Follow The Yellow Brick Road

After my stint overseas, I headed back to Vermont to quickly save up cash and then move out west. I’d been hearing the siren call of the west coast for practically all of my life, it was just a feeling I had. I also was harboring ambitions of becoming an actress, so a move out west also made sense for that reason. For a hot minute, I had thought about moving to LA but in the end settled on San Francisco. With its promise of weird and wild ways, it seemed like a perfect match. Plus, I looked at a map of the city and saw Van Ness intersect with Mason Street, which I took as a definite sign from the Universe that I was on the right track.

So I packed all of the belongings I could into two suitcases and booked my one-way flight. Mom drove me down to Boston so I could catch my plane, and she and my college ex-boyfriend saw me off as I embarked into the unknown. I didn’t even know where I was going to stay when I landed, which would be around midnight. I had called some hostels the week before, but none took reservations. One of my last calls was to a little place in South of Market, they told me to just give them a shout once I was in town. So I did, and they ended up having room for me after all.

That’s how I came to pass my first three months in San Francisco living in a hostel South of Market, and hobnobbing with a rough-around-the-edges but lively group of Irish guys. What a bunch, two of them always seemed to get into these epic brawls with one another whenever they were drinking. This resulted one time in one of the guys hitting the other over the head with the 8-ball off of the pool table. While they were never banned from the bar below the hostel, they were forbidden to drink Long Islands while they were patrons there. Bar brawls aside, they provided good company for someone like myself, who was new to the city and who didn’t know a soul. I even started dating one of them.

We spent Thanksgiving in that hostel. I remember a turkey dinner being served up by a surly Aussie named Chris, aka the resident chef, whom I caught cleaning out his dirty nails with his cutting knife. The turkey and lumpy mashed potatoes were served to the ragtag assortment of hostel inhabitants, wine flowed freely from a box, and Irish Peter sat in his corner and became increasingly incoherent, his hat flopping and drooping over his head the more intoxicated he became. He would tell the same story about meeting his American relatives and asking them, “What’s the craic ?”, and how they all thought that he wanted to score some crack. In his mind, that never got old.

I was the first of the group to finally find an apartment. Shortly afterwards my mom came to visit, right around the time of the infamous leather daddy fest that is known as the Folsom Street Fair. I had to work that day so I asked the Irish boys to take my mother out and show her a good time. Mission accomplished: I witnessed my mom, who is not a big drinker, nurse a nasty hangover hours later. Even better were the photos of them all, a motley Irish bunch that included a couple of lads who looked like hardened criminals. My favorite photo was the one featuring dear ole Mum standing at a spanking booth, clutching a paddle in her hand with a determined look on her face.

Eventually, my luck with the Irish ran out as our time together was increasingly becoming less and less of a good time. My Irish boyfriend kept losing his mind on binges of booze and coke, which fueled illogical fits of jealousy and fury. At one point, he even accused me of flirting with his best mate and then shoved me out of his front door. This led me to seek refuge in the nearby park and try to lie down while the booze filtered out of my system, only to be sprayed on by erupting sprinklers that forced me to flee a second time that evening. Sometimes it’s just not your night.

As with any move to a new city where you really don’t know very many people, it took a while to find members of my tribe. I felt a fair amount of loneliness and jumped on all kinds of opportunities in which I could find new friends. I had an itch for the action, which ultimately led me to the thick of the SF nightlife and its afterparties. At some point in that first year in the city, a childhood friend moved to town and started me on my party path. We became roommates, which turned into a bit of a nightmare. She was bipolar and, even though she was the one who first introduced me to the wonderful world of ecstasy, she later turned on me and told all of our family friends back east that I was the one who was mentally ill, and that I self-medicated on happy pills.

But she did know some people, and those people brought me to my first ever rave. We first made a stop at the home of a friend of some of her friends, an animated and incredibly chatty, shirtless guy. He yammered on at the rate of a mile a minute about the wonder that is Donald Glaude (the headlining dj that night), and then broke into spontaneous dance. We eventually made our way to a warehouse across town. The place was pulsating with lights and beats, and glowsticks and throngs of dancers. People were awfully open and friendly, no doubt on account of the almighty ecstasy. About halfway through the night, another shirtless and chatty guy approached me and said he really liked my energy. That’s how I met Stephen.

I had written down my number on a scrap of paper in lipstick, for that touch of class. He called soon thereafter and we set up a date to go out dancing. Stephen was born and raised in the Bay Area and knew the ropes, so it was a treat for me to be personally introduced by an expert to the underground dance scene of San Francisco. We went out to what was then the granddaddy of the nightclubs, 1015. We popped pills and danced and explored. When that club wound down though, the real adventure began and I got my introduction to the Endup.

The Endup was the afterhours club on 6th and Folsom that was pretty much running from Thursday night into the early hours of Monday morning. It was such a great little spot, kind of a hole-in-the-wall club. Its dance floor was small enough to be cozy and intimate, and there were standing fans that gave us the Beyonce wind machine effect. It bore a dark and cave-like interior where you could hide from the unforgiving bright light of day, but also featured an outdoor patio complete with a waterfall, where on braver days you could soak up the sun. Most importantly, this club boasted the finest house music in the city. You could hear some big talent on those decks.

Those of us who frequented the Endup, especially for the popular Sunday morning sessions, called it Church. If this was Church, then we came to worship House. You’d be out at the club on Saturday night and would see a familiar face and ask, “Hey, are you going to church tomorrow?” And there you’d meet again, in the line that more often than not wound around the corner and down the block. I can only imagine what the passengers in those big tourist motor coaches, that would sometimes roll by the line at six in the morning, were thinking. All these little heads with white hair and wide eyes gaped out at us, taunted by the odd partygoer. The security staff became like family, strangers became friends, and the Endup was a haven for so many of us lost souls. I was immediately hooked.

Stephen and I formed an intense connection in a short amount of time, and I did fall hard. He wasn’t ready, though, he still had his demons to face. He started acting out, whether it was by two-timing me with another girl he secretly kept on the side (she and I later met up at a pool party, quickly compared notes and then oddly enough became fast friends), or by ditching me by leaving me with his father (newly released from prison) and his Hell’s Angels friends at a dive bar in Santa Cruz. Truth be told, I actually enjoyed that afternoon. The Hell’s Angels bought me rounds of Jack and Coke, and gave me pointers on bettering my game of pool. Meanwhile, the relationship between me and Stephen continued to run hot and cold, until it simply fizzled and the dancing dates and drives to Santa Cruz ceased. Nonetheless, I got the Endup in the divorce.

I was back to feeling a little lonely and, being twenty-two years old and not wanting to venture out to a mobbed club by myself on a Saturday night, I decided to set my alarm clock for four am on Sunday morning and doll myself up because girl, I was going to Church! Week after week, I got myself there and took my place in the line, where I very quickly began chatting with different groups of people. Everyone was so friendly and one group in particular, after asking if I was by myself, invited me one Sunday to join them for the day. I happily and gratefully obliged, carving out my party niche without even realizing it. And that’s how I met the gang…

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