It was in 1999 that I first travelled to the land of the movies – the United States of America. My destination was California – San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego to be precise. In the quarter century since that trip, I have revisited the country several times, usually to the East Coast. However, I have always harboured an inclination to return West. It just seemed too far though – involving an eleven-hour flight from Ireland – or too expensive. But still so appealing. When Aer Lingus had a sale last November, I got a shiver of anticipation when I noticed that a return flight from Dublin to San Francisco cost a mere three hundred euros, with a March travel date . I bought it instantly. Prices like those are rare. It was time to make my triumphant return to the city by the Bay.
My memories of the city were magical. Being a 24-year-old gayling on my first trip there, it was a pilgrimage. The Greeks may have invented the Gay, but San Francisco had become one of the world’s major gay capitals since World War 2 when soldiers returning from war decided to remain in the coastal city rather than return to the Flyover Land of their birthplace. I travelled back then, with some friends from Dublin. We partied hard. I had a weeklong affair with a man from Virginia named Topher who I met in the Midnight Sun bar on my first night out. He introduced me to Jägermeister – that grotesque liqueur with mind altering powers. I went to work with him one day – he was a professional dog walker with a side business in selling marijuana to San Franciscan lesbians – the most Californian job I can think of. I bought the first of Armistead Maupin ‘Tales of the city; books in a second-hand bookshop in the Haight-Ashbury district – the district in town where the 1960s flower power, hippie movement began. My memories of that time are as golden as the bridge.
The flight to San Francisco was unpleasant as all long haul, economy flights tend to be. My traveling companion was arriving from London so despite the fact he had departed before I did, the pre-clearance for the US that happens in Ireland meant our arrival times were coordinated. After dumping my bags in my grotty Fillmore hotel (San Francisco is one of the most outrageously priced cities in the USA) we made our way to the Castro where we dined on Indian food and quaffed some refreshing G&Ts in Twin Peaks gay bar (this bar opened in the 1970s and was noteworthy for the fact that it had big open street level windows so passers-by could look in, and patrons could look out). It was emblematic of gay liberation – gay people were no longer banished to dingy, windowless basement – and the opening of the culture. Having invested in a public transport Muni card, we got the bus home and retired quite early – jetlag induced exhaustion was acute.
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