If “Rule 34” exists (the idea that if something is, there will be someone to sexually fetishize it), then it stands to reason that I can create a “Rule 44,” which states that for any phenomenon there is an upper middle class, highly educated person who has turned it into an academic pursuit. Proof: There is something called Migration Studies. I guess it's for people who originally studied anthropology or geography and really thought land bridges were fascinating.
I can sort of relate because I have enjoyed learning the Bay Area's history of ethnic drift, and the history of the Fillmore is a good petri dish for the concept. It emerged in the 1880s after overcrowding pushed people outward from the city center. (When I think of what these people must've looked like, I picture old prospectors in dusty dungarees, accompanied by pickaxes and daughters name Clementine.) The 1906 quake leveled much of the city, leaving Fillmore Street as one of the only places still in decent shape, and it soon became a haven for new businesses. Jewish, Japanese, and African-American residents who had arrived in the first great migration from the South soon populated the area. During World War II, FDR sent the Fillmore's Japanese residents to internment camps; their sudden absence allowed more people who were not suspected spies based solely on their ethnicity to move into those now-empty homes. The only thing left to add was jazz.
Cue the present day: The Fillmore is now trying to define itself by aligning itself with the past. It's supposedly the city's jazz center again, even though most of the old jazzbos are now dead. Cassandra Wilson and Keb' Mo' have been busy trying to make up for it, but it's not the same. Like a middle-aged divorcée, the Fillmore is still trying to redefine itself and find footing.
I met a large group of friends at 1300 on Fillmore for drinks before we headed over to see the African-American Shakespeare Company's production of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof nearby. The 1300 is a schmancy soul food-inspired restaurant with a large lounge area in the front. It's where you go if you don't feel like sushi but you want to spend a lot of money in the Fillmore; Yoshi's bridges the gap between the old Japanese presence and the street's jazz history pretty well, though.
We spent the first half hour talking about important things, like how to elevate store-bought cake mix into gourmet-worthy cupcakes. We chatted about browned butter and how to make blueberry filling, and how Betty Crocker is the shit and Duncan Hines sucks balls. Baking was our cigar-and-whiskey talk in the Lounge, which looks like an old English smoking room, complete with stately overstuffed couches and easy chairs, amber tones, and sophisticated light fixtures politely drooping down into our conversations and bathing them with an extra glow.
I let the easy chair swallow me up, scooching down and laying my head on the back. Yeah, it was probably a bit gauche, but if you are going to give people comfortable seating you have to deal with slouchers. It's like people who have really cute dogs and then get offended when you want to greet and pet them. Deal with it, people.
The walls of the lounge are adorned with old show posters and dozens of sepia-toned pictures of African-American performers from the area. Some of the pictures were digital and slowly melted into new ones at various intervals. They started as one thing and then became another. Just like the neighborhood.
“You from Virginia?” said Terry to Toni. She explained that she was, but not from the D.C. area, but rather the “deep South” portion. This took on a different meaning to everyone than me, because I was the only white girl among the 10 of us, but to be fair, I immediately went to racism as well. “How far down do you have to drive from D.C. to get where you are from?” Terry continued. He seemed to sort of understand the region.
“You just head down 66,” she began.
“And when you get pulled over you know you've gone far enough,” I shot in, immediately mortified that I had done so. Oh shit. Is it okay for a white person to joke about this? There was a brief, terrible pause, and then everyone broke into laughter and nodded their heads in agreement. Phew.
Most all of us who were out together that night started in one part of the country and ended up here. And, like a lot of people, we will probably all realize that we can't afford to live here and will make another Great Migration back whence we came. But for now, we are not ready to give up.
I brought up a conversation about how the city has changed; the new migrations are still outward but the new inhabitants are wealthy. A gay friend who was one of the thousands of people who came out here in hopes of it being a homosexual Shangri-La says it best. To paraphrase, “I came here to get out of the closet and now I rent one for $2,500 a month.”
We started to get peckish, and someone headed to the hostess' lectern to try and get us a table for dinner. Bars in restaurants are just holding cells; groups come in, mill around, and then eventually move into the main room to gather around a more permanent table.
“Ready?” said the hostess, the weight of 10 large menus pulling her down.
“Let's move,” I said with a wave of my hand.