Cheers to you and yours! We’re navigating the season of gratitude, giving, and hope — the extended wintertime celebration that starts when we give thanks around a turkey, continues as we give presents to one another around a tree, and ends when we resolve to give the coming year our best shot around 4 p.m. on New Year’s Day, despite a champagne hangover.
My nomadic existence, traveling between San Francisco and Los Angeles, may be draining when the frequency of my commute is upped by professional or personal circumstance. But there are gifts galore at both ends of the journey (and even a few in the middle), and, regardless of the state of the Union, the joys still outweigh the disappointments. If you’ve read this column before, you might recall that there are cafes, bars, and restaurants that I dote upon in each of my hometowns, as well as regional art and culture, cozy getaways, historic locales, and examples of natural beauty that enhance my days. All of that aside, the primary benefits are the kind and nurturing relationships with friends in both NorCal and SoCal. Those are the treasures I truly covet in any season.
It’s given that certain elements have had a negative impact on the quality of life for some in the Bay Area. The tech boom and its well-compensated beneficiaries have wrought havoc on the financial security of many who were once capable of living within their means while within the city limits of San Francisco. The middle and working classes and the artists have felt the brunt of it, and I share their plight to some extent.
Over-development is reshaping the skyline (and seldom for the better), and mammoth rent increases are driving out small businesses as well as longtime residents. Despite all that, San Francisco remains a dream locale and a place of promise for those who have been able to hang in and hang on. The presence of my pals helps me weather the daunting changes that seem to multiply exponentially whenever I’m elsewhere for a month or two. I know that my allies will still be around — even if some of them are in the East Bay, North Bay, or South Bay — when I get back to town.
Los Angeles, with its enormous size and myriad rental options, isn’t quite so hostile to low-income denizens who have many more options down there. Nonetheless, one unpleasant reality that L.A. shares with San Francisco is the homeless problem. North or south, the number of beleaguered street people grows — and more little tent villages spring up under overpasses and down alleys. Whether driving on Division south of Market or getting off the 101’s Alverado exit in Echo Park, I have seen the amount of tents and cardboard shelters increase in alarming fashion over the past 12 months. What can we do? Charity — whether providing cash boons or volunteering one’s time and service — is helpful, and in the spirit of the holidays. The more fortunate should do what they can.
GOING WITH THE FLOW
Ultimately, the tides of socio-economic change are going to surge, raising some boats and swamping others. It’s ebb and flow wherever you go, so it’s nice to have some life jackets on hand: friends as flotation devices, if you will. As the drama plays out in good times and bad, I’m just happy that folks I care about reciprocate the feeling.
Any item you might buy, wrap up in gilt paper, and hand to me as part of a Secret Santa ritual will be accepted graciously. And I’ll never say no to a large chunk of change. But the best presents I have the pleasure of receiving are simultaneously more ephemeral and more substantial: Making pasta and salad at Patty and John’s in the Valley, bingeing on the latest U.K. crime drama, then eating leftovers around midnight; stopping by the Royal Ground on Polk to write, only to spend most of the time discussing sports and computer maintenance with Tom, the state of the city with Bryan, and the comings and goings of other café regulars with Paul; and drinking craft-brewed beers with Hugh at Glendale Tap as Jess the bartender plies us with tasters in shot glasses.
THE GREATEST GIFT
I walk with Heather and her dog through a quiet, leafy San Anselmo neighborhood at twilight; discuss music-business douche bags and thwarted romances with Leslie outside a frozen yogurt shop in Pacific Palisades; conjure up cartoon projects and swap snarky observations with Allen; craft movie treatments and share autobiographical details with James in a Hollywood eatery; hash over today’s harrowing political scene and the whereabouts of mutual acquaintances from the past during a phone call with Howie as I drive I-5; meet up at Brix and Jo’s in South Beach for one of their wonderful, intimate cocktail parties; watch a movie with Mark at his place in Brentwood; or go to a screening in Beverly Hills with Denise. And that’s just for starters.
Even if I’m frustrated about some issue at hand, or I encounter roadblocks to my progress, or I have to scramble to pay a bill, I just remember what Clarence the angel writes in a letter to everyman George Bailey at the end of Frank Capra’s ever-popular movie It’s a Wonderful Life: “No man is a failure who has friends.” Indeed, Clarence. The gift that keeps on giving is friendship.