When I moved to San Francisco twenty years ago, one of the things that filled me with the most anticipation and excitement was the historic San Francisco Go Club. At that time it was located in a (literally) condemned building on Bush Street in Japantown which had been either a synagogue or a Jewish retirement home, I don’t remember which – the important thing is that the building was institutional and old and formerly sacred. I remember there being giant, worn Stars of David in the shabby wood façade, but memory is a smartass and a liar so those may be a retrospective embellishment.
Everything important happened in one large, high-ceilinged room thick with cigarette smoke that echoed the famous (and charming to me for being so novel) San Francisco fog outside. I was almost exactly the same size I am now, but as I describe it, I suspect everything is much larger in my treacherous memory than it was in reality. I remember long tables covered with dozens of go boards and all manner of people sitting at them playing intently. I remember the generosity of Japanese octogenarians, far better at the game than I would ever be, who, despite speaking very little English, were kind enough to play with me and patiently point out when I made mistakes both obvious and subtle. I learned enough Japanese to thank them politely and ask after their health.
Eventually the city brought the hammer of public safety down on the crumbling building, and the San Francisco Go Club moved into an anonymous, fluorescent-lit storefront in the Richmond, or maybe it was the Sunset, or maybe it was a series of storefronts. In any case it was never the same, and I eventually stopped going altogether. While it still exists, for me the club died when it left that old building. And in the absence of some seriously Faustian shenanigans, those kindly old Japanese men are almost certainly all dead now.
I miss the club. I miss those old men. I’m still not as good at go as they were. I haven’t played in so long my go skills are doubtless a shadow of what they were then. San Francisco now is not the San Francisco it was then. I am not the me I was then. Is something lost? Absolutely. But if I imagine a twenty-something moving to San Francisco for the first time, who am I to tell him that the best is past, that things aren’t what they used to be, that everything is shit? Countless someones are finding their way to the city right now, not just to suckle at the teat of tech, but because they’re excited about something weird and quirky like the old San Francisco Go Club, something they’ll enjoy and pour their passion into until it too dies along with everyone associated with it, along with me.