I came to California in a bit of a broken state. After enduring a life of being perpetually fed, “you’re not good enough”, searching for a job and untangling the mess that is life post-graduation had become unbearable, impossibly unpleasant. DC isn’t a place that empathizes with insecurities, even if all of its denizens have them. So I ran fast, fast to the West with some friends and the bucket list in mind. So that my problems could dissipate for a short week and I could return to the sloshing gray seas of the Eastern seaboard a better person with a clearer head.
Cliched stories and images and ideals about California made me homesick for this place in which I’d never been. I heard the weather is warm and agreeable, the people friendly and relaxed, the food fresh and flavorful, about the slow-paced life of a Californian who works but doesn’t forget to live in the process. All this sounded so very pleasant, aspects and comforts that seemed more or less foreign to the East Coast and its schedules and hierarchies.
I crashed with one of my best friends, Jolie, who lives in Berkeley. She and I are self-described “foodies”, so when it came time to decide what to see and do, I decided to scrap all touristy things on the agenda. I am here for her, after all, and it would only make sense if we wandered around San Francisco and taste the best of its eats and delicacies. I proceeded to devour a great big giant bowl of pho, properly, with tendons, in Chinatown. We floated through the ferry building where Jolie bought fresh bread and I bought the cheese (aged gruyere!!) so that we could sit along the bay and talk and eat. Along with some sweet red plums, it made for an excellent second-lunch. On the way to ice cream, we bought baked goods in various bakeries – blueberry scones and lemon bars and more sourdough bread. Snacks along the way! We then arrived to the Mission district, bought a tub of gourmet ice cream, brown sugar with ginger caramel swirls, and sat in lively sun-kissed Dolores Park, where huge crowds had gathered on this particular Sunday, and dance parties had formed and hula-hoops were a regular thing. We ended the day in Jolie’s Berkeley flat by watching SNL over Thai food. By that time the sun had set, deep purples and light pinks fell to black; lights were flickering to life all over the bay area. I decided to navigate Berkeley’s mountainous terrain to get a good look of San Francisco. The air had that sweetness of a crisp spring night. I scaled the hill and found a suitable vantage point surrounded by palms. It was dark where I stood and it seemed there was no one around for miles, but the distant lights of San Francisco were bright and reassuring. And there were more stars than I could ever expect to see under a city glow.
I generally don’t travel with expectations. But my superficial glance of California proved to honor the effortless image of sun and fun that TV and films convey. Maybe it was the amazing food, maybe it was being with my friend again, maybe it was the beautiful weather, maybe it was the locals who were so nice to me, maybe it was everything altogether, but I felt my broken pieces of shattered ceramic starting to shake and rumble, as if preparing to reassemble into their sculpture. And I decided that a good friend and good food in a good place can help make you whole again.