When wicked was a town tagged SFO
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.