Actress Bette Davis said “Getting old is not for sissies.” This weekend, I’ll be celebrating No. 60 with a night at the Fairmont Hotel and dinner at Harris’ Restaurant in San Francisco. It will rekindle a lifetime of happy memories, including growing up in Southern California, and later living in Northern California, Denver, Chicago, and South Florida, as well as experiencing some “excellent adventures” in world travel.
I had endless choices to celebrate, but a visit to San Francisco rekindles good memories. For a flashback, aerial photos from a Chronicle photographer taken in 1959 from a helicopter show a then-rare but illuminating view of the city. The photos are here. Now, of course, we use drones for that task.
I joined The Chronicle in 1985 to help staff an expanded business section (and return to my home state after grad school at Northwestern and four years at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel newspaper). The business section was printed on green newsprint, along with sports.
I found a small studio apartment on Nob Hill for about $500 a month. I slept on a futon in this “clean, well-lighted place.” Later, when I moved around the corner to a one-bedroom apartment, I met Shannon, and we’ve been happily married since 1991.
I used to ride the cable car to work, passing Herb Caen’s apartment in the Brocklebank building, then cutting through the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel to save some time. I rode the cable car home too, retracing the same path. I enjoyed meeting friends at the hotel’s Tonga Room, an S.F. institution since 1945. A band performs from a thatch-covered barge on a “lagoon.”
As for Harris’, it is an iconic steakhouse on Van Ness that opened in 1984. The attractive and personable owner, Ann Lee Harris, would greet you.
Mrs. Harris: A taste for steaks, gin and horseback riding
“Mrs. Harris, a woman with a taste for steaks, gin and horseback riding, was born Ann Lee in Amarillo, Texas. She graduated from Northwestern University in 1938, then studied at the Max Reinhardt School of Acting in Los Angeles,” as her obit in 1983 read. She also performed on Broadway.
“Harris’ was known as the place to get a steak in San Francisco, a restaurant where the cuts are thick and the atmosphere luxurious. It appeared frequently on The Chronicle‘s annual list of top 100 Bay Area restaurants, and in 1996, Wine Spectator magazine named it one of the nation’s 10 best steak houses.” Cocktails are still served with the second pour chilling in a bucket of ice. It is still a locals’ favorite, with a piano bar and lounge.
I do not feel old at 60; I feel blessed. Living in the Sierra Nevada foothills and going to Lake Tahoe is like being on a year-round vacation. As Chip Wilder, one of the regular readers here noted to me in an email last week, we have no traffic jams in the foothills like San Diego, for example. Many of us, including Chip, come from the “coast,” where a long freeway commute is part of the daily grind.
Good friends, good times in the Sierra Foothils and Lake Tahoe
My friend Phil Carville has done a wonderful job renovating the old Club Sierra in Grass Valley, and I enjoy swimming in the pool there — a decidedly “60-something” activity. We enjoy sailing on Lake Tahoe, thanks to the handiwork of my friend Dennis Barry, a founder of SYRCL and “commodore” of the Gold Country Yacht Club, who has helped refurbish our “30-something” Catalina 22 sailboat.
I’ve been traveling a lot lately; an early birthday present was securing a 10-year visa to China to encourage future trips.
I have no desire to “retire,”I love being self-employed, and it is a pleasure to watch our son and his friends grow up and plan for college. He and some schoolmates this week were selected for Boys State, a prestigious summer leadership program for high-school juniors. All told, I’m looking forward to being a 60-something, but it does start to sound old.
Here’s the late Anthony Bourdain, the gifted chef and world traveler, visiting the Tonga Room in 2012: