Once upon a time, before my exile to the foggy, soggy Parkside district of San Francisco, I lived at the living, beating heart of it all. It can be hard to believe that I was once walking distance from Hayes Valley, Upper and Lower Haight, Divisadero and even Castro Street. Hell, on a sunny afternoon it was not unheard of for me to hike on over to the Mission.
I had a cheese store a block away that carried delicious apple bars and had a machine that ground peanuts into peanut butter. Hahn’s Hibachi on Lower Haight served Chef Renée’s Fabulous Freaky Fried Chicken…far and away the most delicious fried chicken I have ever tasted. A little sub place on Divisadero made a tasty hot link sandwich and a decent milkshake.
And every Wednesday rain or shine I would get up late (I worked the graveyard shift) and go down to Comix Experience where the extremely laid back Rob Bennet would sell me that week’s fix. The store was, and presumably still is, lined with the art of Matt Wagner—creator of Mageand writer of Sandman Mystery Theater—and I had the chance to see him at what was presumably one of their last in store events, since they eventually gave up on them as too much trouble. And their store window display was always a thing of beauty, or horror—depending.
Off I would go to get fried chicken or a sub, depending on my mood, and pore over my haul: Buck Godot, Preacher, Starman, Astro City, Kingdom Come, The Flash, Sandman Mystery Theateror even for a couple of silly crossover weeks, Amalgam Comics. I also remember some Babylon 5 comics that were not at all bad and someX-Files ones with lovely covers and little else to recommend them.
Two doors down is Gamescape, where I spent far too much money on Magic the Gathering cards… my first and only foray into gaming of any type (excepting video games) but one that sucked up a lot of my time and money in those halcyon days of my youth. Originally I purchased my MtG boxes on Upper Haight at the now-long-gone Comic Relief, but Gamescape always ended up being both cheaper and friendlier, and once I discovered it I never went back. That whole geographical area is inextricably associated in my mind with reading comics and playing Magic in the local coffee shops, usually with the same folks that I already knew from the then only-slightly-less-fannish-and-geeky world of the BBS SFNet, which is now long gone but in those days had coin-operated tables with chat access in dozens of coffee shops throughout the city.
At night, in the Goth clubs it was pretty much the same folks trying to look cool—excepting those who where too busy playing Vampire the Masquerade.
The neighborhood has flourished since I was there. Divisadero now has a bunch of neat places to eat that were formerly vacant or might as well have been, and Lower Haight has gone from Upper Haight’s poor relation to a thriving neighborhood that puts its over-commercialized sibling to shame. And I’m glad, but it was still a sad day for me when I walked past and saw that the infamous Horseshoe had finally given up the ghost, after years of trying to reinvent itself and a couple of fires. But no one is looking for net tables or Magic partners anymore… and the coffee was always better at Café International anyway.
SF/SF Issue 36, December 2006