I stole an umbrella in San Francisco; I’m not proud of it. Maybe I didn’t steal it – maybe it had legitimately been abandoned and the theft was that rarest of things, a victimless crime. The umbrella itself was smallish and red and lying on top of a news-stand outside the Walgreen’s on the corner of Castro and 18th. It was raining, I didn’t have an umbrella of my own, and the dry circle at the front of the Walgreen’s was a lonely oasis on a sidewalk where flooding gutters and dripping roofs stretched away in all directions. Motive met opportunity met intent and while it was hardly the heist of the century, I was more than a little worried that someone was going to yell out after me ‘Hey! Hey asshole! Yeah, you! The Australian asshole!’

But they didn’t, and, guiltily dry in the pouring rain, I gripped my new umbrella tight and walked quickly away, and home.

My Facebook feed is currently filled with information on the weather in California. People in LA talk about monsoon-like winds and minor hurricanes roaming the town, moaning their way between apartment buildings. People in the greater SoCal area status update about wild nights and fierce days, about seeing trees blown over and powerlines disabled. And my friends in San Francisco mostly talk about the rain, the grey downpour that hasn’t stopped for days.

I arrived in San Francisco on November 29, 2008. It was my first time in America; my first time outside Australia. Before leaving Australia I’d sold everything I owned that could be sold – my CD collection, my DVDs, my car. This was to be my big move, my big Next Step on my life path – I had a hard-won two-year working visa, and I was emigrating to the US under the auspices of a company that had hired me as a contractor. The job I’d currently been contracted to do? Working on reviews of porn sites.

No, seriously.

The flight from Australia to the US is a long one. I’ve done it six times in fourteen months now, and my advice to those making the trip is to get a flight with Virgin Pacific or Air New Zealand if you can – there’s noticeably more legroom and the food is better. My flight to SF the first time around consisted of a brief stopover in Sydney, then a fourteen-hour trek over the Pacific – and after four hours in the air that inch of extra space makes a world of difference.

The line through immigration at SFO was no joke. Hundreds of people, bleary and tired, waited to get into America; a long, long line of people standing in a meandering snake of a queue, hemmed in by bright yellow guide ropes, moving forward in halting, seemingly endless steps. Children cried, young men and women laughed in private groups, parents sighed and adjusted the straps of carry-on baggage that dragged at their shoulders.

Given I was neither a tourist nor a returning citizen, I was in for a longer wait than anyone else coming off my flight, a specialty case in a category of one. By the time I was processed, I was the only person standing in that wide, open room, the long and empty walkway back to the international concourse stretching out behind me. I dealt with an older official; he looked to be of Japanese origin and he joked with me a little as he took my fingerprints and snapped my photo to compare with the information in my passport.

The enormity of what I was doing sank in as I cleared customs and walked out into the bright and air-conditioned expanse of San Francisco International. In this adventure into the great unknown, immigration was my last airlock before the vast and unfamiliar world of the USA, and as soon as I was through those doors, the realisation truly hit me for the first time. I had no Social Security Number, no bank account, no insurance. I had nowhere to live, no knowledge of where to go (or, maybe more importantly, where not to go), and I knew – as in, really, properly, knew – no one. Tom, a friend from high school was living in New York; that was it. And I had a Moleskine guide to San Francisco; a going-away present from my friend Tamara, who knew from experience just how valuable they could be.

I bought a bottle of water from the SFO Starbuck’s, mainly because I needed change. I remembered to tip the cashier (I’d seen it done on TV), but I had no idea how to calculate the correct amount. I ended up slipped him a couple of bucks and found a payphone to call Sara, who I’d met online and who had very kindly agreed to come and pick me up. I struggled with dialing the number, at first, forgetting I no longer had to dial 1 for the international prefix.

I don’t know how long Sara had been circling SFO but within minutes, as I waited outside in the chill San Franciscan sunshine, her car pulled up. I’d met Sara through Zoe Brock. She’d laughed at some of the pieces I used to post when I still ran a MySpace site, I’d been impressed with the quality of the photos she took, and so we became friends and communicated on a semi-regular basis. From Sacramento, she and her son were in town visiting her sister and her sister’s partner in SF, and that family were the kindest people a traveling Australian could ask for.

The afternoon was just getting underway, and after dropping my bags off at the house, Sara took me out to Haight-Ashbury for lunch, where the very first thing to strike me was that I was surrounded by American accents.

Oh, I thought. Yeah. That makes sense.

