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[whitespace] Solar Plexus

Make the competition pale in comparison

By Jack Shamama

Ahh, Indian Summer (or late summer, should one tend to keep up with the revolutionary patois of the ubersensitive). The one time of year that San Franciscans can bare their skin to the open air and the warm Vitamin D-rich kisses of Ra. Unfortunately, having borne the brunt of a less than sunshiny three months, we are a pale crowd (to varying degrees according to melanin potential). In order to hit Dolores Park, the Marina Green or even the jaundice-inducing neon of the gym without looking positively ghoulish, we need to have a crash course in melanomics. Scarlett O'Hara sunhats and parasols are no way to catch fish at this century's end. Thankfully, there are tanning booths.

Tanning salons abound in this city and are available in the Marina, the Mission, South of Market and the Richmond. But surely none are as frequently used as those in the Castro, land of the permanent bronze. Regardless of orientation, one must head to the Eureka Valley if one wants the latest in tanning technology and comfort.

Tanning novices are often boggled by the solar substitutes that await them. Should you stand up or lie down? Full blast or low intensity? Undies or no? It's all very confusing. (I wore sunscreen on my first visit and came out as white as ever.)

The most common is the tanning bed, where one doffs one's clothes, dons a pair of bug-eye goggles and reclines in a fluorescent sarcophagus. Castro Street's Trim and Tan (where ostensibly one can also get a haircut while soaking up UV rays) and 17th Street's Sun Days use this type almost exclusively (and, as an added bonus, they have Cat Fancy magazine in the waiting room).

If fear of earthquakes, power surges and Y2K keep you from the tanning bed, an alternate choice which is almost as common is the upright booth, a vertical chamber more akin to a broom closet than a skin enhancer. It's less expensive, but more tiring and a tad claustrophobic. Overhead straps offer one the ability to tan under one's arms (unfortunately, hanging from the ceiling while being heated from each side is eerily similar to medieval torture racks). And if one is going for an all-over tan, I've found it's much less embarrassing to lie naked in a bed than it is to stand up straight in a booth.

Bless the Sorrento Sun Center. Its small but soon-to-be-expanded facility on Noe offers the revolutionary Sun Board Tanning Bed. Unlike the scrunched quarters of other beds, the Sun Board is a space-age dentist's chair which shoots out UVA rays until you're a golden brown. A one-time session runs up to $33 ($23 for first-timers or those with a coupon).

Of course, like gyms and bridge-and-tunnel clubs, tanning salons blast the most god-awful house music on the planet while you try to imagine yourself on the beaches of St. Tropez. But it's a small price to pay for a bit of local color.

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From the September 13, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.




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