A visitor walks the city, searching. He has a list: libraries and bookstores, museums and archives. He descends into the bowels of the San Francisco Chronicle, follows a sullen clerk to the morgue’s oldest files. There, the newsprint is brittle to the touch. He handles it carefully but confidently, his fingers trained for the task, but the Chronicle is too young. He does not find the name he is looking for.
The visitor canvasses Chinatown, learns to say Bookstore? in Cantonese: Shū diàn? He braves the haze of Haight Street, speaks to a long-haired man selling books on a blanket in Golden Gate Park. He crosses the bay to Cody’s and Cal, ventures south to Kepler’s and Stanford. He inquires at City Lights, but the man behind the register, whose name is Shig, shakes his head. “Never heard of him, man. Never heard of him.” He sells the visitor a copy of “Howl” instead.
It is 1969, and San Francisco is under construction. The great central artery of Market Street is a trench. South of there, whole blocks have been knocked down and scraped clean; a fence is festooned with signs that proclaim it the YERBA BUENA GARDENS, though there is not a single plant or tree in evidence. To the north, the visitor passes a construction site where a wide ziggurat reaches for the sky and a placard promises THE FUTURE SITE OF THE TRANSAMERICA PYRAMID above a fine-lined rendering of a shining spear.
The visitor walks the city, disappointed. There is no place left to go; his list is folded and finished. He hikes to the Golden Gate Bridge, because he knows his parents will ask him about it. A quarter of the way across, he turns back. He expected a view of the city, but the bay is filled with fog, and his short-sleeved shirt is flapping in the frigid wind.
The visitor walks back to his hotel, going slowly, wallowing in his failure. In the morning, he will buy a train ticket home. He walks along the water for a while, then cuts into the city. He follows the border between North Beach and Chinatown, and there, wedged between an Italian restaurant and a Chinese pharmacy, he finds a bookstore.