Royal Ground

Ahhhhh, Royal Ground. I truly love this place.

Before he started working early mornings, when we took mornings reallllllllly sllllllowly, my boyfriend and I used to go through two pounds of coffee beans a week, or about two 12-cup pots every day. We like it in-your-face bold, almost tar-like. With crrrrreamy half and half. Bam! Good fucking mornin'!!!

So, when we moved to the Outer Richmond district of San Francisco, we started going to Royal Ground for beans. On Mondays. The second Monday we walked in, the ever-smiling girl behind the counter already knew us. "Oh, hi! Two pounds of French Roast?" Once, we missed a Monday and went in on a Tuesday, she said, "Oh, hi! But it's Tuesday, where were you guys yesterday? By the way, we get coffee shipments on Tuesdays, so you're on the right schedule now [wink]!" And she always offers us two free cups of coffee when we stop in for beans.

(Let me just interject that I never got this attention in New York City. At first it was almost too much. But, it's genuine and I guess I always thought that's how people should be towards each other. Now, I love it and it makes me feel good [Maestro, violins, please...].)

Now we only go in every ten days or so since we're drinking less coffee and if I go in alone, she always asks where my boyfriend is. I don't know about you, but I think this is really touching [where are those freakin' violins...].

Royal Ground is a chain caf
é; I see them all over the city. But, like family, ours is special because it's ours. They don't require customers to enter a code to access their Wifi, it's just an open network and I hop on. They have a few computers set up as an internet café corner, but most people are there with their laptops. The music is old mainstream 80s and 90s, kind of kitsch, kind of corny, kind of annoyingly catchy. You know when I've been there because I'm humming and bopping to something like, "Nevah gonna give you up, nevah gonna let you down..."

There are two tables in front on the sidewalk and tall flower beds on wheels. Walking inside, you see a long row of wooden tables as you walk in and then the counter and a back area with a few bigger tables and a bulletin board for people to post their local wares and services. And I can sit there all day with a lone cup of coffee. They also serve delicious fresh sandwiches, homemade cakes, pretty good bagels and croissants (I have reason to be a snobbish expert on both, more on that in another post) and these wonderful little dense oatmeal cakes studded with cranberries or raisins.

I've been to Royal Ground to work 3 times so far, but instead of talking to new people, I always seem to run into Suzanne, a girl who lives across the hall from me. Come to think of it, I see her more there than in the building. She calls it her 'second home', which figures - she shares a 2-bedroom with a couple who probably need some alone time. I have seen her with a study-buddy, a guy who came to our place pretty blotto one night, thinking it was her place. Yet another way to talk to new people without leaving home!

If you're ever in San Francisco, don't forget to go to a Royal Ground. I love the one in the Outer Richmond on Clement Street between 24th and 25th Streets. They don't have a website that I can find, but here's a Google Street View view for you: Royal Ground Clement Street.

Royal Ground
2342 Clement Street
San Francisco

Bazaar Café

Bazaar Café is on the shady side of the quiet last stretch of California Street, a long long street that takes you all the way out to the Outer Richmond district of San Francisco. I mostly see Russian and Chinese new and old-comers here. Families with cats and dogs and gardens and palm trees. There are electric buses, the Legion of Honor, a golf course, China Beach, Baker Beach, Ocean Beach and an astoundingly beautiful trail along the sea cliffs called Land's End.

This is the end of the land, you can't get much more west than this in the continental United States. Most San Franciscans think this is a distant foggy land where not much goes on, but the locals and the sun know better. Shhhhh, don't tell anyone, they might come out in droves.

For those of us who don't take the bus or drive into the "city" part of the city every morning, there is a calm weekday world of late morning yoga and big empty tables at neighborhood coffee shops. The freelancers and students take over with our books and iPods and portable computers. All the cafés offer free Wifi and ample plugs and don't bat an eye if you stay all day.

Bazaar Café is kind of far from other shops and it seems to like it that way. I walked in at late lunchtime and everyone was concentrating hard, noses buried in both paper and virtual notebooks, writing and sipping and noshing. I felt a little self-conscious, kind of like I'd walked into someone's living room. Everyone slyly looked up quickly to see who had just strolled in, as if to see if they knew me, if they might want to. They all seemed like regulars.

