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Where we've been convinced to write a new post on Dec. 2. Stay tuned!

3/10/2008

Room 204

Posted by Gwen |

I didn’t expect to stay in Room 204 when I made the reservation. I didn’t even expect it when I checked in. When I arrived Stan told me that he had put me into my usual room, number 103. As I walked away from the front desk which is simply the ledge created by the bottom half of a dutch door, I turned and said, “You know, one of these days, Stan, I’m going to stay in Allen’s room.”

Before I could protest twice Stan had upgraded me to Room 204 and was handing me the key. I think he did it because I knew about Allen. The hotel certainly markets its bohemian, beatnik history, but it does not capitalize on his devotion. My fascination with the Beat Generation led me to it several years ago and after discovering it, I eagerly anticipated my next assignment in San Francisco.

Allen is Allen Ginsberg, the poet who wrote Howl and Other Poems. It’s said that the first reading of his poem Howl in San Francisco in 1955 was the start of the Beat Generation movement. And there I was, in his room.

It took about an hour for me to calm down enough to sit, but when I did I occupied the very bay window where he could be found writing for so many years. I sat peering out this window and absorbed the view that had captivated him. It was like seeing the world with new eyes.

There’s a framed black and white photo hanging in the bathroom that depicts Ginsberg arm in arm with four of his beatnik peers. The inscription at the bottom, written in Ginsberg’s hand, reads, “Bob Donlon, Neal Cassady, myself, painter Robert LaVigne & poet Larry Ferlinghetti in front of his City Lights Bookshop, Broadway & Columbus, North Beach SF 1955. ”

I know that Howl wasn’t printed until after that first reading in 1955. The inscription made me wonder if he had stayed in this very room on that very night. Did he sit in this window that night? Was his view the same as mine?

I watched as an attractive couple closed a bakery up the street. With a quick peck they headed off in opposite directions.

I watched Columbus Avenue bustle with traffic. Motorbikes, cars, buses and people buzzed along headed for other parts of the city. My pulse quickened to match the pace of the traffic.
I saw down the Avenue to the south where the Red Light District leads into Chinatown. Vesuvio and City Lights sit between here and there.


An Italian coffeehouse occupied the first floor of the building across the street. The sidewalk in front was lined with tables. Three men in black leather jackets sat at one, sipping espresso and resisting the damp and chill of the night. I shivered just watching them.

I could not believe my good fortune. I was thrilled to experience this place, a place that Allen Ginsberg frequented and probably loved. Travel had been hard on the way out and my meeting the next day was canceled at the last minute, but I will always cherish the time I spent in Room 204 looking out his window.

6 comments:

Allie said...

Wow! That's awesome! What a great way to spend the weekend!

heidikins said...

I love this post; excellent descriptions and a fantastic peek into your head. Brilliant!

xox

Gwen said...

Allie and Heidi: Thanks for stopping by and commenting. This was my homework for my last writing class. I'm glad you like it.

Whiskeymarie said...

Nice writing, my dear! And what a great experience.

othurme said...

Staying in hotels really makes me happy (3). I love traveling and not having to clean my own room. Hotels really make me happy. I wish I could live in the penthouse of a casino hotel like Howard Hughes.

Steve Silberman said...

I was a friend of Allen's for 20 years, and this is a wonderful post. For the record, he wouldn't have stayed in a hotel the night of the debut reading of Howl; he lived at 1010 Montgomery Street then, I believe (http://www.allenginsberg.org/index.php?page=1010-montgomery). But who cares? This is beautiful, and I was never lucky enough to have stayed in that room.

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