Broadway and Montgomery

You walk all over the city before reaching Broadway, where you stop to hand-drum on a graffiti-covered San Francisco Weekly newspaper box, enjoying its hollow metallic tone as you scrutinize the cityscape. Across the street is Crowbar, its emblem a huge militant bird with outspread wings, an X of iron bars gripped in its talons. A brave pigeon walks along the top of the sign. Twenty feet above a door poster advertising foaming Franziskaner Weissbier, garbage spills out of a third story window onto the street. Right next to your bongo is The Learning Annex box. A saccharine blonde beams at you from the paper’s front cover. The headline’s injunction (“Find and Keep Your Man!”) and the right side of the girl’s face have been smeared with excrement. The lampposts on this side of Montgomery are painted with tiny Italian flags (marking the World Cup victory) along with the signature of their artist, the sad little homeless man from whom you bought three tiny pictures yesterday over by Vesuvio’s, Ali Baba Sammy. The Cloud 9 Smoke Shop— a hand-painted picture of the actual cloud above its window—is right behind you, along with its neighbours, the Golden Eagle Hotel, the Fine Art of Tattooing, and the Double Pleasure Video/Novelty Gift Shop. Kitty corner from you is a massive announcement: Déjà Vu Showgirls Presents—Centerfolds! Above the sign, a grimy windowpane is raised and a makeshift clothing line bisects the window’s opening. Recently washed panties stretched over plastic hangers hooked to the line turn gently in the San Francisco breeze like chandeliers in bad taste. Ahead of you—between Centerfolds and Crowbar—the iconic obelisk of the Transamerica Pyramid jabs into the sky like a towering Euclidean erection. Behind you, Montgomery climbs steeply to Telegraph Hill. On your left, opposite Centerfolds, the immaculate wedgewood blue and white of the On Lok Community Housing Center presents its bay windows to the street, along with its logo, a pink hand inside a blue hand inside a gold square. Between the strip club and the nursing home, Broadway falls away towards the Embarcadero, beyond which a clear crisp span of the Bay Bridge disappears into a cloud. Your percussion solo over, you cross the street and walk west towards the Corso Cristoforo Colombo, camera-eyeing a sequence of signs—the signatures of the city. Broadway Studios. The Zebra Lounge. Helmand Palace: “Cuisine from Afghanistan.” An ad for the Tattoo Expo at the Cow Palace. Green Garden Restaurant: “Hunan Food.” Lagos Pizza. The jukebox neon and stucco façade of Broadway Showgirls. The Velvet Lounge. The Usual Suspects Café. El Gran Taco Taqueria. Broadway Liquors. Cable Car Pizza. The Bamboo Hut. A Triple XXX Video Store. The Green Tortoise Adventure Travel Hostel. The Sake Lab. Fuse Bar. The Peter Macchiarini Steps. The Impala: “Cocina y Cantina.” The flags for Italian fare at Enrico’s, Enrico’s, Enrico’s. The Garden of Eden—“Take a Bite of Forbidden Fruit!”—Strip Club. A billboard picture of a giant green bottle of Tsing Tao beer. The Beat Museum and Gift Shop. The Basque Hotel. The North Beach Food Mart. The Roaring 20s Strip Club. The Hungry I Club. The Marconi Hotel. The Condor Club, its historical plaque carrying an inscription beneath an embossed California state bear: “Where it all began—The birthplace of the world’s first topless and bottomless entertainment.” It’s not until Columbus that you discover the serendipitous antinomy of the counterposed signs for two legendary bookstores: Big Al’s Adult Bookstore, with its iconic neon image of Al Capone in a suit and panama, a smoke dangling from his lips, a tommy gun cradled in his arms, and City Lights Books, where the poet’s words pronounce a benediction upon you and all others who seek the holy intersections where the streets of the world meet the avenues of the mind.