I ordered a coffee and a pesto melt and asked how to log on to their Wifi. The girl at the counter gave me an empty mug and pointed to the little card on the register marked with the 11-character alphanumeric logon code for PCs and the logon "apple" for Macs. I lugged my obnoxiously large 17" Dell over to the register and typed it in. Twice. I filled my mug from the big carafe, hearing the loud quiet.

Turning around, I saw there was nowhere to sit unless I made a fast friend and grabbed an empty chair at someone's table. I was feeling shy, so I buttoned up my jacket and took one of the outside tables, trying to look like that's what I meant to do. It was cold in the shade. I stuck it out anyway, feeling dumb. I could feel them staring and half-chuckling through the large front windows. I ate and tried to work, but the Wifi was having none of it - I was 2 inches too far away.

Surrendering, I went inside and got bold. "Is anyone sitting here?" I asked a guy reading his notebook. "Nope, feel free." I buried my nose into my work, not looking up. A friend of his eventually sat down at the table, too, and I discretely looked around for another seat to free up. I spotted a beat-up loveseat in the teeny back room and switched.

So, my first foray into a "social" working situation was a bust. I guess I need more time to realize that speaking to strangers is OK. Wow, out of touch is definitely how to put it.

Note to self: Everyone there seemed to know everyone else, but that just means that they didn't at one point, right?

I really liked the coziness of Bazaar Café. It has a soul and it welcomes newcomers, even weird shy ones like me. Check out their website, they have a gorgeous sunny back garden with tables and great food. Plus, they have a brain (check out Brain Food).

Bazaar Café
5927 California Street
San Francisco

Spear For Hire

So, here's where it begins. My bllllawg. Blog. I've never gotten used to that word. I'm going old-skool; this is going to be a perpetual essay. A PerSay.

In October 2005, I decided I had had it with the 9:00-to-7:00 world of chaos called a full-time salaried job. The overworked, underpaid, all-I-could-do-after-work-was-drink-myself-silly universe of managers and endless useless meetings and timed lunch breaks and team-spirit-building and client ass-kissing. Done. Call me if you need something, I might answer the phone.

So, I started freelancing from my "home office." Those quotes are for irony. At the time, my home was a small 5th-floor-walkup studio apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I could stand in the middle of The Room and slowly turn in place, saying, "That's the bedroo-er-area, that's the office-er-desk, that's the living roo-er-corner...Oh! And have you seen the view of Manhattan?" It was gloriously exciting, actually. Just me and my laptop.

I took my two skills, translating and photographing, and I worked. And worked. And worked some more and realized that freelancing is about working more, but the thrill was the power to say NO. "No, I am sorry, I am going for a bike ride, can't do that rush job for you." "No, I'll be on vacation next week, good luck finding someone." "No, I don't do that sort of work any more because it doesn't pay enough." The more I said No, the more delicious Yes became.

At first, it was blissful. The freedom was intoxicating. But, I was so looking forward to the peace and quiet and independence that I never anticipated what effect the extreme detachment from humans would have on me. Going outside became a bit surreal. Everything about my days was in my head and on my screen. The virtual-ness got to me before I even knew it. It wasn't so much loneliness. It was more like out-of-touchness.

Around the same time I became a freelancer (literally meaning 'spear for hire
'), I met my lovely boyfriend, he moved into The Room with me and last summer we moved to San Francisco. Now we have 2 rooms, a cook-in dining room and a south-facing deck. I plant things (and they grow). I walk on the beach and see surfers. It never gets cold. But the detachment got even worse since I know no one here. I thought about getting a part-time job just to have face-to-face conversations. But I was spoiled by the "free" and my "lance" had gotten too sharp for some company to dull it all up.

And that's where the caf
és came in. They're everywhere, and I mean everywhere. They are filled with laptoppers, students, long-time locals who come to shoot the shit about Barack and Hillary and the state of the country and the world. I pass by them on my way to do errands and find I am envious of the camaraderie. They are starting to look like an interesting solution to my case of out-of-touchness. And I like coffee a lot.

So, that's what I'm going to do. Every week or so, I'm going to go to a new caf
é in San Francisco, take pictures, do my work, maybe have a conversation, who knows? Will it quell my thirst for human contact?

I know there are tons of freelancers in a similar predicament, so I'd eventually love to make this PerSay into a listing/rating space for caf
és in San Francisco and way beyond. I hope you enjoy my ramblings and I look forward to your "whaddaya says."

Thanks for reading. And if you ever run into me at a caf
é, by all means say hello!

*Merriam-Webster online