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By Amy Senk | Contributor



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Photos credit courtesy of Amy Senk

Right now, I’m at Caffe Trieste, where the locals are gossiping about divorces and lost eyeglasses and the regular who looks like a poet is making notes in his journal while drinking his latte. Church bells chime outside, opera plays on the juke box (which also offers Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin along with Maria Callas and Luciano Pavarotti), faded celebrity photos adorn the wall and there are plenty of mosaic-topped tables to choose from. I’m at one in the corner, which maybe will become my regular spot. I’m hoping my muse finds me here. If it was good enough for Francis Ford Coppola when he was writing the screenplay for “The Godfather,” I should have no excuses. 

My new hangout is on the corner of Grant and Vallejo in my new, albeit temporary, home in North Beach in San Francisco. 

This spring, I’m having a fresh start, or at least a total change of scenery for the next two months — all part of a complicated story that began in 2020 when a city water main ruptured and flooded our home in Orange County. Two years later, the same water main ruptured and destroyed our home a second time. We’ve been in hotels and rentals ever since, more than a dozen different temporary places. 

My husband’s office is in San Francisco, so when we no longer had any assistance with housing in Newport Beach, we found a little apartment where he can walk to work. We moved in a few days ago and discovered that if you look at a mirror that the landlord rigged up, you have a faraway view of the Golden Gate Bridge. We’ll enjoy it while we can, until we can get home again.

It's a new beginning, but it’s also a chance renew my acquaintance with the city where I lived when I was falling in love and a newlywed and, eventually, a new mother. It’s temporary, because my life has been nothing but a series of temporary situations for more than three years. I won’t be here long enough to put down true roots, like finding a full-time job or making new best friends. I will be here long enough to know where to go get the best takeout noodles or learn the best way to carry heavy groceries up a hill.

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I had no way to know if moving back here, even for a few months, would feel like a fresh start or a return to our past. So far, it’s been a combination of both. It’s all very different and yet very, very familiar. We clearly are in new territory after more than two decades of life in Southern California. And while we are terribly homesick, we’re doing our best to make the best of things.

The city has changed from when I lived here in the 1990s, and not only in the horrible ways that San Francisco haters warned me about when I told them my plans. In our new neighborhood, I have not yet seen any crime, nor are there more empty storefronts than we have back home. Some of my old favorite places are gone, some replaced with new versions and some with “For Lease” signs in the window. There seem to be a lot more tattoo establishments, and I don’t remember North Beach having green, red and white lights over the streets (maybe there were always there and I didn’t notice). It’s fun to walk to Chinatown for dinner on a rainy Sunday night and pass bars with live music, families picking up their takeout, shops open late and lines in front of all the best pizza spots. 

After only a few days, I’m already making new routines. I don’t have a car here, so I’ve been walking to grocery stores that require hikes past noisy cable cars and a zillion Italian restaurants and the bakery that made our wedding cake. I’ve been trying to figure out if I want to spend my mornings writing at Caffe Trieste or at Cafe Réveille, a slightly farther walk. 

My time here won’t all be about embracing what is different and new; I plan to spend some time revisiting the past. I have a list of friends to connect with, mostly old journalism colleagues. There are two specific people I’ve fallen out of touch with, and I want to track them down. I’ve been giving some thought to how to approach that, starting with going to their last known apartment and ringing the doorbell. I’m hoping it’s that easy — that they answer the door, and we hug and begin catching up like no time has passed. I really hope that’s what happens.

This spring is about a fresh start in a new place. It’s temporary, and it’s not home. But we’re making the most of it. What else can we do?

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