view from a pint glass. vesuvio’s, sf.
WE’RE SCRAMBLING FOR CHANGE. A line of cars is queuing up behind us, and the Russian woman working the toll booth looks unforgiving. “Could ya help us out?” I ask, chagrined and holding one dollar less than needed for the toll.
“I cannot take less than five,” she replies, stone-faced with a thick accent. We don’t have five in cash, I say, so what then? “You will get a fine for thirty dollars mailed to you,” she answers. Sweet. Welcome to San Francisco.
The day is cloudy and I’m feeling a bit pissed from a seven-hour drive and the Golden Gate toll debacle. We park around the corner from a strip club – coincidentally adjacent to our hostel – plug the meter and lug our stuff up to the Green Tortoise. The employees at our hostel are changing shifts and so we just sit there while the meter runs. The woman working says we should just sit tight. “I’m just worried about the meter,” I say, tired and feigning patience. Well go feed it, she says.
We eventually get set up in our small room, and then go in search of a place to park the car for free. The key is finding a curb that won’t get streetcleaned until the day after we leave – we luck out at a place near Hayes Valley right next to a park. We pull our bikes out of the trunk, lock the doors, and hope the car will still be there six days from now. Then we ride away, down Grove and into the mad flowing artery of Market Street. It’s rush hour, and the feeling of blood moving in our legs after two days of driving is good enough to make us feel a little crazy. It’s car-avoidance meditation. In between and around. Pedal. Concentrate. Pedal.
We hit the Embarcadero – the main road on the northern waterfront – and whip around to Broadway. We hit a couple good-sized hills and push up them with all we have. I’m gushing sweat. We wheel in front of the hostel sucking air and feeling a great high of endorphins, buzzing with excitement of being someplace new. My bad mood has worn off. We take the bikes up to our room and then hit the street again in search of food. We’re in North Beach so it’s got to be Italian fare, we decide.
On a Wednesday night North Beach (aka Little Italy) is pulsing, and suave Italian men are out luring potential customers into their restaurants. A couple try their bit on Nick and I, but our thin wallets are more persuasive. After touring a few blocks I bust out the trusty NFT Guide and find that “Steps of Rome” should have a solid meal and only has two dollar signs next to it. But when we get there it seems a little spendy – is a little spendy – but the Italian guy is selling it really hard and we give. “Fuck it, it’s our first night.”
Bellies full and wallets stung, we step outside. The fit, grey-haired Italian man who ushered us in the door asks us how our meal was – Great, we say. Then he says something about going out to find women. “How is the pussy in this city?” he asks. We laugh, not quite believing that a 50-some-old man just said that, and then say we wouldn’t know anything about it (both attached men).
Then we see it. Right next door to “Steps of Rome” is “Steps of Rome Caffe,” the stripped-down, less romantic, less expensive version of the place we just ate at. Damn.
We meander down Columbus to find ourselves at Vesuvios, the favorite watering hole of Jack Kerouac. The alley that runs between the bar and City Lights bookstore (also a famous beat haven) is even called “Jack Kerouac Alley.” Steel letters sunk into the pavement of that alley tell quotes of Kerouac’s and other writers.
Nick and I sit in the second floor of the bar and sip on our pints. He takes a phone call outside and so then I just sit there and feel kind of inspired. Kerouac was just a person who sat in this bar, I think to myself, and who wrote. I take out my journal. A gorgeous cacophony of conversations drifts from the cozy wooden tables and out into the neon city night.
(Next: More San Francisco…)