How can I have survived 72 years? Why have I survived 72 years? And does it matter either way? What is a birthday, after all, but an annual shot at existential questions? Which, when answered, or even better when unanswered, amount to a simple conclusion. A birthday is a day to be grateful. A birthday is a day to assess. A birthday is a day to change course.
All courses need to be changed. And on this day, enjoyment and fulfillment, I have decided, are worthy goals. The latter quality cannot be accomplished alone, nor should it. And the former often eludes me, but for no good reason. The not good reason has to do with personal, hypercritical judgments about what one should, or shouldn’t, do with life. But when there is less and less of life on offer, time’s winged chariot, and all that…. Well, one learns that Blake had a point: catch the joy as it flies.
One of the joys of being in San Francisco is, of course, eating. Restaurants in this town are like staring at someone’s exquisite library. There are too many wonderful books to read. There is too little time to read them. And besides, no matter how fast you read, the big librarian in the sky keeps updating the collection. Yes, you had better catch the restaurant joy as it flies out the window.
I gather that the food service business is a tricky one. Perhaps like keeping up the quality of a long-running Broadway show. Everything, from the ragged edges of the backdrops to the timing of the comic dialogue in the second act, has to be freshened. Which is, I suppose, why a restaurant’s menu has to keep changing. The times are. So even the most successfully tried and tested dish will eventually try the patience of the clientele and fail the test of time.
Which brings us to the strange goings-on in our neighborhood. Chenery Park, a restaurant named after our street and, of course, located on it, failed within months of our arrival. Hard to say what happened. One of the two men who ran it, and had run it for 15 years, fell ill, according to the couple who run the cheese shop across the street. There were other rumors. Principally that the restaurant was long overdue for an upgrade to ADA compliance, the wheelchair access being notoriously marginal. Whatever the cause, the restaurant was soon no more, leaving a strange hole in the local range of dining possibilities.
A French joint remains. Le Petit Laurent is fairly good, offers a weekday special for locals, and has the ever cheery owner, you guessed it, Laurent, bustling about. There is a Thai place, fairly good, up the street. And a spectacular pizza place, one of the best anywhere. And that’s it, except for the very attractive looking Italian place where the food is inexplicably terrible. And, of course, an unimaginably bad Chinese place in a city that is renowned for its Chinese cuisine. So, if one is spoiled, determined to walk to a dining place and seeking variety, one can easily run into disappointment. Particularly at breakfast.
I forgot to mention Tyger’s coffee shop, a throwback to another era, which makes routine omelettes with slightly soggy hash brown potatoes, plus a very predictable sandwich at lunch. So one doesn’t exactly rush there to celebrate a birthday. Instead this morning Jane and I rushed aboard the #35 bus and headed to the redoubtable Castro district, historically San Francisco’s center of gay rights, and home to great restaurants such as Kitchen Story, a breakfast/lunch haunt with an Asian influence. It was great. And so was the bus. And in no time at all we were back home. Which at age 72 is extraordinarily welcome, containing as it does Jane and us.
The joy was flying, in short, and we caught up with it, or it with us.