Back in the 80s when The Stone and On Broadway were still active live music venues, those of us who lived close enough to walk to shows had a dilemma. Did you slog up the steepness of Broadway Street to arrive at your destination sweaty and winded or cut through the Broadway Tunnel? Using the tunnel rather than tackling the hills usually seemed like a good idea on the way back home—at first. Five minutes into the walk, you’d feel overwhelmed by the stench of exhaust, the harsh lights and car sounds bouncing off the soot-covered, tile walls, and the smell of urine along the walkway from people who’d also misjudged exactly how long this “shortcut” would take. When the darkness at the end of the tunnel finally came into view, you raced to the end, vowing to never go through the tunnel again. Until the next time.
One night my friend T. and I ventured to The Stone to see Filipino thrashers, Death Angel. When we arrived, she realized that she’d forgotten her ID card. (A newcomer to San Francisco, she didn’t realize how strict the clubs were about an ID for entrance to 18-and-over shows.) As we stood outside and pondered our options, I saw a guy in line bearing an uncanny resemblance to a recent ex-boyfriend. I sallied up to him and blurted out “Do you have a twin brother?” With the ice thus broken, we ended up chatting with the Doppelganger Dude (hereafter “the DD”) and his buddy. It turned out that they also that they couldn’t get into the show for a reason now forgotten. (Maybe it had sold out.) Since they had driven up from Palo Alto, they were game to come up with an alternate plan involving two cute girls.
Someone proposed getting beer and finding a nearby park where we could enjoy some adult beverages and conversation. Since I was the native city-dweller, I led our party to the closest liquor store. Its location in the busy heart of North Beach was also ideal since Columbus Street had a steady stream of passerby that we could ask to “buy up” for us. Once the beer had been procured, we needed to target a park. Washington Square was temptingly close but way too exposed for underage drinking. Then I recalled a tiny park I’d passed by one of my treks over Broadway Street. I rallied our group with the encouraging estimate that our destination wasn’t far away. But while the trip to and from the store had been relatively flat, the walk to the park was on par with reaching K2’s summit for guys used to driving around the suburban flatlands. Another complication was that the DD’s friend had a hurt foot. (I think he might have even been on crutches!) At one point, tired of their whining, I said “C’mon guys, don’t you have hills in Palo Alto?” The DD yelled “This isn’t a hill, it’s a MOUNTAIN!” At one point, the DD had to piggy-back his buddy up the hill to keep us going. Never underestimate the motivational power of drinking beer and potentially making out with girls!
We finally reached the park, which was just a small open area with benches and greenery, but that was all we needed to enjoy the joys of cheap beer procured and drunk illicitly. Despite what expectations the guys might have had, it was a pretty G-rated evening. There was some heavy flirting and some kissing going on between me and the DD, but poor T. had to discourage the interests of his friend who tried to make the best of this impromptu double-date. Hunger and lack of beer eventually brought us down from the mountain and we capped off the Southlanders’ exotic trip to the big city with some late-night Chinese food. DD and I traded phone numbers and kisses when we parted outside the restaurant. We played phone tag, but never met up again. I’m sure that was for the best. I’ve done my time in long-distance relationship land and they don’t usually end well.
For most of my adult life, I’ve been fortunate enough to work for The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit that works with communities to ensure that everyone has parks and other natural places close to home. Maybe my devotion to the mission was partially inspired by a lesson learned early on: it pays to know where your parks are.