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San Francisco Daze

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Elana Koff

Beach Bum: After a wild ride down Clement Street, Millie chills out on the beach.

Urban beachcombing

By Millie

Millie's got a car for the weekend, his roommate's orange mid-'70s Volvo station wagon with a gnome painted on the driver's door. Of course, this can mean only one thing: road trip. The problem is that Millie can't decide where to go. Up to Napa to soak in the washed-out wine country? Down to Silicon Valley for a long lunch at the Stanford Mall? There's always the Steamworks over in Berkeley. Hmm. What Millie really needs to do is to get out of his dark little studio apartment (a steal at $1,300 a month) and clear his head so he can consider his options. The big floral hat on his head tips off long-time Millie watchers. Millie's off to the beach.

Needless to say, Millie has no idea how to get to the beach. A friend suggests a simple drive to the end of Clement Street and "the beach will find you." Well, that sounds easy enough. "But where's Clement Street?" wonders Millie.

After an hour or two driving around the city looking for Clement Street, an out-of-control MUNI bus forces Millie off Geary Street and onto Arguello. Just a few streets down, there's Clement Street, Millie's straight shot to the beach. However, Millie quickly learns that navigating Clement Street is no easy task. Delivery trucks unload in the middle of the street, cars back out of parking spaces, kids dart across the street and old Chinese ladies amble arm-in-arm through the crosswalks. It's like a suburban Chinatown with one or two Spanish-language billboards thrown into the mix.

Millie is only halfway to the beach, and already he's famished. He pulls over at the first available parking space. A quick survey reveals the following culinary choices on Clement between 24th and 26th streets: Indian, Greek, Mandarin, Szechwan, American diner, Mexican, Japanese, Vietnamese and an Italian place called Mescolanza (2221 Clement), not to be confused with the notorious Mezza Luna in Beverly Hills, which was recently sold and turned into a parking garage (which is exactly what Clement Street needs). Millie pops into an unremarkable-looking Thai restaurant, Jasmine House (2301 Clement), and finds unremarkable food, unremarkable service and unremarkable prices. Sure, Clement Street offers variety. But so does the food court at Serramonte.

On a positive note, the Thai place did serve fortune cookies at the end of the meal. Go figure. Millie's fortune was unusually direct: "Your friends are leading you astray. Make a right on 25th Street, follow until it dead ends at the big brick gates, make a right and follow the signs to Baker Beach." Millie has never encountered such an authoritative fortune.

Sure enough, a few blocks down 25th Street, signs start popping up directing Millie to Baker Beach. (Forgive the poor directions, but if Millie can find it, so can you.) There's not a parking space left. Undeterred, Millie drives his roommate's orange mid-'70s Volvo station wagon with a gnome painted on the driver's door right on to Baker Beach and parks a few yards from the surf. Millie jumps out, throws a blanket over the hood, strips off his shirt, lights up a Benson and Hedges Menthol Light 100 and surveys the scene.

A skinny Marilyn Manson type, tattooed and pierced, snuggles in the sand with his ghoulish goth girlfriend. Nearby, dykes in overalls hold hands, a little dog circling and jumping frantically at their feet. A sloppy game of Frisbee ensues between a few skater kids of both sexes. A gray ponytail hippie daddy in a ratty sarong watches. A family sets up for an elaborate picnic, chattering and eating in Tagalog. Mean-looking Vietnamese teens with a souped-up CRX strip off their shirts and whiptail one another, laughing the whole time. A good number of people are dressed all in black.

Tourists do not come to San Francisco for the beach--all the T-shirt shops are down at Fisherman's Wharf. This particularly beautiful rest stop along the Pacific Coast Highway is purely local. Millie drops all plans for a road trip. The perfect getaway is right here--a good old-fashioned San Francisco be-in, at the beach.

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From the April 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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