Better than Chocolate
Every city I’ve ever lived in has a distinctive similarity to a relationship I’ve been in. For instance, Athens, OH, was similar to a sweet and brilliant musician I dated while I lived there. We used to stand on his balcony and look at the moon through his telescope, talking about life, the universe and everything while getting drunk and high. Ultimately, however, I decided I needed adventure and drama, not stability and simplicity, so I said goodbye to both Athens and the musician.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Los Angeles was something like the curly-haired one night stand I picked up at a goth club. At night the city seemed fast paced and glittering, with tones of passion and just a dash of hedonism. But similar to the shock of waking up next to someone who’s make up has worn off onto the bedsheets, who is now clearly visible as desperate, unhappy and searching for meaning by doing faceplants into a stranger’s lap, I quickly found L.A. to be less substance than surface. Although I left that girl as quickly as I could hitch a ride from her biker roommate, I stayed in L.A. far too long, to the point where any change was better than staying in that stifling hot and polluted city.
Luckily, fate helped me find my way to the Bay. Actually, I found my way here by staying on couches and scamming my job into transferring me before quitting three weeks after I moved. But still, fate helped. And now I am constantly and pleasantly surprised, even after an entire year living in the East Bay. Sure, it’s not quite the city, but I can see it from my bedroom window. I’m just close enough to get all the benefits of San Francisco, without the hassle of never having a parking spot.
In short, I am in love. It’s a tenuous kind of love, one that I could see being forever, but I’m a 21st century type and I know that kind of commitment is usually about as realistic as expecting to land a job at Pixar by scanning craigslist. But here’s what I do know: much like experiencing constant and gleeful surprises, because the person you’ve been with for 4 years wrote I love you in the steam on the bathroom mirror while you were taking a shower, the Bay rewards my faith by never letting my get bored, never letting my get complacent, and never letting me believe I know it too well.
In the same way that my current partner constantly reveals hitherto unknown pieces of his life, making me feel as though I am happily on an eternal third date, living in the Bay means that every time I miss my exit, or take a detour to avoid traffic, or go visit a friend in their new home, I learn something new about this city. I find myself catching my breath when I sight tiny deer bounding through my
neighborhood, or discover a ridiculously small cafe restaurant, nestled between an apartment complex and a car dealer, that serves Thai food to melt your heart.
Case in point: I recently had a house guest. The fact that it was my mother and her husband has little or no relevence, since I am one of the few twenty-somethings I know who actually enjoys spending time with parents. This is actually probably because they live 2800 miles away, but the whole thing is best left under-analyzed.
At any rate, the advent of the arrival or my parents, who will henceforth be referred to as Joe and Sheryl, was not only a chance for me to introduce them to my beloved city, but a chance for me to act like a tourist without shame. To continue the metaphor, I believe this is why people enjoy going to functions with their significant others; large social events give us all a chance to put on our best clothes, flirt
and drink and dance, and have witnesses to whom we can show off how much we love and adore our partner. In short, everything seems better with an audience.
Such is the case with houseguests. Though we avoided Fisherman’s Wharf, Joe and Sheryl insisted that we tour Telegraph Avenue and take pictures in front of Sproul Hall, where the demonstrators played their Bongos way back when student protests mattered. We missed viewing the sake musuem, located at one of only six sake wineries in the nation, which had a sign saying they were closed, despite the fact that they proclaimed ‘Free tastings from 12-6, every day’, but we did tour the Scharffen Berger factory. For those of you who have never tasted this chocolate (apparently favored by the likes of Matha Stewart), you are missing out on a true local treasure. They proudly detailed their brief but sweet (ha ha) history in the Bay in a short lecture held in a room with low wooden pews that bear profound resemblence to a small church. The hour long tour of this dairy free (and vegan safe!) facility conveniently ends in their gift shop, but not before they handed out a couple ounces worth of free samples of the different kinds of chocolate they make. It’s kind of like giving school kids a free sample of crack, and then bussing them to a drug house. But I digress.
The point is, the factory, located a short ways off I-80, is pretty much on my way home from work. I must have passed it countless times in my weekly forrays into Berkeley, and I never knew it was there.
Two years ago, I was shocked to find out that my partner took over eight years of piano lessons when he was young, a fact I’d never learned in the 4 years I’d known him. His skill with classical piano was not a secret he held, just not something that had ever come up in conversation. It’s like that with this city, too. This is not an elitist place, where the best parties are held behind doors that require
passwords to enter, and where even the valets size you up before they take your keys. I’m not idealistic enough to pretend those places don’t exist here, that there aren’t the occasional hot-spots that requires a background check in ‘hip’ before they let you through the door.
Overwhelmingly, though, the thing I love about this city, is that, much like all good relationships, the best things are the little surprises
you discover, when you take the time to explore.