My mom visited me at my invitation in 1997 after I’d recently moved to San Francisco for a job I’d snagged that January, about six months after my gig at the Atlanta Olympic Games had ended. The toss-up was between a higher paying job in NYC or SF, but since I’d had a decade long dream to live in the Bay area, I chose the latter. I was in heaven and at the time blissfully unattached, focused on work and enjoying the city and environs’ spectacular visual beauty. Never wanting to be far away from her children, she slept on my sofa rather than stay in a hotel. At the time I was living in one of the last remaining Victorian houses on Corbett Street in Twin Peaks, still there today and still owned by Daniel Scher, a former promoter and manager for rock impresario Bill Graham. I tracked him down one day about something rent related, and he barked into the phone, ‘how’d you get my number?’
It was a delight to hear the wind off the bay at night and to discover secret staircases that connected small neighborhoods on those peaks high above downtown. If you’re going to live in San Francisco, one of its many hills is the best choice. I ended up in an inner Sunset house my last few years in the city, which was a few blocks from Golden Gate Park and ideal for sketching. The larger paintings that evolved from those sketches remain some of my favorites. For walks and views, though, Mount Davidson and Twin Peaks can’t be beat.
Getting back to our visit, I wanted her to see as much as possible in the week she had with me; we drove down to Big Sur and along the way to the Hearst Castle and the Pebble Beach golf club; she had become an avid and decent golfer in the last 20 years of her life.
A special dinner out was at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, I saved our menu. We didn’t see Alice Waters, but I know that Mom loved the food. Simple, elegant and incredibly fresh.
We stayed at the Ventana Inn in Big Sur, where one morning Mom stepped out onto the deck of our room to see a Lynx or Bobcat prowling in the grasses. We toured the Hearst Castle, passing through Carmel and Monterey Bay on the way. The renowned Nepenthe restaurant was a lunch stop combined with amazing views. I have an entire photo album devoted to the trip. We tried to get my sister to fly out and join us, but that year was the first in a succession during which she refused to correspond or speak to me – just one of several mysterious and unresolved communication disruptions that continue to occur in our late adult relationship. She moved down to Atlanta the year after I did in 1976 and has stayed, never living anywhere else. My brother was invited as well, but he has always refused to fly.
My dad had traveled extensively throughout the world during his years in the navy, and relocated from Hollywood to the east coast for his career, where he met my mother in DC. She had not gone a great distance from her hometown outside Winston-Salem, NC – but she went far enough to make a radical change. I followed my father’s route in reverse, with a final move back to Atlanta. Maybe not so final, the adventure of living again in a strange city remains alluring.
I had wanted to fly my mother to Paris when I took a job as graphics artist with the Goodwill Games a decade earlier in 1986 and worked for a couple of months in Moscow. After the gig, I headed to Amsterdam after the Games to meet my then partner, we did a jaunt to Switzerland and the plan was to have her finally meet up with us in Paris, where she’d never been. Somehow we ended up missing that chance to tour Paris together, and I’ve always regretted it. We did spend shorter trips in Asheville, NC and a few beach vacations to the NC coasts where we’d drive from Raleigh, where she lived at the time, to paint together. I still miss talking to her about art, and although she wasn’t fond of abstract work, her knowledge about painting spoke to her decades of study and practice.
At the time she visited me in San Francisco I was working in SOMA, before it became overly gentrified and when the Mission district was enduring Latino gang war culture conflicts. The dotcom boom was just beginning in the late 90s, it was a different and exciting world. My company, ZDTV, and CNET were the early forerunners of the streaming world we know today, except that both networks were focused on all things computer related. Chat rooms were the equivalent of Facebook and Twitter, our young tech savvy audience was devoted and loved Dev Null, a virtual character, who would banter with the then not so famous Soledad O’Brien.
The trip my mom took to San Francisco was the last time she traveled with me. It was both bittersweet then, and wonderful now because of the memories. Just under five years later the dotcom boom would go bust and I would relocate for a job in the midwest, in Pete Buttigieg’s hometown of South Bend. She was gone in the first few months of that new job. Three years after that I would be offered a job outside Philly in West Chester, PA. The circle of jobs over almost 14 years took me close to my own hometown of Princeton, a little over an hour from where I lived for the next six years.