I cut school often and for almost any reason that caught my fancy on any given day. I used to go to Van Ness Avenue and sneak around all the car dealers just before the new models were introduced. I loved cars. I also loved going by myself to Upper Grant Avenue where men like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, William S. Burroughs and Ken Kesey among others hung out and lived a mid 20th century bohemian life that intoxicated and thrilled me.
In a 1958 column, the late Herb Caen coined the word ābeatnikā and it became a part of the language, a part the beats resented and never forgave. I was probably 15 or 16 when I began regularly to hang around the bars, bookstores and coffee houses of North Beach, always searching for a place to fit among others most of polite society found to be losers.
I cherished being recognized by Ferlinghetti at his notorious bookstore and getting a nod and pat on the back from Kerouac, and once a pat on the butt from seemingly clumsy Alan Ginsberg. Being closeted, and afraid to learn who and what I was, helped me to seek inclusion with others I assumed felt like outcasts. I had yet to learn that these men and women were choosing to follow their own spirit and not capitulate to norms that didnāt fit them.
I loved going into places like Vesuvioās and Specās 12 Adler Place, which are both still pouring drinks. Lawrence Ferlinghettiās City Lights Bookstore published Ginsbergās āsinsationalā HOWL, and poetry readings were everywhere. Leo Krikorianās The Place was a popular beatnik dive on upper Grant and thatās where the action was. Richard Brautigan used to hang out at The Place and he was always silent and seemed depressed. At the hungry I, I met Bill Cosby, Barbra Streisand, Woody Allen and many others, although Ms. Streisand felt wronged when I said within earshot that she looked pregnant and wasnāt married (she was Mrs. Elliot Gould and not pregnant).
The Savoy Tivoli and The Co-existance Bagel Shop were both breeding grounds for the wild times that the beats brought to the City. San Francisco has always been a magnet for the brightest, bravest and perhaps the best in creative minds, and our culture is a living testament to this.
My story is perhaps uncommon only in the fact that many of the people I met back then have popped up in my life later. Jonathon Winters was here a couple of years ago representing The Raisin Board and we sat outside City Hall and laughed for an hour. Enrico Banducci opened the infamous sidewalk CafĆ© on Broadway, Enricoās, which Bill Cosby put up money to save more than once and we had lunch at Mooseās just before he passed.
Until its closure last year, you might drop in to Enricoās to listen to the beautiful voice of Veronica Klaus and have some modern Italian chow.