When I traveled to San Francisco Bay I spent, upon arriving, days without finding a local. The cities were deserted of
residents and overrun with travelers. The first man I spoke to was a coffee clerk in Old Mission. He had arrived from
Kansas City a week prior. Germans on sidewalks and in airports carried DSLRs. On the bus, Chicagoites and Venezuelans.
At the Sound Room, midwestern college students and Afro-literati came to see Brazilian Jazz performers. Toilet-desperate
tourists bought gourmet Japanese lunches just for a chance at the can. A Nepalese Uber driver careening through
chinatown, he was champing at the bit before a pedestrian crossing spilling over with a viscous flow of East Asians. A
Punjab restaurant over which I slept in a turmeric scented hostel. The Brazilian physicist had been living there for
months. He complained to me. He was frustrated, for he had hoped that he might perfect his English during his residency
at the super collider in California, but he has no one to practice with, his colleagues speak only Mandarin.
the mountain top by a massage therapist from Denver, we went to see a lecturer who, though born by the bay, was in town
only on book tour, returning to her home as a guest. The artists who fed me booze were from Bed Stuy, which seemed for a
moment to adjacent to Oakland.
In all these, there was yet another kind foreigner present. Ones from further afield,
slinking in along the margins, ghostly and furtive. They followed me around and collected my words. They crawl behind my
eyes and use them like telescopes.
I spiraled sharply into foreignness. And when the confusion seemed to accelerate ahead
of me, I did finally find a native. Paul Davis introduced me to the Bay as we fled it. At once ambassador and getaway
driver. He introduced me to the king of San Francisco Bay. He showed me where the true natives of the Bay reside. They
were hiding out in the air, in the negative spaces that suspend all that diverse material. In the openings I was shown
something authentic, aboriginal, air.
Only in the gaps between could I find anything Californian. Between the Russian
bakery and the Vietnamese laundromat there was median in the road with some fast food trash and an old palm. Between the
exotic erudition of Berkley and the suburban sprawl of Orinda was Vollmer peak, a stubby west coast mountain cut with
roads and crowned with telecom equipment. Many Californias remain in San Francisco Bay, as bubbles of air frozen in
concrete, or as bits of bone and shell in a mudslide. A flood of cultural and material particulates. Israeli sand,
Quebecois loam, MeKong peat and Kansas limestone. The closer I looked for San Fransisco, the more I found Brooklyn,
Seoul, and Mexico City. The peril of San Francisco Bay is that one increasing becomes more of alienated the longer one
stays. It is a foreignness that thickens and ferments. A foreignness so oppressive you stop noticing. Only the air could
remain native, as it was continually pushed aside, marginalized, squeezed out, filled in and bought up. Only air could
flee to any periphery. Only air could withstand perpetual displacement.