Outside of those I encountered for home, school, and work, this has to be one of my Most Visited Intersections in the city.
I was plagued with painful ear infections and other ailments as a young child. Luckily my pediatrician was located close by in the Medical Arts Building at 2000 Van Ness. My crappy constitution ensured that I was there more often than just for routine vaccinations, but I didn’t mind my visits. Dr. Luz was a gentle giant of a man with the shaved head look of Mr. Clean. He had a wonderful calming voice and demeanor. I continued seeing him for routine health issues into my teen years.
My last visit to him pushed the limits of the “young adult”definition. I had just moved back home after college and was struck with a severely painful sore throat and fever that was not going away. I went to see a doctor at Kaiser but they just said it was viral and told me to take pain killers. The next day I could barely swallow and was in horrible pain. My mom was frantic and set up an appointment with Dr. Luz. I was so miserable that I didn’t care how odd my presence might seem in the overheated waiting room with its toys, Highlights magazines, and small chairs. He diagnosed me with a common childhood infection, herpangina, caused by the Coxsackie virus, a bug with a deceptively cutsie name. Understanding the severity of the pain he prescribed an numbing solution for me to gargle and other home remedies that provided some relief. Just like in my younger years, a visit to Dr. Luz symbolized relief from my sufferings.
He apparently retired a decade later and passed away at the impressive age of 91 just a few years ago. I count myself lucky to have had such a wonderful childhood doctor.
There are sweeter memories than vaccination shots and painful mouth blisters crossing Jackson street to the other side of Van Ness. Ahren’s Bakery was a far-cry from today’s boutique baked good purveyors with vegan donuts and California Croissants (that’s salmon, nori, ginger and wasabi in case you’re wondering). I remember it as a dim and cavernous place with trays of old-school pastries lit by florescent lights with plastic tables and chairs. We only came to the bakery for one item—their custard cups. The small foil cups and my favorite parts were the caramelized top and the very bottom which was extra sweet and gooey with sunken raisins. The storefront has remained vacant ever since the bakery closed many years ago.
2001 Van Ness
This building looks like a strip mall plopped in the middle of a city block, but what it lacks in architectural or kitschy charm it makes up for in terms of overall importance in my life. I have some hazy memories of a few art therapy sessions with a child psychologist in one of the upper floor offices but my real transformative experiences started when I enrolled at Karate One in the year 2000. I’d always enjoyed physical exertion, but the competition of organized sports stressed me out. Karate provided a great physical challenge, encouraged loud vocalizations (the ki-YAH! to channel energy when striking) and had heavy metal senseis from New Jersey that played Metallica and Slayer during kickboxing classes. I was home! All these elements were great but it the community of people who trained there really helped sustain my dedication to training. I made many excellent friends on the way to getting my black belt, many of whom are still in my life today.
After seven years, I stopped my karate training when the school’s format changed. They still offered kid’s karate but adult classes were now focused on boxing and kickboxing reflecting the growing popularity of mixed martial arts/UFC fighting. I moved on to find a new training challenge, but I’m still in contact with many of those friends, and check out the smoker fight nights held at the School Formerly Known as Karate One (now K-One Fitness). Although the look of the dojo has changed a lot, it just takes the smell of bread wafting through the walls from the Subway store next door to trigger memories of the olden days of countless round-kicks and katas on the mats.