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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Herb Caen & San Francisco

Today is the birthday of San Francisco journalist Herb Caen. His column in the San Francisco Chronicle began in 1938, the year I was born. Caen was 22 then. The Golden Gate Bridge opened a few months later. What a wonderful time to live in San Francisco. Herb wrote 1,000 words a day, six days a week, for almost 60 years — the longest-running column in American history. He coined the term “beatnik” in 1958, and he made the word “hippie” popular in the 1960s. He said: “I’m going to do what every San Franciscan does who goes to Heaven. I’ll look around and say, ‘It’s not bad, but it ain’t San Francisco.’”

I arrived there in the early sixties, and fell in love with the city, a wonderland for this naive, young man from Southern Illinois. A day was not complete without reading Caen’s column, a mixture on love and humor lavished on that incredible city, ‘Bagdad by the bay,’ he called it. Those spectacular views and places: North Beach, the Haight, Embarcadero, Panhandle, the Castro, City Lights, and the Vesuvio.

Golden Gate Park. Riding a cable car to work. God, how I loved that city, only place I ever felt I was where I belonged. Everyday ecstasy.

Two decades later fate and finance tore me away. I lived across the bay in Oakland for a while, and then Seattle. Now this final stop, in Sweden. Like a long lost lover unforgotten, San Francisco comes to me behind closed doors of consciousness. In dreams I wander in a labyrinth of fascinating streets and hills of times gone by. Few months have passed without her late night reappearance.

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