Sudden thought while tearing into a completely unsatisfying bowl of tapioca and chocolate pudding plus some mysterious whipped cream-like topping at Fresh Choice in Colma: we may live in the city, may sign everything "San Francisco, California," may be subject to the whims and daily challenges of living in the second-most densely-populated city in the U.S., but plenty of our day-to-day activities closely mimic those of people who live in the dreaded suburbs.
Shhh. Don't tell.
Fresh Choice is the Jawa's second-favorite restaurant, his love for buffet-style salad surpassed only by his loyalty to Panda Express. How disappointed is his future college roommate going to be when he hears that? "What? We have Panda Express in Rocklin! I thought you were going to say your favorite restaurant was Chez Penisse or Gary Danko!"
Sorry, future roommate, but if you knew how much time we spend in Colma, you'd probably ask to check our I.D.s for proof that we actually live where we say we live.
The thing is, it's just easier to get in the car, blast ten miles down 280 and park in Target's massive parking lot than it is to lug shopping bags onto a packed BART car or a broken-down MUNI train. You're hardly ever sweaty driving on 280, for one thing. Air conditioning takes care of that.
Forget trying to drive downtown. If you can survive a traffic reality made up of equal parts lost tourists, giant SUVs blasting hip-hop with big "SF: decals on the back window, blissed-out Prius drivers and people looking for parking spaces, then you have to deal with where to put your car when you're done using it. Unless you regularly carry around a pocket full of change, you're limited to trying your luck with garages (prohibitively expensive) or street parking, which requires Dalai Lama-like patience and a predicted total out-of-car time period of no longer than two hours. After two hours, they ticket you unless you've got a parking sticker for that particular neighborhood.
Of course, as Super Chicken says, "You knew this job was dangerous before you took it, Fred." This isn't me complaining bitterly. It's me explaining to myself, the guy who ruminated on moving to San Francisco for almost a decade, rationalizing why, now that we've lived here for nine years, we spend so much time in the nearby suburbs. It's just easier.
But maybe there's something more. Maybe we're just not the kind of sophisticated people who couldn't imagine choosing convenience over the rich, full experience one can only find in one of the world's most-beloved cities. Point of fact: we followed tonight's Colma outing (which also included Target and the Sports Authority instead of the Sports Basement near the Presidio and REI south of market or a cool, one-of-a-kind store in Chinatown) by hustling home to make sure we were there in time for American Idol. Harry Connick, Jr. was on, you know. Face it: maybe we're just not wired to best appreciate the glory of our urban surroundings.
There was a time, not so long ago, when I would have done almost anything to preserve our urban way of life. When the Jawa was an infant, I couldn't imagine how it would have worked had we not lived on Capitol Hill in Seattle, where getting out of the house didn't involve diaper bags and car seats. We just rolled out the stroller, threw a few diapers in the back, strapped the months-old Jawa in and off we went.
More than once did the Jawa's early evening nap coincide with al fresco beers at the Broadway Grille. When he was old enough, we ditched the stroller and he padded down Broadway with the rest of us, pausing only to break out a few wicked toddler dance steps in his tiny Adidas Sambas outside the store that sold artistic housewares and pumped high-energy dance music out onto the street.
People -- usually Sandra Bullock's co-workers, would insist that we would soon flee for the suburbs, where life was easier. "I haven't gone there yet," said the flinty, thirty-two year-old me. "Why would I change my mind now?"
I feel guilty.
During those same years in Seattle, when I busy wasn't running down Seattle for not being San Francisco, I was hiding in the downtown library, looking at pictures of my shangri-La in travel books. One photo stuck out: a family of three, plus their dog, crammed into a Fiat Spyder, curbside on Columbus Street in North Beach. It was sunny, and their car was full of the things they'd just bought: groceries, sunflowers, nothing special, just the everyday things you pick up while you're out.
They didn't drive to Colma, even though there was plenty of parking. They didn't drive out to Stonestown, where parking is more difficult than at a suburban mall but a short stroll gives you access to every manner of nationwide chain store. They loaded up their tiny convertible and dove headlong into the maddening jaws of the city.
We should do that more.
Actually, what I'm finding now after having lived more of my life in cities than not, isn't that I'm a suburban guy. I still like malls, but only because that's where I was when I was a kid. And I still don't like driving places. I'd much rather walk, which is why, when we're not driving to Colma, we're doing things in our neighborhood, the charming and intimate but still somewhat limited, stuff-wise, Glen Park.
What I want is Glen Park minus the stuff around it. Like the man says, I was born in a small town. Wouldn't mind getting back to one some day. In the meantime, we'll keep hanging out in Glen Park and wearing a groove in the short stretch of 280 that runs between San Francisco and Colma.