I took off from “home” to find home, sans quotation marks. I wanted to dive right in, to experience the city firsthand. To finally sit behind the driver’s seat with nowhere to go, nothing to do. If I got lost, then I had done my job. I couldn’t tell you where I started or where I went through. I’m sure my route made no sense at all, and if someone had been tracking me, for sure would have thought I was crazy. I pushed through neighborhood after neighborhood, following on my map where I was, circling the parts that struck me as nice with a purple sharpie. Hayes Valley got a nod. Over Pacific Heights I scratched “boring?” but then when I came upon a nice collection of shops and restaurants, I drew a line through it. “no!”
I had always experienced the city with tunnel vision, destination focused. “Just tell me how to get there.” So whenever I would return, I’d have quick moments of recognition. “Jenny used to live there.” “Morgan and I had dinner there.” But then, driving around, I started to put the pieces together as a whole. I was amazed to find out, it’s not as big as it seems, but it still seems infinite. There seems like there are a thousand things to discover. When anyone begins to describe a favorite place, it usually starts with the adjectives “great” and “little” in quick succession. Living here might just be a veritable treasure hunt, replete with hand-drawn maps where X marks the spot.
I found such a gem on my first day, though to be honest, Noneifbysea had done some research to get me there. Ritual Roasters is a little slice of Portland, right in the heart of the Mission. They’re doing coffee Portland-style, with Stumptown beans, in fact. I walk in, and they’re playing Tapes n’ Tapes, the album I had recently tapped as my Moving to San Francisco soundtrack. It seemed to perfect. It was. I asked after their whole bean coffee, to see if they had Columbia La Virgina specifically. They didn’t, but then the guy behind the counter (who had just moved from Portland himself) recommended the Limu. Funny thing. Limu had been recommended to NIBS and I. Twice. And we bought it. Twice. And both times, we hated it. I couldn’t believe the scene was unfolding a third time. I had them grind up a half-pound of Kenya to take home.
I grabbed a cup of drip and a blackout cupcake topped with a pastel dollop of lavender frosting. It was astounding. Chocolate, lavender, the coffee, tapes n’ tapes, a whole room of Portland hipster doppelgangers, tucked behind laptops, strangers sharing tables meant for friends. I had entered a displaced Portland Coffee-obsessed yupster paradise. I wasn’t home, but I was closing in.
I got back in the car and continued to wind my way around the city for a couple more hours. Finding dead-ends and alternate routes, climbing hills for the fun and sheer terror, apologizing to my car’s transmission over and over again. I have my ipod on shuffle, and every song that comes up seems just right. A josh rouse song I haven’t heard in years. A smattering of Ella. A lot of Costello. I sing. I drive. I get excited about being here.
Finding my way with surprising ease back to the Bay Bridge, I feel my heart surge in a way I hadn’t expected. I took a deep breath, and I couldn’t contain my smile. It was the same way I’d felt that night I met Noneifbysea. A little nervous. A little excited. On my way to falling in love.