Sometimes it’s worthwhile to take stock of your past to get some perspective on your present. I recently had a chance to do that when I visited the San Francisco Bay Area and immersed myself in what I used to think of as my other life but what I now realize is really my old life.
I moved to the Bay Area in 1982, when I was 22 years old. Fresh out of college, I bought a one-way ticket from Philadelphia to San Francisco. I didn’t have a job, a place to live, or any friends in the area, but I didn’t care. With a duffel bag full of clothes in one hand and my guitar in the other, I boarded a plane and never looked back. It was the first of my many great adventures.
Over time, I found a series of jobs, made lots of friends, and fell in love and got married. I lived in four different towns in the East Bay – Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, and Richmond – and frequently commuted into San Francisco to work and play. I lived in the Bay Area for 13 years and enjoyed every second of my time there.
I go back periodically to catch up with my friends and touch base with my past. Although it’s been more than 20 years since I left the Bay Area, I marvel at how easy it is for me to slip back into my old life. I just pick up where I left off with my friends and carry on as though I’d never been gone. When I remarked to my friend Paula how comfortable I feel every time I return despite the passage of time, she said, “That’s because your spirit still lives here.”
During this most recent visit, I spent a lot of time wandering through my past. One afternoon, my friend David and I had lunch at one of my favorite eateries – Nation’s Giant Burgers in El Cerrito. Then we took a stroll through Albany, where we both had once lived. As we walked, we played the “Do you remember…?” game, recalling favorite neighborhood haunts along the way that have long since been replaced by new businesses over the years.
Paula and I spent a delightful afternoon poking around 4th Street and Solano Avenue in Berkeley, engaging in “retail therapy” and catching up on our lives. Paula and I first met when we sang together in a choir at the Albany School for the Blind. She sat down next to me at rehearsal one night and introduced herself, and we started talking. It’s now 34 years later, and we haven’t run out of things to talk about.
One of the nicest days was spent with Perry, my ex-husband. Perry and I both moved from Philadelphia to the East Bay in 1982. Although we’d grown up less than a mile apart in Philly, we didn’t meet each other until we both got to California. We were the most casual of friends for about a year. Then we fell in love and spent the next 10 years together.
Although we got divorced in 1994, and Perry has since remarried, we parted amicably and have remained very close. On this particular visit, Perry and I set out on a walk through San Francisco that was reminiscent of the many walks we took through the City in our youth. We started downtown, then walked all through Chinatown and North Beach until we reached Fisherman’s Wharf.
The Wharf has always held great meaning for both of us because it’s where we each got our start. Perry came out to San Francisco in April of 1982. He spent a week at a youth hostel near Fisherman’s Wharf, then set out on a two-month backpacking trip through the Sierras before making his way to Berkeley.
I fell in love with San Francisco in 1980, when my family took a trip there, and we stayed in a hotel at Fisherman’s Wharf. When I saw all the creative, artsy people selling their wares along the Wharf, I knew that at long last, I had found the place I belonged. It would just be a matter of time before I got there myself, which I did in June of 1982.
During this most recent visit, once Perry and I reached the Wharf, we sat in the amphitheater in Aquatic Park looking out at the San Francisco Bay. We started reminiscing about the separate journeys that had led us to this spot and eventually to each other.
We talked about our early days in the Bay Area when we each struggled to settle in, find employment, and build a life. I’d started out doing public relations work for a hospital in Oakland, then went on to start a freelance writing business, teach high school, and do PR work for nonprofit organizations and local universities. Eventually I went off to graduate school and landed at Cal State Fullerton in Southern California.
Perry started taking computer classes at Vista Community College in Berkeley in the early 1980s, when no one really had a clue what computers could do. He ultimately parlayed what he learned at Vista into a successful career as a computer trainer and programmer with the Environmental Protection Agency, where he’s worked for the last 25+ years.
Perry and I spent nearly two hours sitting and talking about both the past and the present. We recalled some of the people we’d met along the way who had helped and mentored us. We marveled at the things we’ve done – together and separately – in all the years we’ve known each other. Perry then told me about his first week in California back in 1982, when he’d sat in this very same amphitheater in Aquatic Park, gazing at the water and wondering what his life had in store for him.
I patted him on the arm and said, “You’ve certainly come a long way.” He smiled at me and replied, “You too, Professor.”