Whenever I come back from a vacation, I get the same feeling of relief and happiness flying into SFO. I s'pose it's like when the families are reunited at the end of Wife Swap, running across parking lots with tears streaming down their faces and a new-found appreciation for She Who Does All the Laundry. They didn't know what they had until they lost it for two weeks. Usually I return the same way, grateful and re-enthused to live here.
But not this time. When I returned to San Francisco after the holidays and got on BART to go home, I looked out over the train and just felt blah. I don't think it's so much that I don't like it here. It's just that I really, really liked the place I'd just left: Nashville.
Nashville isn't as glitzy a city as I'd expected. It's like one big small town, really, and you don't get hit over the head with country music, which really surprised me. The people have these amazing accents, and there are all sorts: Republicans, Democrats, crunchies, hipsters, and those somewhere in the middle, like Dixie Chicks types. The men make eye contact and actually come up to talk to you, and the women are laid-back and quietly pretty, with cotton dresses and cowboy boots and Neil Young's entire discography in their cars, even Trans.
I'm sure I'm just going through a momentary seven-year-itch kind of disaffection, but I'm having a hard time shaking it. For whatever reason, when I chose to go out last week, I felt drawn to someplace innocuous and not particularly unique. I wasn't ready to fully feel like I was back in San Francisco.
I had passed Murphy's Pub on Kearny often, and this time I decided to go inside. It's an Irish pub, not quite upscale, but not quite dive material, either. It could exist in any city, anywhere. The patrons always seemed to have the aura of people who work in the neighborhood and know the bartenders by name, which was a good start. I could describe Murphy's the same way I've described so many other pubbish places, with friendly waitstaff and nostalgia stuff on the walls, plus one long bar and tables all around. This, at least, was pleasantly familiar in a Wife Swap reunion kinda way.
I sat at the bar, ordered a pale ale, and perused the menu, deciding on nachos with extra jalapeño. There were a few suits at the back tables and a somewhat subdued goth chick at the bar. From the sound of her conversation with the bartender, she was a receptionist at a law firm, so she had to tone down her Twilight shtick during the day. A rockabilly guy was sitting by himself, reading and eating a sandwich; of course, he reminded me of Tennessee.
One of the things I noticed about Nashville is how small the "scene" there is, relatively speaking. It was like my old days in the Midwest, when the metalheads, punks, hippies, and hipsters all showed up to the same shows, because there was nothing else going on of much interest, and we liked each other's music for the most part. I was shocked when I moved out here and noticed how boxed-off each scene was from the other; it was such a huge amalgamation of different identities that people just kept to themselves. Well, that's just not as much fun.
"So," I thought, eyeing the rockabilly guy, "If he lived in Nashville, would he be happier, or more lost?" This was a hard question. Out here, this dude is presumably part of a smallish, tight-knit retinue. Back in Nashville he would be just another pompadour in the bucket. I concluded that it is probably more enjoyable to be kinda country out here in San Francisco than to be kinda country in the heart of country music. Congratulations, rockabilly peeps: You are livin' the high life in Cali.
My nachos were rather unpredictable for pub food, by which I mean they were looking kinda chic, so good on ya, Murphy's on Kearny. However, the cook had chopped the jalapeños into tiny pieces and smothered the chips with them. Luckily they weren't very hot.
So I sat there, on a barstool near downtown S.F., eating another plate of bar food, listening to another person talk about how being herself is hard because she works for the Man ("I have to hide my tattoos and take out my piercings," she lamented; to be fair, any place that does that in this day and age, and in this particular part of the country, is indeed pretty lame).
However, is there nothing new in this city? I know my love for it is still here, buried somewhere. Let's face it: I need a romantic weekend to rekindle what we had. I am basically in a good marriage that has grown boring and stale. San Francisco just doesn't understand me. Nashville shook her titties in my face and made me feel things I hadn't felt in a long while.
To be fair, I always get like this at the end of the year, when I usually see things as one big glass half empty. The bars are pretty empty, at least, and a certain energy is gone. I remember what I had hoped to be doing by now, as laid out in my resolutions 12 months ago, and my abandonment of those goals one month after making them comes back to haunt me.
The bartender gave me my bill. His name was Ollie (short for Oliver, of course), which is just about the cutest name I can imagine, and it made me smile. There are still some things in these dark winter days that can light a spark in me. And, to be fair, as soon as March rolls around, and dead things start to grow back, and the wind is perfectly crisp and gently cloying, and you are sitting in Dolores Park with the sun on your face and a pug comes over and licks your hand while you listen to Neil Young's Trans on your iPod, well, this place is pretty wonderful. "Nashville meant nothing to me," I will say to San Francisco. "It won't happen again."