The Haight was alive with colour and movement; tattoo artists in black t-shirts and tattooed customers with huge plastic hoops in the lobes of their ears lounged out the front of tattoo parlours, earnestly discussing inks and piercings. Clothing stores and the smell of pot vied for the attention of passers-by, as did walls full of vivid graffiti and gracefully-shaped wooden houses unlike anything I’d seen back home. It was that afternoon and evening, I think, that I first started to realise how much I love Americans. After I’d stowed my bags and ordered another in a growing succession of Starbucks lattes, Sara and her family took me out to eat and see the city; as we waited for the Muni to come and take us into the city centre we grabbed a six-pack from a bottle shop across the street and stood at the stop, drinking in public.

Cool! I thought. Six hours in the country and I’m already committing a felony. This place is awesome.

A stoned-looking (and sounding) hipster girl with long brown hair spilling out from her woollen beanie broke from her path along the intersection crossing and wandered up to us as we waited on the Muni platform in the middle of the street. ‘Do you guys know the way to DP?’ she drawled. ‘Dolores Park?’

I shook my head. Man, did she have the wrong guy.

We went to the Ferry Building for a dinner of American cheeseburgers and walked the Financial District under the glow of Christmas lights that lit up row after tall row of skyscrapers. I saw the Bay Bridge and assumed it was the Golden Gate, only to find out there is more than one bridge in San Francisco. We went ice-skating on a rink set up for Christmas in the open air of the downtown square, and I impressed no one. Flailing on the ice like a drunk on rollerskates, clutching at the railings, being passed (and easily) by five year-olds, I offered the only excuse I had: ‘Come on! Like we have ice in Australia.’

At nine, as we waited to get the Muni back home, the jetlag hit me. In the space between one moment and the next, I lost the power of coherent speech. A weight like a sack of concrete dust settled inside my head, and my muscles turned leaden. Feeling tranquil and anaesthetised, I blearily looked at the Muni timetable. M? L? J? What the hell did these letters mean? Inbound, outbound, Powell Street, Church Street, Castro Street… I figured sooner or later I’d have to work out what this information meant, but the time was not now.

My new American friends put me up for the night, and, after expressing myself monosyllabically – the only way I could any longer communicate – all the way home, I gratefully collapsed into the bed that was given me. I woke at 3 am, wide awake and my body, still on Australian time, insisting it was morning.

The next day Sara took me to check out a place I’d found on Craigslist; a three-bedroom on the corner of 18th and Church. Sara’s sister’s partner pointed it out to me on the map.

‘Right on the border of the Mission and the Castro,’ he said. ‘If you end up living there, you’re going to have a truly San Franciscan experience.’

The landlord was a Chinese guy named Peter, who was having an open inspection while the existing occupants were out. He showed me through the house and asked me gently interrogative questions about my background.

‘There are usually three girls living here,’ he said. ‘One of them has just had to move back home, and if the other two girls get along with you, then, I guess having a guy live here would be OK.’

The house itself was older, but in good repair, a cream and white, classically-San Franciscan split-level. There were three floors, five residents, a terrifying and dark corridor to walk through to take the trash out, and Dolores Park was about ten steps away from my front door. As soon as I saw it, I wanted to live there.

I spent the next night in a hostel in Chinatown; the Pacific Tradewinds on Sacramento. It slept four to a room, each door bearing a cheerfully tired and nautically-themed plaque with a cute name like ‘Starboard Deck’. I met another Australian and we joined forces to go and find a supermarket; while there I made the decision I would temporarily un-quit smoking so I could try American cigarettes, I befriended my new room-mate, a blonde girl from Europe (I forget where, exactly) who was traveling the US and missing her boyfriend. We got breakfast at Union Square the next day and pointed at all the things we’d heard of but never seen – newspaper stands on the street, Gold’s Gym, Macy’s.  From what I’ve heard, I never could have gotten away with the way I acted in New York – stopping every two seconds to point and say ‘Oh, shit! I’ve seen that on TV!’

While my new friend was taking a bus tour of San Francisco, I was working out how to catch the J down to meet and be interviewed by my prospective new housemates when they got home from work, which left me the day to wander the city. By the time I caught the J out to the Castro, early evening was closing in. The sun had gone down as I walked down Market to 18th, and I was very aware that the night air in my new city was cold and clear. Everything – the street signs, the lit-up store displays, the accents and the people and the roads and the streets – was unfamiliar, and strange, and yet, as I sit here and write this, I miss it with a feeling that tugs at my chest.

Brittainy answered the door, a shy girl from Massachusetts who was getting ready to head to yoga. We talked awkwardly about Bikram in the kitchen while Laurel from Portland, who, I found out later, had power of decision over whether I would be living in the house or not, and was sick at the time, emerged from her bedroom to meet and vet me.

