar playing liar’s dice with Leo. I met Leo not long after I’d moved, on a night much the same. Leo owns Vesuvio, the bar next door to City Lights. If you are familiar with the Beat Generation writers, then those names mean something to you.

Leo has lived in North Beach for a long time. I can’t quote how many years, but I’m guessing somewheres between forty and sixty. On that night way back then, Leo told me stories of North Beach. Told me how he used to own a coffee bar (in the first popular incarnation of coffee bars in America) and that he once paid Janis Joplin twenty bucks to play all night. I asked him questions about her with wide-eyed wonder, and he remembered her fondly, remembering her as “a little odd”. He told me about Jefferson Airplane. And Grace Slick (who’s long been a hero of mine). Told me they were good kids and he enjoyed them, but they drank too much.

This was amazing to me. A living history book. And last night, there he was again, taking everyone’s dice and beating ’em all, like usual.

As I continued to gaze around the restaurant, I spotted a favorite waitress and the guy who used to work the door at the Grant & Green. And Mark said “You need another, Karen?” and I nodded. And he served it right up because he takes good care of his customers.

And I relaxed. And smiled. And let out a little bit of the whole lotta stress I’ve got working me.

Because everything might change. This world moves too fast. Everything looks different when you turn around and look again. And in this fast pace world, sometimes you just know that certain places will remain enough the same to keep you sane, and that’s good enough for me.

(Don’t even get me started on my fair New Mexico and what the hell has happened to my beautiful Albuquerque. Oy! Guess it’s time to move somewhere new where I don’t remember what it “used to be,” and leave before I cross that same line again. Ah well, I love New Mexico. I love the Bay Area. And most of all, I love The Cute Boy™, and that is something that, good lord willing and the creeks don’t rise, will always be there, growing a little stronger every day)

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