At 5:18 this morning, I was walking down San Francisco’s legendary Haight Street, and by walking down Haight Street, I do not, repeat, do not mean I was walking on the sidewalk, I was literally walking down the middle of the street, scooting over to the side only when the occasional taxi slowly drove by.
It’s an interesting experience.
For all but a few hours of our 24-hour day, it is reckless, foolish and stupid to walk in the middle of Haight Street. But at 5:18 this morning, enough of San Francisco was enough asleep that aside from the ambient noise typical of any big city, I heard nothing but my own footsteps. I could hear my impact upon the world and understood how rarely I ever heard that during the day. Objectively, it is not much of an impact, but it is mine, all mine. I stopped beneath a flashing red light at Haight & Steiner because after all these decades, it finally occurred to me that they might make some kind of noise as they flashed, and maybe now it was quiet enough to listen. But no; the ambient noise typical of any big city wasn’t much, but it was enough to silence the red light.
So who else was awake at that hour? Not many people. I walked four blocks to Fillmore: first block, one flat with all the lights on, and another that was dark but for the 50 inch flatscreen. In the next, all dark. One light on in each of the next two blocks. I knew why I was awake; I had a movie role as a drunken ex-bounty hunter from Oklahoma who did not know that he had just found a $100,000 scratch-off lottery ticket in the urinal of a crummy bar. But why the heck were those other four people awake? I couldn’t see any of them, and it is possible that they had accidentally fallen asleep without turning off the lights or the television. Except for the fourth and final light.
That would be Memphis Minnie.
I like to describe Memphis Minnie’s as San Francisco’s Museum of American Barbeque. They utilize cuts of meat, spice blends, sauces and techniques from St. Louis, Texas, the Carolinas and elsewhere. ‘Tis an extraordinary place with dishes you’ll feel hard-pressed to find anywhere else in San Francisco. Possibly their pride and joy is the smoked BBQ beef brisket. Memphis Minnie’s takes “low and slow” to an extreme for their brisket, extreme as in 18, count ’em, 18 hours of smoking and cooking.
And at 5:18 a.m., I stood transfixed in the middle of Haight Street, not on the sidewalk, in the middle of the street, transfixed and staring at the painted red brick restaurant, the only person in all of Haight Street inhaling the aroma of smoking brisket. No other smells strolled through the last hours of the night: no cigarette stench, no marijuana smells, no stale beer from the Toronado spilled on the sidewalk, no competitive pizza or curry aromas, no gas fumes or car exhaust. No nothing except the smell of smoked brisket.
And that was a pretty good rough first draft of Heaven.
Vonn Scott Bair