Laurel’s boyfriend Steve and his dog arrived, and, with nothing else to do, sat in on the meeting. Afterwards, Steve and I smoked in the backyard while the two other prospective new tenants came through and disbarred themselves in one way or another in the space of five minutes. Laurel and Steve and Peter excused themselves to take private counsel in the living room while I waited and smoked a little more, and then Steve came out to talk to me.

‘Let’s go get your stuff from the hostel,’ he said. ‘And have a shot of tequila to celebrate.’

After retrieving my laptop, my books, and the bag of clothes that was all I had with me, Laurel and Steve took me to In ‘N’ Out Burger in Daly City. Driving back, jetlagged, a little drunk, sitting in the back of Steve’s SUV and with the lights surrounding the freeway stretching out around us as we drove back home, I looked out the window and started to laugh. I’d traveled further than I’d ever traveled, found my way to a new city and a new home, and everything was in its right place.  I was in America, the home of the free, and the brave, and the American Dream. Anything could happen.

More than that, I wanted it to.

Since 2010 started, I’ve been missing America in general, and San Francisco in particular, like crazy, to the point where I can almost feel a pull, drawing me back. It’s a strange sensation, and unlike anything I’ve felt before – things like this time-lapse film, put together by a friend of a friend and something I stumbled across due to her Facebook updates, don’t help.

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SIMON SMITHSON is an Australian writer and editor. He is currently based in Melbourne, Australia, but frequently finds himself in Los Angeles and San Francisco. His work has appeared on both sides of the globe in print and online in publications such as BLIP, Every Day Fiction, Beat, The Loop, My Sinking Boat, and more. He has a tumblr at www.simonsmithson.com and he runs a lifestyle experiment at www.selfhelpless.net.

172 responses to “San Francisco International – Arrivals”

  1. Becky says:

    Aw shucks, Simon. America would love to have you. Even if you only love her for her San Francisco.

    • She has one of the sweetest little San Franciscos I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting acquainted with.

      I liked LA a lot too while I was there; admittedly, both are not representative of the rest of the USA. But I did go to see a psychic while I was in LA (when in Rome, you know?), who told me that I’d be coming back to the States, and that I’d always been American ‘in my heart’.

      She went on to say that she saw me as a young Confederate soldier in a previous life, then leaned over the table and said, very sincerely, ‘They weren’t all fighting for slavery, you know. Some of them just got caught up in the war.’

      And I thought Oh, I see. I was one of the good confederates. Well, looks like this customer is going away happy.

      • Becky says:

        Well, if you ever want to hang around with a real Jackpine savage, you know who to call.

        • Hmmm.

          Will there be bars that play Justin Timberlake involved? Because if there aren’t, then I ain’t coming.

          No, no. I have to go to Minnesota as it is; a friend I’ve never met lives there. So now I have two reasons.

        • Becky says:

          We could probably hook you up with some Justin Timberlake; perhaps even take you to a karaoke bar where you are as likely to catch some kind of food-bourne illness as you are in Mexico. There, you could sing it yourself.

          Or we could go to the Walker Art Museum or the Guthrie Theatre or take in a little Frank Ghery at the Weisman.

          Or we could eschew these low and high culture extremes and pay our respects to the time-honored, universal, blue collar tradition of spending every day getting shit-faced in a local but reasonably clean bar.

          Whatever you’re up for.

          If you’re brave enough to come in the winter, I’ll take you to a hockey game.

        • Done and done. I love food poisoning!

          My whole thing at the moment is that the key to life is standing at the mid-point of given spectrums; as soon as I’ve gotten through the giant backlog of pieces to write that I’ve set for myself, I’ll be all over it like white on rice. In the meantime, let’s do high and low culture extremes, and get shit-faced in a local but reasonably clean bar.

          It’s winter over there now, right?

        • Becky says:

          As we speak. Hockey season only lasts for a couple more months, though.

          I wonder if my husband will mind that I’m inviting international interwebs friends to the Twin Cities with promises that we will entertain them?

        • I’ll bring some Tim-Tams. Trust me, Americans are helpless against them. It’s like you’re a nation full of cats and one pack of biscuits (cookies, as you’d call them) is the world’s largest catnip-filled mouse toy.

        • Becky says:

          He did live as an illegal alien in your country for about a year, so the two of you are practically cousins. Perhaps I could convince him that he owes your fair nation something?

          He apparently has some recollection of Tim-Tams.

          Though I must say, as signature as winter and hockey is for Minnesota, so are lakes, and you might have more fun if you came in the summer. We are very serious about drinking on boats on lakes and excel at it. If you’re giddy, you could do some activity like fishing or waterskiing/wakeboarding/wakesurfing etc., but it is not required.

        • He did? Whereabouts?

          Yes. He does owe us. He should marry me and get me a visa.

