13 February 2004

Being a target market

There's an advertisement I clipped from the San Francisco Bay Guardian in July of 1993. A few times a year it turns up among my papers and brings that time back for me.

In my life, it had been just six months since I left college to migrate up to the bay area. I was falling passionately in love with the city of San Francisco. I was living the life of close friends and little adventures you live at that age. For the first time, I was discovering irrational optimism, imagining that perhaps I could fill my life with things that I loved.

In the world, “Generation X” was not yet the commonplace term for people around my age; Generation X was still the title of an obscure cult novel by Douglas Coupland about how our generation was so invisible that it didn't have a name. We were not a marketing demographic. We were not known as “slackers.” Finding anything in print — even an ad for clothing — that spoke in the voice of people my age was a small shock, not the cliché it has become.

And so this little story, meant to sell clothes, was a gem: what it was like to be me that day.

The plane jolted backwards.

A stewardess posed center aisle, ready to point out the overwing exits. A voice crackled over the P.A., “... now bound for San Francisco.”

San Francisco? The four of us gaped across the aisle at ourselves. We were on the wrong flight.

It was supposed to be Dallas. A hot, humid, big-hair Dallas wedding, mountains of matched girls in pink chiffon.

Kegs of flat yellow beer. Dudes with trucks. All this just to keep a pact with college friends.

Joey raised his hand at the stewardess — to confess. I yanked it down. The stewardess covered her face with a mask.

“Wait,” I whispered, “this is better. Pick, Dallas or San Francisco. Quick. Is there an issue here?”

“Debbie's wedding, Steven,” David said. “We all swore on your mother's grave.”

Bonnie said, “We were drunk. Admit it, we hate Debbie. This is the best, an adventure. Let Debbie do Dallas without us.”

The stewardess strolled by checking belts and bags. “What if they find out?” Joey said.

“Act bored,” Bonnie said, “and you can get away with murder.”

Another stweardess walked by. We all yawned at once.

“Okay then,” David said, “Clothes. Our luggage is going to Dallas.”

“Shop,” Bonnie said.

“Buy buy buy,” David said.

“It's an American thing,” Joey said.

Bonnie pointed to her address book. “I have this uncle in San Francisco. Major-big house on a park. Extra rooms.”


“We are there.”

We did it all. The famous stuff, the secret stuff. At dusk on the first night we watched the fog swallow the sun.

But first we found this store called ROLO. They dressed us head to toe, hat to shoes, overcoats to underwear.

When we stepped onto the curb, Bonnie snapped a picture of the funny boy ROLO on the banner above the sidewalk. He smiled down at her.

“We cannot go home,” I said. “No one will recognize us. We are far too cool for Cleveland. We'll be banned.”

“Then let's don't. Go home I mean.” Bonnie said.

Joey said, “Just look at us. People will line up to fall in love with us, just so we'll stay. They will give us houses. Find us jobs.”

Someone stopped and asked David for directions, “We are like totally here.”

“Bathing suits,” I said, “Something for the beach.”

Up the street, past perfect palm trees, around a corner, up two blocks and into a place called Undercover.

Bonnie held some teddy thing up to her chest, “Nasty,” she said. “So nasty. How much?”

David stood in a mirror, “Which is it, too much gut or too little suit?”

We had the best time. We danced all night in a black and neon basement, climbed the club steps at dawn, stunned by the sun.

Drank espresso on a cable car while the real tourists still slept. Bonnie lost her new ROLO hat and cried. “Don't cry,” I said, “we'll go back.”

“No,” she said, “no, let's just stay. We can you know.”

I wrapped her in my new coat and we rang down the highest hill toward the bay.

Joey shined his new shoes with his new sleeve. David found Bonnie's hat in his backpack and was the big hero.

San Francisco is the best. All of it. Go there. Or stay here. Change your plans, lose your luggage, and go to ROLO. It's the best.

Today, I'm still in love with San Francisco. My life is full of things that I love. And I occasionally praise things by saying that they are “too cool for Cleveland.”

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