When Alissa Sexton describes how we met nearly 13 years ago, she uses the phrase “nerd camp,” which is not entirely inaccurate. We were both rising high school seniors taking college classes for the summer at a university we hoped to attend (neither of us did, and for the best). We fell out of touch a bit but reconnected once we both arrived in New York in 2010. This insanely intelligent and considerate, dry-witted, wacky and graceful woman has been a constant presence in my life ever since, and I’m proud to say I will be her maid-of-honor at her (totally non-patriarchal) wedding in September.
Alissa moved to California a few years ago and became a social worker at Stanford Health Care in Palo Alto, where she works with the inpatient psychiatric unit. To say her job is not easy is a wild understatement. But even though she often works with florid psychotics on a regular basis, she keeps her sense of humor not just intact but thriving--there are few people on this earth who can make me laugh like she does.
Since I had been to San Francisco before, my goal was to just hang out with her this time--upon arriving at the airport, I realized it had been over a year since I last saw her in person, even though we talk on the phone for hours a couple of times a month. Alissa made a list of things she wanted to eat and we checked them off. First up, the Ricotta Cheese French Toast Sandwich at Lale in Inner Sunset, filled with fluffy scrambled eggs, avocado, chipotle aioli, and salty, sweet bacon, all with maple syrup for dipping. The avocado throws me, but I decide to trust the kitchen and order as is. It is extraordinary, all sugary and spicy and savory and soft and crisp all at once.
We follow this carb fest with a walk through Golden Gate Park, then past the famous “Painted Ladies” at the Alamo Square park--which are not, as the name might suggest, old-timey prostitutes, but rather boldly painted Victorian and Edwardian houses. The sky is a bright, cloudless blue and the wind whips Alissa’s hair as we walk past the many architectural delicacies San Francisco has to offer. Our next stop is in Hayes Valley, at Salt and Straw, an ice cream shop that originated in Portland, Oregon and is known for its unusual flavors, like black olive bark and goat cheese or almond brittle and salted ganache, the latter of which Alissa chooses.
And though we cannot eat it, we also stop into SFMoMA for a brief inhalation of art (Alissa is a member, so there is no pressure to gobble up every floor). She is a big Richard Serra fan, and there is one of his massive sculptures in the lobby. We continue inside, making jokes about Alexander Calder’s sexual preferences and whether it’s appropriate to touch the ferns on the third floor’s living wall. It’s probably not.
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