El Camino Real took me north through a moniliform of townships twined together like beads on a string, consequently enabling the city councils to economize on city limit signs….”Leaving Redwood City/Entering San Carlos”. Americans’ love affair with their automobiles has been well documented, but nowhere was the infatuation better epitomized than in the Golden State. That realization was readily reinforced as I knocked along the Camino – every intersection had at least one corner occupied by an establishment catering to some kind of auto service. It was so reassuring to know that I could get anything from seat covers to wheel bearings within a two block radius. When it came to complete car care, Californians were never wanting. I stopped in San Mateo just long enough to call an old Texas Tech friend, Cam Cunningham, but to no avail. I’d catch him the next ’round. After twenty-eight miles on the Camino Real, I finally entered the City by the Bay (the street changes to Mission).
I crossed Market, that grand avenue with the ancient Ferry Building serving as the dramatic terminus, and made my way up and down Van Ness. I hooked a left at Lombard, an old familiar street (going back to 1963 again), which I remembered would lead me to the Marina. Once I got to the Marina, I knew instantly that I had found a “homebase”. There were arbored parking spaces which allowed only out-of-staters to stay overnight. And there was a variety of vans vying vis-a-vis for an optimal view of the majestic Golden Gate Bridge and/or the beautiful bay and yacht harbor surfeited with sail boats.
The marina was teeming with a gamut of activities that reminded me of a summer Sunday in Cheesman Park back in Denver. Only the backdrop had changed. There was one added attraction to the area — a 24-hour Safeway supermarket, and the prefix “super” was a mild superlative when it came to describing that particular store. It was an epicure’s euphoria, especially in the produce, meat, and cheese departments. Non-bon vivant notwithstanding, even I could notice that the market catered to a very sophisticated gourmand community, and that wasn’t even Nob Hill! But that was San Francisco, a city equaled only by Boston in civility and a high quality of living. A young city in comparison with old-timers on the east coast, San Francisco already seemed to be revered and respected and had attained a venerable status previously reserved for ancient cities. I figured the best barometer of the borough-by-the-bay would be found at the local bistro just a block away from the Safeway. I could hear the wails of the jazz band wafting down Webster Street.
The establishment had an Irish name, like Mulaney’s, and it was just the ticket. There were several quinquagenarians queued up at the bar who were obviously the “sea-ducers” of the neighborhood….tall and tanned sloopers hirsute with salt-and-pepper shags and attired in their nautical whites, not to mention the doting distaff side of the Marina draped around them. Mulaney’s was a haven for the heterogeneous, young and old, professional and blue-collar, yuppie and hippie.
After conversing with a handful of the habitué, I got the impression that natives and transplants alike were proud to be a part of the Bay Area. They seemed to have their own destiny in their hands—they knew what they wanted in life, and San Francisco was where they could achieve those goals. No one was more exemplary of that fact than my ex-classmate from Columbia University (class of ’63), Don MacDonald, M.S. in Architecture. He was one aggressive dude. No sooner had Donald thrown his graduation cap into the air, he was hightailing it cross country to his predestined future-by-the-bay. He had been there ever since.
After being put to sleep by the soporific fog horns, I was awaken by the cawing of the omnipresent sea gulls. It was a magnificent morning on the Marina — a Colorado-blue sky shown through cleansed air from the everyday ocean breezes that constantly swept through the rust-orange Golden Gate. Although it was difficult to tear myself away from the paradise approaching the Pacific, I was eager to tackle the hilly city’s incongruous grid system in search of Don Mac’s office.
I wasn’t surprised to find him in charge of his own firm—he always wanted to be in complete command of any and all design decisions. But being chief meant overseeing the tribe, making sure the spears were kept sharpened, the scouts were kept busy, and the squaws kept their men happy. I was more proud of his meteoric accomplishments than envious of his titular position. Of course, the head honcho inherited the inescapable honor of having his name etched in a stone entablature or a highly visible corner block, along with the inevitable possibilities of having his edifice photographed and published in a national news or architectural digest. Sure, that fact had got in my craw sometimes, but I had been supremely satisfied in my D & D (Design and Delineation) work, even though John Q. Public would never know who the creator really was. I knew, and that was all that mattered.
Furthermore, my temperament was never geared to relegating duties to others, that is, mentally instigating a design and then designating a draftsman to physically complete the idea simply because I was encumbered with too many other nit-picking responsibilities. Eighteen years had seen Mac and I take two disparate directions in the same professional field. We could have debated and discussed our different design and life philosophies until we were blue in the face, but we didn’t. Instead, we relished each other’s past and present accomplishments. It was a great reunion.
The next day I said goodbye to the Marina and headed north across the Golden Gate Bridge, undoubtedly the most widely photographed suspension span in the world. I made an exit at Sausalito and found a point from which I could get one last look at the indisputable skyline, now made even more recognizable by the corporate imagery of the TransAmerican pyramid. The distant view gave the tortuous hills an added prominence to the city’s form. I was trying to picture the gripsman at the helm of his ever-faithful cable car as it negotiated the demanding inclines by means of an immense subterranean cat’s cradle of steel rope. Then I remembered reading an article in The Chronicle about the city government’s plans to spend more than $60 million to give the antiquated cable-car lines their first complete renovation since 1873.
Now that was a city that had pride and respect for itself. I could clearly see my beloved marina through the maze of the triangular canvas forms of jibs and mainsails. The sloops were jostling with a naval destroyer as it chugged its way past Alcatraz in route to the Oakland shipyards. The panorama was spellbinding: I made my way over to Mill Valley in search of Jim Heath’s residence.
I hadn’t seen Jim in at least twenty years….back in Dallas when all the far-flung college kids came home for the Christmas holiday reunion. I was getting excited, but a little nervous, about seeing him. As usual, as soon as we clasped hands, my apprehensions disappeared. Jim had aged like a Napa Valley wine – the years had been good to him. He looked mature and handsome. He had purchased a house of significant architecture stature designed by a Californian named Maybeck (can’t recall his first name).
Naturally, it was constructed of redwood with the main feature being a quasi-solarium room replete with glass paneling on the three walls and the 45 degree sloped roof. I referred to the area as if it were a sunroom had it not been for the redwood arbored site. We reminisced over past experiences while indulging in a CalMex dinner supplemented with a native red wine. It was a great evening.
I surmised that Jim was living life to the limit in the fast lane, pushing it to the edge of the envelope, so to speak. His field of endeavor adhered to the speculations of high-risk, high-powered financing pursuits. His life style was definitely cut from the jet-set, wheeling-dealing mold. An occupation of that nature which dealt with such odds and probabilities certainly was as foreign and forbidding to me as anything I could imagine. I could include proctologists, morticians, and used-car salesmen in the same spectrum. I curled up under the covers in my van bed, reassured that I had answered my calling.