          I would like to do all of those things. Esepcially waterskiing. I’ve never done it, always wanted to.

        • Becky says:

          Sydney & Cairns, mostly. I believe he worked in a hostel and a pizza place and surfed a bit. Bigamy is illegal, so I’m afraid you can’t marry him, but I do have a couple of cute female friends who are single.

        • Cairns is nice; Sydney… well, my hometown has a running rivalry with Sydney, so I can’t say anything complimentary about it.

          Also, it’s a bullshit town, man.

  2. Mary says:

    Aww, America misses you, too! Ok, well we never met, and I don’t live in SF (I’m on the other coast), but STILL. If you ever find yourself in the DC area, you’re invited to visit.

    • I really, really miss America at the moment. It’s crazy. I don’t know what kicked it off, but unfortunately for me, the blog has exorcised nothing.

      Like sage-burning and that damn poltergeist. It’s one knock for yes, two knocks for no, and no knocks when I’ve got a lady in the house, you third-wheeling son of a bitch!

      But, I digress.

      I’m not sure where exactly it is I’ll find myself – I tracked down some pieces in SF, that’s for sure. But if I am ever in DC, you better believe we’re hanging out.

  3. Jude says:

    “Un-quit smoking” – love it!

    I did the same thing when I went to France because I wanted to smoke Gauloises.

    • I, of course, got into the American Spirits.

      They’re awful.

      I quickly switched to Camels, and then promptly quit on New Year’s Day, 2009. I can still remember smoking on New Year’s Eve when I got back home from the party I’d been to. It was awful. I could actually feel the toxicity of the smoke going into my system.

  4. Jude says:

    Camels! As bad as Gauloises! A good way to quit I reckon…

    Is there a brand called American Spirits?

  5. Did you go to Jack London Square in Oakland when you were in the Bay Area? You can still go to the bar where he used to hang out and write. It’s a tiny dilapidated shack. The floor is bent from an earthquake. There’s an evil French bartender inside. I went there with an author from S.F. We sat at the table where London wrote and ourselves wrote some poetry.

    That was a few months ago. The next day I wandered S.F. by myself after appearing on some TV news program. Was a weird day. I’m looking forward to going back.

    Great post.

    Cigarettes suck. Cough.

    But I still love ya, man.

    • I did not – I spent most of my time in SF proper rather than in the surrounding area. That’s so cool though – next time, I’m definitely making the trek.

      Love ya back, Nick. I’ve since quit (again), and never plan on smoking one of those horrible things again.

  6. Angela Tung says:

    what a lovely piece, simon. it makes me want to look more kindly at my new home, SF. it’s only recently that i’ve gotten used to all the homeless and feel a bit more affection for the city. i still miss new york though. 😉 can’t beat walking around soho, the village, and the lower east side. wah, i just felt a pang! oh how i miss my favorite indian place, ghandi cafe, and my favorite noodle place, and my favorite italian place. (maybe i’m just hungry.)

    but the weather here is definitely better. who doesn’t love 60 degrees every day?

    • Thanks Angela! How long have you been living in SF? And yeah, there sure are a lot of homeless in that city.

      OK. Here’s what I can do to help:

      – go to Urban Bread on 18th and if Tina or Bec are working, tell them that I sent you to try the Flash Freeze (alternately the Bi-Rite ice-creamery)

      – across the street, Samovar has awesome waffles.

      For something more substantial, and if you’re into seafood, I highly recommend Weird Fish,

  7. D.R. Haney says:

    I think I know how you feel, Simon, though we’re always guessing with others. But I’ve had that sense of a great pull toward another place, and it took me about three years, I think, to recover from the experience of living in Serbia. As a kid I had a dog that was taken to be spayed, and I remember her being in a stupor in the days afterward — detached and vacant. I mean, for God’s sake, she’d been surgically altered, and that’s how I felt when I returned from Belgrade. I’d really grown attached to the place.

    So, yeah, I think I understand you. But if you want that badly to move to SF, or to the States, period, is it really that difficult? Where there’s a will, etc.

    But, then, this was advice that I could never take myself.

    • When I originally came back (something I plan on going into further in a forthcoming companion piece), I wasn’t even home from the airport before I was stopping into Officeworks (an office supply store over here) to get everything I needed to help me plan my return; folders and budget books and monthly planners. I was determined to get back, I’d booked a ticket to return in August, 2009.

      But events overtook me, one way or another, and before I knew it, my carefully-laid plans had all gone astray. I’m choosing to believe that happened for some greater purpose which has yet to be revealed (come on, 2010!), and I was dealing with a couple of other things at the time.

      While I’ve always had a desire to return, it’s only lately that it’s turned into a greater yearning. The problem is a tricky one – in order to work in the States (legally) I need certain kinds of visas, and the economic climate is not currently a friendly one.

