When I was eight we moved from one side of the city to the other, over the famous bridge, and another less famous one, from the leafy north shore of Sydney to the hot, concreted inner west. Away from my school and my friends and the few suburbs I knew; away from the eat-in Pizza Hut Restaurant and Friday night noodle markets, toward Bar Italia’s gelato and Il Cugino’s anchovy-rife Pizzeria.
Already the difficult child, I refused to change schools. Instead, every morning for the next four years, I caught a 436 or 438 bus into the city, cut through an arcade, passed the Menzies Hotel and hopped on another bus to complete the hour-long trip. In the AM I’d stop at the little shop at the top of the arcade escalators, fish a two dollar coin from the small, zippered pocket on the side of my sneakers and buy myself a packet of chips, usually Smiths salt and vinegar. In the PM, after school and an hour rambling in the park with my pals, I’d fall asleep on the shoulder of whichever stranger I sat next to, wake with a start two stops before my own, then wander home for dinner. Always home for dinner.
In San Francisco, another harbour city with another famous bridge, I ramble with another far-away friend. Up hills and down, from the leafy Full House fantasy to the cold, concreted multi-lanes and pretty suburban sprawl, we walk and we talk ’til our feet are sore and our throats are raw. But we don’t rhyme all the time. There’s just no way we could rhyme all day. Dammit.
On a cold morning, after an ill-advised 1.5-hour bout with ‘yoga-hiking’, we recover with Blue Bottle coffee, buttery waffles and a further 1.5-hour discourse on the ignominious agony of ‘yoga-hiking’. And by discourse, I mean limerick:
There once were two girls with pluck
Who suffered a stroke of bad luck
In San Fran for a spell
Yoga-hiking was hell
So that all they could wheeze was ‘f*&k!’
To wash away the last of our woes, and recoup precious lost calories, we back up breakfast with lunch at Mission Chinese Food. On Mission Street, disguised behind a yellow sign that reads ‘Lung Shan Restaurant’, we fall into our seats, floppy with fatigue and whiney with hunger. Like all the best Chinese restaurants this one is resplendent with fairy lights, vinyl covered community-hall chairs and hanging lanterns, plus frank staff and soda served from the can.
We gorge on the crunchy, creamy, cool smashed cucumbers with salted chili and sesame paste $4, a nutty, slippery swamp of fresh rice noodle with peanut sauce, tofu skin and pickled mustard greens $8, plus the unmissably marvelous tea-smoked eel, fresh rice noodle, Chinese celery, salted plum hoisin, braised pork and cognac soy $9.50, which is like a rice noodle-wrapped nori roll, stuffed with sweet, crisp celery, unctuous eel and the rest, then dribbled with salty sweet plum sauce. A stack of market greens $12 and the spicy, black-beany sour chili chicken of shishito pepper chicken tender and marble potato fight for space on the table. It’s ‘a lot of food’ according to our deadpan waitress, but we get the job done, cleaning up each of the surprising, spicy and irresistibly pleasing plates.
Across the city or over the seas, up hills and through arcades, I’ll go pretty far to get to the ones I love. Dangle a carrot, a home-cooked dinner or a waffle in front of me and I’ll hustle even harder to close the gap. But it takes my dearly missed best friend and the killer spread at Mission Chinese Food to make ‘yoga-hiking’ a mount I’m prepared to surmount. Dammit.