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Bar Columns

Going Native at The Page

By December 1, 2015No Comments

(This story originally appeared in the SF Weekly)

distillationsI was prepping to go to an event I’d helped organize when I got a call from someone telling me that he needed four hours of my time tomorrow to do essential planning for an even bigger, more important event.

“Well, I don’t have time to do both,” I thought, and so I reluctantly decided that I’d have to skip a party I’d helped plan in order to make time to plan another party.

That’s when it hit me: I’ve completely acculturated to San Francisco. After eight years in the city I’m now doing all the things I swore I wouldn’t.

I’ve become an overscheduled, hard-to-reach social butterfly whose calendar decides whether he has time for his friends unless they can hit him up at the right events. When they finally do catch up to me and ask what’s going on, I say things like, “I’m helping plan an art event with an experimental ticket mechanism …” and then ask them to mention my book on social media.

Oh God.

I’m making more money than ever, but I’m no closer to buying a house or starting a family. I’m actually moving away from the traditional signs of adulthood. San Francisco’s climate bubble has trapped me, and I’m getting no closer to the next season of my life.

The terrible thing is: It suits me. I make it look fun — which isn’t the same thing as being happy, but isn’t nothing.

The Page is a great place to think about how the city can change you. There has been a bar in its spot on Divisadero and Page for more than 70 years: It started out as Pal’s Rendezvous in the 1940s, became Page One and Corn and Company in the 1970s, then Chances, and now The Page.

Despite a high-quality beer list and strong collection of whiskeys, The Page presents itself like a dive bar that not only isn’t trying to impress you but has absolutely nothing to lose. Walking in, you’re confronted with a long bar, bad lighting, plenty of places to sit, pool tables, and a split level “den” with faux brick walls. It’s all lovely, without ever implying it cares what you think.

I could almost feel it giving my identity crisis the finger as I walked in the door.

The sign above the bar was pushing beers with shots, so I ordered one — Radeberger pils and Buffalo Trace, a bourbon I’ve been seeing a lot of recently. The bartender brought it, then walked away before I could pay.

I longed to ask one of the bartenders what to do about my identity crisis, but they were too busy, and I was just one more stranger with a story in this city, drinking at a bar that’s had many names.

That night I was one of those aggressively solitary drinkers: a speed bump in the way of anybody’s good time. I tried to buck the trend. When a customer with a neatly trimmed beard walked up, I made fun of his drink order. He mocked what I was drinking. We bantered about beer for a minute, and all was well — until I went silent again. My heart wasn’t in it.

One of the bartenders came back and wiped off the counter. I saw my opportunity and I jumped on it, saying “Are you the kind of bartender I can ask for advice?”

She blinked. “It won’t be very good, but sure.”

“When I moved to San Francisco I swore I was never going to go native. Eight years later, I’ve become what I hate.”

“Well,” she said, “does it make you happy?”

Yes — I love what I’m doing — but that’s not really the issue. That’s not the issue at all.

The point is, I told her, that a bad person can be happy and still be a bad person. Both of my identities know that. We’re not looking for therapy — and we’re not willing to take happiness without honor.

She looked at me like I was speaking Latin, which in a sense I was. This is a classical way to look at the world, while The Page has changed with the times.

Adulthood is a rearguard action against time: It requires a sense of tragedy. Adults realize they not only have something to lose, but that they will lose it. So they slow down to preserve what is best and live in a meaningful way while they still can. A gold rush town with a fetish for innovation will never understand that.