      I’ll get back. Sooner or later, and preferably sooner.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        Yes, I imparted words to you about the economic climate privately. It’s not a friendly moment.

        But was your return ticket exchanged for the one to L.A. in September? I remember something about your having to use a ticket by a certain date.

        • Yep. It all really went to hell as soon as I arrived in the States.

          I’m hoping the two were unrelated.

          It sure was – one of the big deciding factors in my trip to LA was that I didn’t really have to pay for the ticket; the ticket that was going to be my return to SF, which I’d already purchased, absorbed the cost of most of it. August 31 was going to be my back-in-SF-date.

  8. Zara Potts says:

    I concur with Becky. America would be lucky to have you. You are a shining light here Down Under and the South Pacific would shed many tears if you were to pack your bags and leave for the big ol’ US of A. But you know, the heart wants what the heart wants – I understand that.
    Nice piece, Brew. I’m loving your twentyten work…

  9. Greg Olear says:

    I find that my wanderlust kicks in at the moments when circumstances — be they financial or parentile — prevent me from traveling.

    Dominick has a book called “100 Great Cities” (Melbourne is there, as is Auckland, as well as SFC), and it makes me wistful to think of the places I’ve been — Paris, Prague, Rome, Montreal, LA — and the places I’d love to visit but can’t right now — Warsaw, Tokyo, Berlin, etc.

    We’ll see if we can find a wayward SUNY New Paltz student to marry you when you visit, and then you’ll be free to stay.

    Also: it’s strange to think of you not knowing a soul, depending on the kindness of MySpace strangers, and sleeping in a hostel with three other people. I imagine you dashing in behind the wheel of an Astin Martin or something.

  10. Matt says:

    Given the tendency of Americans to grumble and grouse (legitimately or not) about the state of things in our country, it’s refreshing to see this portrait through your eyes–and a well-painted one it is.

    My sense of wanderlust has been acting up lately; I haven’t done any serious traveling since my relocation from Hurricane Katrina. Time to see some other countries, I think. Mexico doesn’t count. No disrespect to the Mexicans, but been there, done that, not a fan of drug violence. Longest I’ve ever been in a plane is about 5 hours. Time to get out and get some dust in my boots from far, foreign climes, I think.

    ….of course, the current economic climate precludes that.

    Speaking of nostalgia…I have no desire to move back to New Orleans (or even visit, really), but lately I’ve been missing this one particular bar, where students in my grad program used to gather on Monday nights after class. It was an absolute dive, too, and not in the cool way, without much to recommend in the way of alcohol selection. But damned if I haven’t been missing the place utterly the last couple of weeks. Even dreamed about it the other night.

    • It was fantastic to be in SF for the Obama inauguration ceremony; it would have been great to be there for the actual election victory, but, to track back to an earlier post, maybe if I had everything would have been different and I wouldn’t be writing this now.

      I would highly advise traveling for traveling’s sake. I think it’s very important. That’s a very Australian attitude of me to have, it’s true, but this is what we do. I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t been out of the country at least once (if only to get away from the fucking spiders and snakes).

      Thanks for the kind words; there’s an energy and purpose I saw in Americans that just doesn’t exist over here. I don’t know if people from other countries feel the same way, and I don’t know if it’s something that Americans note about themselves and each other, but it’s a good thing, I think.

      Have you seen the Mad Men monologue about nostalgia?

  11. Ducky Wilson says:

    We need a TNB bus for a TNB road trip.

  12. zoe b says:

    San Francisco is FUCKING cold and miserable. Ergo: You’re insane.

    I don’t want to go back there!!!!

    • Last week it was 107.6F.

      Are you kidding? I would kill to go back to SF.

      Dear internet: literally. Email me if you can make this happen.

      The Mission, the Castro, Noe, Market… I miss it all ridiculously. I loved living there so much.

      Not the hills so much in the last few weeks of my stay, I’ll admit.

      • Greg Olear says:

        I hate to say it, but I concur with Zoe. Not a big SF fan. Weather is too weird, and the hills give me nightmares. When the subject is Cali, I’m Team LA all the way.

  13. I’ve never outright stolen an umbrella, but once someone stole mine, so I paid forward in sense: I bought a two dollar umbrella, took it to a coffee shop and switched it with a ten dollar one. A dick move, in retrospect, but I was pissed at having lost my umbrella…

    As for San Francisco, I have stories of that city that I will take to my grave, or release in book form one day, if I ever become strong enough. It’s a weird place that does crazy things to a person. Haight-Ashbury was interesting, but more in a museum way, I thought, than an actual cultural institution of the present.

