When wicked was a town tagged SFO

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - GRA­HAM ER­BACHER

I’ve been look­ing at Look­ing der­ful about San Fran­cisco.

Look­ing is an HBO TV se­ries set in the Bay City with char­ac­ters of di­verse “life­style choice” (a tech­ni­cal term). The show is like a 21st-cen­tury up­date on Ar­mis­tead Maupin’s Tales of the City from the 1970s-80s. If you read the nov­els or saw the TV se­ries, you couldn’t help but want to share in the lib­erty, equal­ity and fra­ter­nity of 28 Bar­bary Lane.

San Fran­cisco is a fond over­seas des­ti­na­tion be­cause it was my first, way back in the sum­mer of 1970-71. It waited at the end of a long stu­dent char­ter flight, the re­ward for work­ing nights at Bris­bane’s Roma Street Mail Ex­change af­ter uni by day.

The first tag on my “port” car­ried the tin­gling com­bi­na­tion of let­ters, SFO. I nur­tured that tag, swap­ping it from bag to bag, as the card­board crum­bled and the elas­tic per­ished. It gave me the in­ter­na­tional-pass­port ca­chet I might have at­tained from Peter Stuyvesant, had I been a smoker.

I had high hopes of SFO, fu­elled by the warn­ing Spencer Tracy’s priest, Fa­ther Mullin, gives Jeanette MacDon­ald’s opera singer, Mary Blake, in the 1936 earth­quake film San Fran­cisco: “You’re in prob­a­bly the wickedest, most cor­rupt city, most god­less city in Amer­ica. Some­times it fright­ens me. I won­der what the end’s go­ing to be.’’

SFO didn’t dis­ap­point.

and feel­ing warm and won-

It’s ev­ery­one’s “favourite Amer­i­can city”, the drama of its quake-shaped land­scape so won­der­fully cap­tured by Al­fred Hitch­cock in Ver­tigo, his love song to the city and a dizzy­ing tale of death and de­cep­tion. Those “lit­tle ca­ble cars” re­ally do “climb half­way to the stars”.

But SFO’s raw ap­peal comes from its feel­ing of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, of living on the edge.

I ar­rived a few years af­ter 1967’s Sum­mer of Love, but there was still kiss ’n’ cud­dle in the air.

“It’s an Amer­i­can dream/ in­cludes In­di­ans too’’ is the cringe­wor­thy con­clud­ing line to Eric Bur­don’s San Fran­cis­can Nights (among other cork­ers: “heav­ens above, he’s on a street called love”).

Be­sides In­di­ans, the “dream­ers” in­cluded hip­pies hap­pen­ing in Haight-Ash­bury, a dis­trict pun­gent with in­cense and ablaze with tie-dye and psychedelia; lit­er­ary types, hop­ing for a po­etic howl from a Gins­berg at the City Lights Book­store; gay peo­ple ghetto-ising in the Cas­tro; po­lit­i­cal hard­lin­ers cross­ing the bay to shovel up protest and pam­phlets at Berke­ley’s cam­pus.

In the years since, the whole world turned wicked. Now, wicked doesn’t even mean wicked. But SFO re­tains a spe­cial spirit.

That cher­ished lug­gage tag was even­tu­ally torn off by an un­feel­ing driver on a hum­ble bus trip. It broke my heart. That’s the one, of course, I left in SFO.

Su­san Kuro­sawa is on as­sign­ment.

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