Waiting for Cheese Danish
The summer of ’67 brings back great memories for me. I was sixteen and worked with my Dad at Geary Ford on the edge of the Richmond District. One of my memories was the smell of fresh-baked pastries on Clement Street. I couldn’t afford to buy the pastries, but I would walk a few long city blocks to the shop every day, at lunchtime, just to experience their fresh-baked aroma.
The buttery Danish filled with cream cheese was my favorite. I can still see it my mind’s eye as I stood in the store without the means to do any more than stare at the goodness behind the counter. I vowed that, someday, I would return with enough cash to buy one or more of their pastries.
This was the same summer that thousands of young people flocked to the Haight/Ashbury district in what became the “Summer of Love” and the basis for Scott McKenzie’s song, San Francisco. I remember listening to it on my parents’ push-button AM car radio. It became the anthem of my generation.
Geary Ford was owned and operated by Ed Balatti. In addition to running one of the most successful car dealerships in The City, Ed was known as an offensive-end, and sometimes defensive-back, for the 49ers. He played in the first two years of the franchise, 1946 and ’47, with quarterback Frankie Albert.
Dad was Ed’s Parts Manager. When I worked with Dad, I met many of the early 49er greats including Joe Perry and Hugh McElhenny. Perry and McElhenny were later inducted into the Hall of Fame, along with Y.A. Tittle and John Henry Johnson, as part of the “Million Dollar Backfield.” John Brodie came into the dealership one day, and Dad made sure I got to shake hands with him. Great stuff.
So what does this have to do with Cheese Danish?
We recently visited with our son, Robert, in San Francisco. On one of our days with him, I said “Let’s drive down Geary Boulevard and I’ll show you where I used work with my Dad.”
When we got to Geary and 11th, we discovered that Geary Ford had long ago moved to Van Ness Avenue. Robert said, “That’s okay, Dad. I wanted to show you my favorite bookstore anyway. It’s just around the corner.”
Memories again came to me. “I used to walk to a bookstore on Clement,” I said. “I forget the name but maybe it’s the same one I enjoyed.”
We drove around the corner and turned right on Clement. After a few blocks Robert parked the car in front of Apple Books.
“Man, that name sounds familiar but it doesn’t look the same,” I said.
“Well, let’s go in and look around anyway,” Robert said. “You can buy me a new graphic novel I’ve had my eye on.”
I entered Apple Books right behind Robin and Robert. It felt good inside but didn’t feel like the bookstore I remembered from 1967. I asked the manager if the bookstore had been there in the 60s.“No, this store hasn’t, but the original Apple Books is two doors down.”
Dog that I am, I felt my hackles begin to stir. I told Robin and Robert I would be right back and hustled out the door. There it was. The original Apple Books. It looked familiar from the outside and, as I walked in, it felt right too. I asked a clerk if it had been around in the 60s. “Yeah,” he said. “It was established in the mid-60s.”
As I walked out of the store, Robin and Robert were waiting for me. “Is that the same store?” Robert asked.
“Yep!” I replied. “Now,” I continued, “if we can find the bakery I used to visit, all will be right with the world.”
I then told Robert about Schubert’s Bakery and how I used to drool over the Cheese Danish but could never afford to buy one. “I’ve always wanted to go back, assuming it’s still there, and buy that Danish.”
Robert looked at me as a Cheshire smile spread from one side of his face to the other. “Is that the bakery?” he asked, pointing across the street.
I stood dumbfounded as tears formed in my eyes. It took a moment for me to compose myself but I was finally able to squeak out, “Yeah. That’s it. That’s the one!” All three of us rushed across the street to the bakery. I’m thinking Robin and Robert understood this to be a ‘pilgrimage’ of sorts, because they waited on the sidewalk as I walked into the bakery shrine.
It may have been wishful thinking, but I smelled the same amazing aromas I had smelled 46 years prior. I walked up to the 12 foot wide display case and, without meaning to, stopped right in front of the Cheese Danish.
After a couple of moments, a woman behind the case asked, “May I help you?”
I blurted out, “I want that one,” while pointing to the Cheese Danish in front of me. “Please” I said, “I want that one!”
She looked at me as if I was a little kid and slowly brought the most marvelous looking pastry out, put it on wax paper, and asked if I wanted it to go.
“I think” I said, “I think I’ll just eat it right now.”
She walked to the cash register and I followed her while savoring every (large) bite of Danish.
“Just visiting?” she asked as she rang up my purchase. I told her that we were, and then told her the story of returning to realize a lifelong dream.
“How much were the Cheese Danish when you were here in ’67?” she asked.
I swallowed my last bite of Danish before saying, “I think they were 20 or 25 cents each.”
“Well,” she said with a smile, “your 25 cent Danish is now four dollars.”
I paid for the Danish and, as I walked back out to where my wife and son waited, I thought of something Dirty Harry might have said if he were behind the counter: “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Was the wait worth it? Well, was it, punk?”
“Hell Yes, Harry” I replied in my mind. “It was more than worth it”