Once upon a time my dad played college football with a lovely and generous man who grew up to be a dentist. A dentist who eventually opened a practice in Walnut Creek, right across the bay from you. Meanwhile, my dad grew up to be a lovely and generous man with kids who had terrible teeth.
We're talking epic terrible here.
It's not that my brothers and I didn't take care of our teeth. We did. We brushed regularly and with real intent, and if flossing had been invented then, we would have flossed regularly and with real intent, too. Unfortunately, all that earnest brushing didn't do us much good. We still got cavities. A LOT of them. It's like all the children in our family were born without enamel. We were the Enamel-less Ones.
At some point my parents did the math and decided that it would actually be cheaper to throw us in the station wagon, haul across the Nevada desert and visit my dad's friend who offered to do our teeth for free after hours than to have the work done at home. Thus began our yearly treks to our new family dentist.
Who lived two states away.
The dental work part wasn't fun for us OR for the dentist. We met in his office like spies doing a live drop in the dead of night. All of us were grim-faced and anxious. How long would be sitting in that chair heads back and mouths open under a single naked light bulb this time? Hours? Days? Months?
(OK. I'm making up the part about the single naked light bulb. There were two naked light bulbs.)
And then? After hours of torture, our dentist would pronounce, "Mission Accomplished!" And all of us, including the dentist, celebrated our survival by visiting you. The City by the Bay. Like I said, you were in the light at the end of my tunnel.
I just loved the noise you made, San Francisco, with your gulls shrieking overhead and your streetcars roaring along on their ropes of steel and your residents serving up a full linguistic buffet. I liked the way you looked, too, with your streets and structures lined up at crazy angles and your planters full of green and growing things and your general sense of visual style. You were like Sienna Miller or Kate Moss one of those rare women who can wear a swirling bohemian skirt with cowboy boots, a fitted blazer, a sloppy hat and somehow make it all work.
Also? Your food. It made my knees buckle. The dim sum! The pasta! The seafood! We always took loaves of your sourdough home with us, hoarding them in the trunk of our car and hoping they would taste as good in Utah as they did on the wharf. Which they didn't. But we never stopped trying.
Oh, San Francisco. Great, glittering, gaudy San Francisco. You were the first big city I ever met, the first big city I ever had a crush on. You were my first urban love.
My husband and I visited you a few weeks ago. I wondered if this time I would finally be over you. Too often the things we once loved certain books or movies or dishes or places turn out to disappoint as we grow older.
But as I stood on stone steps and looked down on you, I felt your special magic all over again. You're not perfect, San Francisco. But there's no place like you and there never will be.
Especially not for me.