    • I hate that retrospective recognition of a dick move. Oh, man, it’s the worst. Especially if you were flying high and thinking you’d made a good account for yourself, and then, suddenly, you realise…

      I’d like to hear those stories, actually. People talk about how LA does weird things to people, but from what I’ve seen, I think SF has a little bit of the same effect on some people.

  14. Richard Cox says:

    My favorite part of this is Sara coming to pick you up. Sara and I are also MySpace blog buddies, or that is how we met, and on a trip to SF a few years ago, she drove up and we hung out for a day. In fact I was out walking when she arrived, so I told her where I was and waited at a street corner for her white car to appear. That’s the magic of social networking, how you can know someone only by characters on a screen, and then one day you are getting into her car on a street corner thousands of miles from home.

    Like Zoe, you seem like an American at heart. I sometimes feel like an Australian at heart, and I hope to make it there sometime in the next year or two. I’ve never been.

    • She’s wonderful, that Sara. And yes, that really is the magic of social networking, when online contact translates into real-world contact, and they’re not some freak and/or murderer.

      It’s nice over here. You’ll like it.

      *under breath* Damn lousy prison country.

  15. Stefan Kiesbye says:

    I just had my umbrella stolen during SoCal’s torrential rainstorms. Were you in LA, Simon?

  16. Marni Grossman says:

    Simon- this is going to sound incredibly corny, but: I think you’re really brave.

    I could never do what you did. Just up and move to another country. Even an English-speaking one. I spent a semester abroad in Israel when I was a junior in college and I’d only just begun to adjust after four months. For most of the trip, in fact, I spent a lot of time friendless and crying.

    Come back. New York this time. We’ll take care of you!

    • Hey, thanks Marni! I really appreciate it.

      Parts of it were terrifying, parts of it weren’t hard at all, parts of it just clicked into place like it was meant to be, so my bravery went through peaks and valleys. Don’t worry, you’re not the only person to tell me it was a brave thing to do. Now, as then, it’s a nice thing to hear.

      I really want to see New York. But I think I’m a California type. That being said, I’ve never been to the East Coast, and do feel like more of a latte-sipping liberal than an organic-smoothie-drinking liberal, so, maybe I do belong in NY.

      What’s the yoga like over there?

      • Marni Grossman says:

        I don’t do yoga. It makes me anxious. I realize that this is the exact opposite of what’s supposed to happen, but there you go.

        This is why I’ve always felt that I belong on the East Coast. I’m anxious and neurotic and I like snow. San Francisco is beautiful. But people just seem too happy. I prefer to surround myself with other caustic, bitter types.

        • That really is the exact opposite of what’s supposed to happen.

          One of the things I liked most about yoga was that it was a way of connecting into my body in a way that is usually really difficult for me; it was nice to feel that way.

          Are all East Coasters unhappy? Is what I’ve learned true?

  17. James D. Irwin says:

    I love SF, and I really miss it.

    I want to go back. Dying to go back.

    your last few line are interesting. it’s a sign. 2010 is going to be THE year. I’ve felt it since I woke up on January 1st. everyone is going to end up where they should be— where they want to be.

    I have unwavering confidence in the awesomeness of 2010. Last week was one day away from being the worst I’ve ever had. On the last day of the week almost everything reversed, and it became probably the best week of the year so far… (although I was naturally saddned by the demise of Brangelina, which was broken to me by your e-mail…)

  18. Gloria says:

    “In this adventure into the great unknown, immigration was like an airlock…” This is a really great metaphor.

    I love the part about being stricken by everyone having American accents. This cracked me up. It’s precisely how I felt when I was England. It was delightful. But then I had that moment of awareness where I realized I was actually the one with an accent.

    I love that the Portland girl was named Laurel. There are many Laurel’s here. Perfect.

    This was so beautifully written. I think America misses you, too. 🙂

    • Gloria says:

      When I was in England.

      • Thanks Gloria. If there’s one thing I like, it’s a good analogy, metaphor, or simile.

        Damn it. For some reason, every thing I think about San Francisco, someone else is saying today on TNB. God, I love you, SSE.

        It’s strange how one of the most common slips always seems to be missing the ‘in’ when referring to a country. Did you enjoy being England?

        I hope America missed me. Surely the two of us are just like a rubber band being stretched further and further, and sometime soon, the two sides will have to snap back together?

        (please note: in this analogy, the rubber band is unbreakable).

