I Always Leave My Heart in San Francisco

By Daniel Borgen, PQ Monthly

SF: Before Ryan and I landed in San Francisco that sunny April morning, it had been nearly two years since my last visit to Gay Jerusalem, an unacceptably long stretch that had me feeling a bit out of sorts. Since my years at Bible College in a nearby town twenty years ago (and especially since close friends started heading south en masse), I’ve made an effort to go once, sometimes twice a year. Something about that city soothes my soul — it’s easy, it’s comfortable; it always feels like home. And let’s face it, it’s always a thrill to fire up your electronic date-makers in a new town. Lately, my mind has been on all things romance. I haven’t told any of my closest friends, but I’m still thinking about The Boy Who Dumped Me via Text a few months ago, and every romantic stumble since.

PDX: Not long before we left, an old flame reached out to me, hoping to reconnect. “I assure you my intentions are platonic,” Jake said. “I’m not trying to rekindle anything.” Message received. Since I’m typically much better at burning bridges with exes than building them, I decided to champion a new approach. Sure, I’d hear him out. Besides, though I can rarely remain friends with people I’ve been naked with, I always hold a candle in my fragile little heart for each man. Sometimes it’s a fire, sometimes it’s an inferno. How can you not remain fond of someone who’s seen the most intimate, private parts of you? So I met Jake for drinks at Vault. (When you’re closer to 40 than 30, you begin to look at relationships a bit differently. Throw everything but the kitchen sink at them, eventually something will stick.)

SF: After our requisite stop at In-N-Out Burger — I regularly put that meat in my mouth as soon as I cross Californian borders — we checked into our hotel, the Sir Francis Drake, one of the more elegant places I’ve ever stayed. The Drake is ornate and elaborate and they host a beautiful wine-themed happy hour every single evening. After wine and snacks and some light shopping, it was time to head out to the hot clubs, to survey the nightlife. My friend Gino and I insisted we take Ryan to Harvey’s in the Castro, mostly because Ryan had asked, “What’s a Harvey Milk?” a few times, and it was time for his education. History is not his forte. Besides, who doesn’t love a platter of fried things before a big night out?

PDX: We were a couple of drinks in and just beyond small talk when Jake and I got to the heart of the matter. Confessions and declarations are much easier when lubricated. We talked about what ailed him — Portland, specifically, and the occasional tininess that can, at times, feel suffocating — and I assured him this town gives back exactly what you put into it. If you let it be small, it is small. The dull roar of the bridge and tunnel patrons and the dim lighting gave us cover; we poured out our hearts loudly, raising our voices for emphatic delivery. That night, I was thrilled to have a new set of ears to listen to my sad tales about The Boy Who Dumped Me via Text. How often do you get to pick an ex’s brain? Not often, and we made the most of it.

SF: After The Education of Ryan Sager and a variety of selfies, we headed out on the town. I often forget how cruisy San Francisco is — especially compared to home — and I committed to soaking it up. My name is Daniel and I’m open for business. The blinking lights on my dating apps made me feel pretty and special; days and days go by between messages in Portland. Our first stop was Lone Star (heaven); then we took in drag and debauchery at the Stud. There’s nothing quite like queer culture in San Francisco — and it’s even better with tour guides (hi, Brad and Gino). Fresh, wildly diverse, thoroughly satisfying. Sometimes you need a busy metropolis and blurry nightlife; it’s refreshing. Our evening went by in a flash, a montage of tank tops, sweaty dance moves, wigs to the sky, friendly gropes, and camera flashes. The next morning meant drag brunch atop the Drake, something I desperately wanted to bring home with me. Drag queens and omelets and mimosas, oh my.

PDX: Jake and I had a few more platonic dates before he moved to Seattle. Just like that, my new sounding board vanished. Before he left, I sat down with him at Cheese and Crack in SE to pepper him with questions. In painstaking detail — and at his behest — I traced the trajectory of my most recent failed romance, and the futility I felt fumbling through a botched whirlwind one in Waikiki. “What is it that scares them?” I asked. “My intensity? My late night burrito parties? My unhealthy obsession with drag culture?” “Take this for what it’s worth,” he replied. “But I don’t think you’re putting yourself out there; you sort of take what comes your way instead of taking what you want.” There is probably a kernel of truth to what he said, I realized. But I’m not ready to hear it. When you’re already battling a genuine inability to date casually, perhaps being more forthright isn’t the answer.

When Jake went north, I couldn’t help but be wildly jealous, and wonder if that, someday, will be the cure for what ails me.

But for now, I’ll settle for late night tarot card readings with lesbian witches — and a dash of summertime. Daniel@PQMonthly.com.