Having Fun at the End of the World

The pandemic has taken yet another weird turn — thankfully, weirdness is always welcome in San Francisco.

Looking back on the past year-and-a-half, I find myself marveling at how many stages of pandemic we’ve survived together. From those early halcyon days when we all thought we’d just get a few weeks off to catch up on our Netflix queues, through the genuinely terrifying surges, on to the brief but exuberant Hot Vax Summer.

As we’re now fully engaged in the “How the fuck are you not vaccinated yet?” phase of the COVID-19 era, I thought it would be nice to take a little trip down memory lane.

The year was 2020. Everything and nothing seemed to be happening simultaneously. Many of the people who refuse the vaccine today — because, you know, chemicals and Big Pharma or whatever — were hoovering up the global supply of hydroxychloroquine. And even shut-ins and introverts were desperate for an excuse to get out of their houses. 

After developing carpal tunnel syndrome from pinching and folding all that delicious sourdough and completing all the jigsaw puzzles in the house, we had to find new and innovative ways to pass the time and stay sane. Below are a few of the things that helped me make it to this point… where we still have to wear masks and worry about getting sick from those who refuse to cover their own faces.

Burrito with Fries Inside

I grew up in San Diego, so no matter how good a Mission Burrito is, SD-style Mexican food is still my happy place. While the past 10 or 15 years has seen a smattering of carne asada fries and rolled tacos pop up around town, everyone knows the California Burrito is the king of San Diego-style Mexican food. And the best one in town is at the Wooden Nickel. Full disclosure, Nancy Chung, the owner of the bar is a good friend of mine, but I’ve probably tried every California Burrito in San Francisco, and I maintain that hers is, without a doubt, the best. A burrito stuffed with carne asada, guac, crema, and fries is my ideal version of comfort food and this one helped me get through the worst of the pandemic.

Socially Distanced Daytime Rave

What does one do when it’s Halloween in San Francisco but you’re stuck in a pandemic? You go to a socially distanced day rave in Hellman Hollow! I actually attended multiple day parties in Golden Gate Park during the past 18 months or so, but the ones in Hellman Hollow were always superior, and the one on Halloween was the best. There are few things San Franciscans love more than putting on costumes, consuming funny substances, and dancing in public, and that’s exactly what happened on that hallowed day. Somebody pulled up in a big bus with a massive sound system and we all got down. Seeing that this is S.F. though, why wait till Halloween? We should be doing this every other weekend!

Best Barely-Used Arena to Explore

If I were Ernest Hemingway, this entry would only be six words long and it would read: “For exploring, new arena, barely used.” But I’m not, so allow me to elaborate: When the world is closed down, exploring the Chase Center and its environs is an absolute delight. From the big outdoor stadium style seating in the plaza to Olafur Eliasson’s giant mirrored spheres to the adorable “The Bay” mosaic mural put together by Precita Eyes, there’s so much to see. And when you’re done with that you can wander around the once dilapidated waterfront and marvel at what strange and wondrous creations might be rising in the near future.

Best Fancy Mask Store

It’s common knowledge that every good pandemic has a fancy mask store. And for San Francisco, that place is The Mask Shop & Castro Stitchery. When Michael Petri was laid off from his job at the Chase Center (I imagine for him, exploring it isn’t as fun as it is for the rest of us), he dove deep into his passion for fashion, and a brilliant new business was born. Buying a bunch of fabrics, and enlisting other out of work friends, Petri created what was quite literally the must-have accessory for the season… and apparently the season after that… and the season after that… and, well you get the picture (please get vaccinated already). These days anyone can pop by for custom masks that come in more than 60 fabrics and cost $6 to $20. 

Best Bohemian Alleyway

While I’ve certainly swigged some pocket whiskey in Jack Kerouac Alley before, it wasn’t until the pandemic that the tiny stretch of concrete and murals between Vesuvio and City Lights Books became a drinking destination. Like so many businesses in the past 18 months, Vesuvio had to figure out a way to do its thing without letting people sit inside. So, tables and chairs were dragged out to the alley, and suddenly North Beach felt just a little bit more European. And just to keep things funky they’ve started doing an underground film series called Magic Lantern, put on by filmmaker Anthony Buchannan and local event producer Lapo Guzzini.

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