        • Gloria says:

          I loved being England. I think I would enjoy being Ireland more. But I’ve never been there, so I can’t say for sure. Seriously though, England was great. My favorite part of my European vacation? The Alps. I remember coming down out of Austria and into Northern Italy and the hills got smaller and smaller and the air became not so thin and no so full of oxygen and I remember having a panic attack. This desperate need to hurl myself off the train and go running like a madwoman back toward The Alps – like that footage of Jackie O trying to crawl out of the car when JFK’s head got blown off. Seriously – it was that extreme. An almost “I must save myself and go back to the safe place” kind of feeling. An actual panic attack. When you wrote, “…and as I sit here and write this, I miss it all so much that it’s not easy to keep typing,” I instantly thought of my train ride out of Austria.

          Can’t you just get married to an American to get back over here? That’s how it works in the movies.

        • What is it about air? There are moments from San Francisco that have an immeasurable power over me, for good or ill, but in this context it’s that moment of breathing in that night air as I walked past the supermarket that is really getting to me.

          I have had offers, which is nice. But you really have to maintain the ilusion if it isn’t the real thing, and the punishments are steep.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Gloria— Ireland is amazing. A lot of it is kind of how England was about 80 years ago. I mean obviously the cities are very modern. Dublin is wonderful.

          I fell out of love with this country for quite a long time. Now I love it again, not really sure why. Possibly because I’m living in a part of the country that is more like the England people imagine when they think of England…

          Certain events have transpired that means a trip to the US in the summer is no longer impossible. It’s unlikely, with a trip around Europe being about half the cost and almost as exciting a prospect.

          You should all come to England. Now. I have a camp bed you can all sleep on. I’ll take you to the Royal Hampshire Regiment Military Museum and show you the Round Table… we can go to The Royal Oak for a steak pudding and a tankard of ale in the evening.

  19. Erika says:

    Simon I as well feel as if I am destined to live in SF. I love everything about that city even its cold weather (not as cold as other places but I am used to the desert heat).

    The city alone has everything I could want i.e great culture, food, and wine country only a mere 45 min away.

    Many others have tried to argue with me how SF is over rated but I think they couldnt be further from the truth.

    My move to Vegas from Texas was all in my asking the universe to send me a sign in regards to the direction of my life. I was guided here through a couple of mishaps and certainly against my parents wishes, so much so that they completely cut me off. But I prevailed and showed them. Now I strongly believe SF is the city where I should be.

    I asked the universe once again to give me a sign in regards to SF and it lead me to quit my job in PR/Marketing and into the world of wine which most definitly will open doors for me once I finally make my way to it.

    Anyhow your post just reconfirms my belief and for that I thank you b/c every once in awhile I lose track of the goal and need to be set straight again and this is exactly what it did.

    • Hey Erika!

      I’m really curious to know what it was that the universe showed to you as a sign for moving; feel free to shoot me a message on Facebook or over email if you don’t feel like sharing publicly.

      I’m very grateful I could do something to help you out in your love of San Francisco; although, coming so quickly after I declared myself the envoy of the Universe (did I do that in this comment thread or Duke’s? I can’t remember) it’s a little eerie.

      Eerie or not, I’m just glad. Don’t lose track – stay on that straight San Franciscan line and you’ll be fine.

      • Erika says:


        I will contact you through facebook. I’m guessing your probably in Reno or Dukes’ friend list so I’ll jump over and ask you to be my friend as well.

        The story isnt too personal but its also something I dont want to really post publically because you never know whos reading!

        Anyhow I tend to think the universe and I have a a good relationship (more so now, with a little therapy I think we are headed down the right path together) though I have yet to win Megabucks or land the dying sugar daddy – I dont at all judge Anna Nicole!

        • Just look me up and you should find me – there aren’t too many Simon Smithsons; there’s another in the UK I know about. He’s my friend.

          Hey, the Universe is going to be good to us in 2010. It’s the year for it. This is where it all starts, Erika – get in on the ground floor!

  20. Lenore Zion says:

    oh simon. it just sounds like so much fun, to escape to a new place the way you did. i want to run away so badly. perhaps to outerspace, where there are many floating things.

    hows about you take another trip and have another adventure and come to LA and stay put here? we need people like you around, buddy. if for no other reason, i would like a drinking buddy, and we have the same neuroses. come here.

    • It really was.

      There’s a line from Angel (because that’s a good show) where one character is talking to another about running away.

      Character A says ‘I know, I know, here’s where you give me the big speech about not running away, right, because it doesn’t solve any problems?’
      and Character B says ‘Oh, honey. The problem is you didn’t run far enough.’

      I would LOVE that. I really liked LA. Remember that ring Zara found for me? Turns out those are real diamonds in that thing.

      I’d like a drinking buddy too, and I like that we have the same neuroses. They’ll get along so well, because they have a bunch in comment.

      OK. I will.

  21. Irene Zion says:

    That was a pretty gutsy thing to do. On the other hand, if you find diamonds on the street in America, it’s a pretty good omen.

