It's been decades since I lived in a great metropolis, a cultural mecca, what used to be referred to jokingly (by some) as the Center Of The Universe. From 1980 to 1990, I lived in New York City. I was young, I was an artist, and I had managed to snag a rent-stabilized apartment in Manhattan's East Village. Back then the city remained untamed, and it was still possible for a young, struggling artist/musician/writer/dancer/actor what-have-you to survive on wits, odd jobs and cheap Chinese food.
That city no longer exists. I don't know if it exists anywhere. But it lives on in my sense memory, unexpectedly retrieved like an opened file by the faint whiff of street grit drifting in through a drafty window, mingled with the musty scent of old wood in a prewar apartment. As I gazed out over this view this morning, my heart was flooded with a yearning and deep affection for the barely contained anarchy that is urban life in the world's largest, most cosmopolitan cities. There is something about the kaleidoscope of energy of all that densely packed, diverse humanity moving in a constantly shifting pattern that I've always found fascinating.
And yet... and yet... I doubt I could live that way again. I've only been here one night, have yet to even set foot outside. I don't know what my tolerance level will be once I'm out there on the streets. The evening before last, I was down in a desert riverbed on my mule, chasing coyotes. That is the life I have come to know and love. The two worlds cannot be combined.
But for now, I will thoroughly enjoy my visit, seeing my two younger brothers and sister-in-law and an old friend and reveling in the cultural riches and people-watching of San Francisco. First, Haight-Ashbury - last time I saw it was as a child in 1968, through the windows of our family's woody station wagon on a vacation from Colorado Springs. Talk about culture shock!