But he’s 100 years old today. He’s a Yonkers, New York native. Beat poet and publisher. Co-founder and owner of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. He is now a centurion. And to me, he is a rock star.
How do I describe the magic of being in your twenties in pre-dotcom San Francisco?
The summer after I graduated from college, I waitressed and socked away every last penny. Drove a 15-foot Ryder truck across country with a friend, and arrived on the perilously steep streets at our pre-rented, two-bedroom apartment on Hyde Street in Russian Hill. Our rent? $900 a month. Our view? The Golden Gate Bridge. We could hear the cable for the cable cars cranking outside on Hyde Street and the fog horns blowing out in the bay.
Cliché but true, I was passionate about the Beats and everything they stood for. I wore a black beret and hung out, reading and writing, in the neighborhood coffee shops. I discovered Vesuvio, the crooked two-story bar in North Beach with dark wood, stained glass and Anchor Steam on tap, and City Lights next door to it. (Jack Kerouac Alley separates the 10 or 12 feet between the two buildings.)
Once I knew about Lawrence Ferlinghetti, I spent an inordinate amount of time skulking around North Beach to up my chance of seeing him. And when I did see him, strolling the sloping streets, green parrots screeching in the air overhead, it made me so happy. Me, an unshaped Connecticut girl with a poetic heart who so badly wanted to live big and write well. And there was this literary god, out in the California sunshine. He walked about like a mere mortal, while I silently genuflected, thankful for this place in the world.
Over time, other genres and authors became more known to me. I shed my Beat aspirations and wore my beret less frequently. But while I lived in San Francisco, I made sure to have the occasional half pint at Vesuvio. I loved browsing all the indie titles at City Lights. And my day was always made if I saw Ferlinghetti walking around North Beach. These memories hold such joy – bringing me back to that hopeful, wide-eyed twentysomething woman with so much love and admiration in her heart.
Happy birthday, Ferlinghetti.