    • Irene, thank you. It was a big move. In a lot of ways.

      You know, I didn’t really think (which is odd, knowing me) about the omen-like qualities of finding diamonds in the street on LA. Although technically Zara found them; but still. The ring is mine!

  22. Oh Simon… you made me miss San Francisco! What a wonderful post – so plaintive and yet filled with excitement and adventure! As a somewhat snarky New Yorker (who happens to have spent a lot of time in San Francisco and loves it, no matter how East Coast I am) I laughed out loud when I read how you could never have gotten away with pointing out the city’s landmarks (with a loud claim that you’d seen it on TV) if you had been in New York….
    But I have to ask…. how was the job??? Is that another post? Tell me I haven’t missed it!

    • You know newspaper stands, the boxes where you put in a dollar or whatever and get a paper? We don’t have those over here, so to see them was such a trip. I think they made me the happiest of all.

      Oh, the job. The job, the job. I had to tell my housemates about it first thing, because I was worried it would sound like the lamest excuse in the world if they walked in on me watching porn: ‘It’s for work! It’s for work!’

      Don’t worry. You haven’t missed a thing.

  23. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Some people are born with more than one home on the planet. Looks like you found an extra one. Keep the faith you’ll get your wish to stay for a long while.

    I visited SF for the first time in Fall 2005. I stood mute and nostaglic when I visited Haight-Ashbury, even though I was a embryo, then an infant, during its heyday. The homeless people looked like they’d stepped out of wild fairy tales. Later, my escort (of the book tour variety) took me to Green Apple Books to sign stock and then whisked me to a hole-in-the-wall dim sum restuarant nearby. That was my first taste, and I’ve never had another because I don’t want to taint the memory.

    Don’t even get me started on the architecture…

    • I really did. And right now it is a matter of faith, but good faith; faith that’s nice to have.

      There are some really cool little corners of SF that catch you and don’t let you go easily. I love the Mission, and the Castro. I can’t believe how perfectly I landed in that place on Church and 18th.

      Oh, and the architecture! Especially some of the houses around Haight-Ashbury. My friend Erinn visited one weekend and we were checking them out… I really want one. Or two.

      Damn it, now I’ve made myself nostalgic all over again.

  24. Irene Zion says:

    Hey Simon,
    How come Duke’s “comment forum” is closed right now?
    Have you ever heard of that before?
    Weird-ass queer, if you ask me.

  25. […] Flowers in Simon Smithson’s […]

  26. Simone says:

    Simon, I loved this piece. The imagery you used to describe the house was just beautiful, and my favourite part too.

    “The house itself was older, but in great repair. There were three levels, five residents, a terrifying and dark corridor to walk through to take the trash out, and Dolores Park was about ten steps away from my front door. As soon as I saw it, I wanted to live there.

    I found that when I travel I love being in new places. Going exploring into unknown territory excites me. Never knowing what might be around the next corner, and then stumbling upon something so new and unique it just takes your breath away.

    Things like that keep hope alive. Knowing that there’s a chance to go back to SF or anywhere else that may take your fancy.

    * * *

    “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

    • Aw, man, everyone’s giving me compliments and stuff… see, America? This is why you never should have let me go!

      That corridor was spooky as all hell. You’d go out the back, down a flight of stairs, and actually walk under the house itself. So at about five it got dark, and then from six onwards it was just pitch black.

      I love that St. Augustine quote – thanks for bringing me to it.

      • Simone says:

        I love that quote too, so I had to share it.

        That sounds mighty scary! Did you ever look over your shoulder, afraid that the boogeyman might be lurking somewhere near you? I know I would’ve!

        • Simone says:

          You know what, Simon? I think it’s exactly the reason you were supposed to go. America and SF have enriched your life, so much so, that you’re able to share your experiences with us and inspire us to do something just as great with our lives. I’m not sure if I speak for everyone else, but you certainly have inspired me.

        • The girls made me take the garbage out, that was for sure…

          Wow. Thank you, Simone. What a wonderful thing to have said to me. You’ve really made my day.

  27. Simone says:

    I suppose taking out the garbage is one of the perks of being a guy. Ha ha!

    It’s my pleasure, Simon.

  28. […] heart is in San Francisco.  No, really; it […]

  29. Shannon says:

    dear simon:

    i used to get paid to watch porn. i did that for 3 years.
    i’ve seen far too many blossoms for anyone’s liking.

    i just needed to say… i am about halfway through your stuff posted on tnb and water has sprayed forth from my nose about 4 times already.

    that’s all.

    • Simon Smithson says:



      Thanks, Shannon! It’s always nice to hear about people reading the archives; nicer still to hear that they’re enjoying it.

      That’s all I need.

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