I left my heart in San Francisco

That’s what they say. I used to live there, of course (well, in Berkeley). And while I always loved it … that particular flavour of light that California has with it, that uniquely California smell that is part-Eucalyptus part-something else, the SF Victorian style, the truly, deeply, madly multi-ethnicity of the place, the bridges, the food … at the same time it has this energy to it that somehow just doesn’t connect with me. It’s like, a lot of people feel really at home there, but I was never one of them. Not really. At least, that’s not how I recall it being.
At the same time, I surely wasn’t as comfortable with myself then as I am now. But I do romanticise it: the late nights at Jeeves, the drunken cruises with the sales team, Cal football games, the Russians I used to hang with, Point Reyes, camping, Giants games, Kip’s where I used to watch hockey playoffs before I had enough money to buy a TV and espn2, Mario’s, the private shows by big bands in no-name bars, kayaking with Kimio, hiking with Mike, drinking beer at Jupiter’s with Tucker, hottubbing in Stinson beach … well, I could go on. But things change, of course, and I’m reminded of that every time I return. Café Intermezzo burned down. My old apartment is under construction. The football stadium renovations are complete. There is now a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on campus.
The problem with romanticising something is that the reality is not what you think. The grass is greener, sure, in some ways. I was thinking about just how vast San Francisco and the Bay Area is. The traffic is horrendous, really. It is teeming with people. Housing prices are out of control.
My friend Henk is now moving from Cape Town to Sydney for a number of reasons, but one of which is he wants to play in a bigger pond. I get that. I’m loving my small pond but I wonder how long my utter love of Cape Town is going to outweigh the fact that it actually is a village. At the same time … do I really want to jump into a much bigger pond, with all the craziness and silliness that entails? I’m learning a lot in my small pond, and I’m having fun, and, man, life is just so vivid there.
I was talking with a number of people on this trip about the work-life balance issues. San Francisco is not New York but even in San Francisco there is this issue of “face time” at work being associated with working hard. I’m not sure I could handle that any more, or the political garbage that comes along with it. If you live in a litigious society then the HR policies whereby before you criticise someone you must make a statement that unites us, then criticise, then follow up with a complement (aka a sh*t sandwich) … how tiring. I want freedom, damn it. I have a brain and I want to use it, and solve problems, and not just follow some formula or live according to other people’s expectations.
The worst shackles in the world are those we let other people put on us.
This trip, I stayed with Cathleen in Sunnyvale for a couple of days, then the last two nights at Hope’s place in Alameda. I spent a lot of time in traffic, too. There was some shopping I wanted to get done and the driving from place to place took just forever. I finally did manage to acquire most of what I wanted, however.
I interspersed training with seeing friends (mostly Jeeves-era) and good food. And wine! The first night Cathleen and I shared a bottle and I caught her up on [most of] my adventures since we’d last seen each other two years ago (!). I also hadn’t seen Helen Friedland or AJ & Dave Nicoll for several years, and I saw them and the kids not once but twice (happens when you’re free during the day). Other friends I had seen more recently (Hope, Laura, James, Val, etc.) but when ‘recently’ is a year ago, you start to feel like it was just yesterday and yet a looong time ago all at once.
Day 2 started with a tough workout at Diablo CrossFit, a box I visited last year that I really enjoyed. The owner was unfortunately in SoCal on vacation but I talked to a bunch of the other people there. Very nice crew, and I was flattered that a couple of them remembered me from last year. I may look more in shape this year but I’m a bit out of shape! The prowler just about killed me, although it was fun to do ring rows since I hadn’t done them in a while. Sneaky way to do 80 box jumps and 40 ring rows!
Day 3 brought two workouts … one at Catalyst Athletics, just down the road from Cathleen, and the other at San Franciso CrossFit. At Catalyst, there were only two ‘normal’ clients in the class so I essentially got an hour of personal training. All sorts of fun … snatch balances, power snatch to overhead squat, squat snatch, clean pulls, and power cleans. Yes, this is fun in my world. A couple of tweaks here and there and I’ll be interested to see what results. Learning can be fun.
The evening workout was a lot of fun: 3 heavy deadlifts from a deficit (I kept these pretty light but managed 3 easily at a weight I couldn’t budge the other day due to my back), interspersed with freestanding handstand holds, and followed up by death by ground to overhead @35 pounds. The evening started off on a good note as (ok, yes, I’m going to name drop because I’m a fan), Kelly Starrett mistook me for one of his coaches from across the parking lot. Hey, I’ll take being mistaken for a full-time trainer by a superstar coach any day! Another fun crew; didn’t take long for him and Carl to start making fun of me. Naturally, I felt right at home. I also learned why you shouldn’t look up before deadlifting, and had Kelly walk me through the deadlift setup. I saw that once before …. On a YouTube video. Was great to FEEL it.
That was it for training for a few days, as I needed to rest the next day and on Saturday after a quick visit to Oakland Chinatown, I hit up the San Francisco farmers market for a repeat of one of my favourite all-time meals … chilaquiles from Primavera. Wasn’t quite as good as I’d remembered it, but man, I wish I could make that roasted chile sauce …
Then Cathleen and I went up to Sonoma for some wine tasting. I guess wine tasting everywhere is the same. It was very hot, however, and the trip was as much enjoyable for the drive and the company as for the wine. Afterwards we met Hope for some drinks at Sam’s in Tiburon, then dinner in the city. I was supposed to go to a party but had no energy, so I went back to Hope’s, and we chatted and shared a few more stories before crashing.
So, it’s fun to think of how my life could be. You get glimpses. You see just how comfortable you are able to get just how quickly. You see a life that could be, but at the same time you know, and talk about, how it’s not. What is, is. What’s not, is not. What could be is also not until it is. Maybe someday, you never know. Or maybe that’s a chapter in my life that’s now closed.
Cathleen was talking about moving heaven and earth, if the circumstances were right. She may also be the most hopeless romantic pragmatist I’ve ever met (this is why I love her). Some risks are not worth taking, no matter how enticing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. No, man, some bridges are not meant to be jumped from. The Golden Gate Bridge is one such.
Did I leave part of my heart in San Francisco? Yes, I’d say I did. I guess I always do. I may have never felt entirely like I belonged there, but it still hurts my heart to leave. Especially this time.
  • “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” – Cathleen
  • “You train to be ready for competition.” – Phil
  • “Doesn’t she look pretty upside down?” – Kelly
  • “Well, South Africa’s pretty badass too.” – Carl
  • “I made the mistake of thinking that when people got older they got more mature. Most of them don’t!!” – AJ
  • “Do you know you’re Snow White?” – AJ
  • “Why would you want to move back to here after living overseas? Maybe you should move to Sydney next.” – Marshall
  • “You looked right past him. Right into the 1980s.” – Hope (She wasn’t judging. I don’t think)



  1. Ellie!
    Sorry to have missed you when you came through SF-wouldve been fun to see you-but it sounds like you had a lot on your plate with visiting many dear places & friends as it was. (Lesley says she'll have to look you up when she is back in Cape Town)
    But happy to hear you had such a nice time, and that you have one ear cocked towards the wind of possible change in the days ahead, whether it be possibly following your heart in the direction of a person or an as of yet undiscovered part or your own heart in a new place. change is grand. Because as Cat said..
    Life is not a dress rehearsal.
    Hugs and all good things, Parley

  2. You know, there is NEVER enough time!! When I think of leaving Cape Town, three weeks seems like a small eternity. But then it's so little time in each place to see all of the people that I want/need to see.

    Change is in the air. 😀 Maybe I'll see you next time I'm in town! Hugs back!!

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