on the move with miss april, the travel agent's best friend
When you walk into Caffé Trieste, it's easy to forget that this is 1987. Tucked away on a narrow little street in San Francisco's colorful North Beach area, only a short walk from the famed Condor Club, where Carol Doda, the original topless dancer, defied gravity for some 21 years, Caffé Trieste is an old-fashioned coffeehouse, a throwback to the Beat Generation ruled by Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, a place where disheveled intellectuals congregate to drink strong coffee, smoke unfiltered cigarettes and debate the big issues: God. Art. Politics. Travel.
Travel? That's the topic at Anna Clark's table in a dark corner of Caffé Trieste. Anna, who is something of a Caffé regular, sits sipping a cup of espresso, her nose stuck in a science-fiction paperback, when a stranger approaches, hands her a white rose and strikes up a conversation. The subject immediately turns to travel, one of Anna's favorite subjects. In fact, she's in San Francisco, a 25-minute drive from her home in Mill Valley, to visit consulates and embassies, arranging visas and other details for her upcoming ear-long trip around the world. The two chat for a while, the man moves on and Anna resumes reading. A short time passes and another man stops by her table and introduces himself. Once again, the talk turns to travel, with Anna talking about the destinations -- Australia, India, Turkey and other countries, most of them exotic, out-of-the-way locales -- she's scheduled on her trip, which she's doing on a shoestring with her 18-year-old brother. The man leaves his business card, which Anna uses as a bookmark while she finishes her coffee and walks across the street to a funky little pasta place.
"Adventure is very important to me," insists Anna as she picks at a small green salad. "That's what I love about San Francisco. It's the openness, all the different kinds of people who live here. They're spicy -- I like that. You know those two guys you saw me talking to across the street? I like doing that -- meeting new people, hearing new ideas. I hate being bored."
Clearly, Anna has always endorsed spunk and eccentricity, from her early days, when she was booted out of three Catholic boarding schools -- once for smoking in the bathroom, once for wearing the wrong socks and finally for going A.W.O.L. while frantic nuns searched for her -- to the two-month European trip she took by herself when she was only 18. That trip was not an unqualified success. "I got very lonely," Anna confesses. "Without anyone I knew around, I seemed to lose my sense of identity. I ended up coming home earlier than I had planned." Now an older and wiser 20, she is undertaking a more ambitious trip, and she's excited about it. "I learned a lot last time, and I think that having my brother with me will make a big difference. Still, we're playing it very much by ear. The last thing we want is a firm itinerary."
While she was between trips, Anna moved south to take business classes at San Diego State. She worked part of the time as a hostess at a restaurant and then discovered an easier way to riches. "They had these leg and bikini contests at various night clubs, with cash prizes," she says. "I'd enter and I'd win -- that's how I paid my bills." But night clubs are more than a meal ticket for Anna. In both San Diego and San Francisco, they're yet another source of adventure. "One of the places I go here in San Francisco is called DV8. It's located down near the warehouses, and you meet some very interesting people there. There are artists and musicians and a lot of people who like to live on the edge. I'm not even sure where these people exist during the day -- but at night, they're crazy, and they're great dancers. I feel very much at home in a club like DV8. I even had a special vanity license plate made in honor of me and the clubs -- wait till you see it."
Sometimes Anna dances by herself; other times, she's joined on the floor by different men. "Some of them I like," she says. "Some are a little bit too far out, but they're easy to avoid. I don't mind dancing by myself and just being part of the scene. I don't feel a pressing need to meet anyone now."
Anna's last boyfriend, a fellow student at San Diego State, was a great dancer but not good enough to overcome his other failings. "I like a guy who isn't clingy but who also isn't too independent." Her former boyfriend fell into the latter category, and while she occasionally dates, right now, she's happily noninvolved. "It seems silly to get all wound up in a relationship when I'm going to be gone for a whole year," she points out. "I've been looking forward to this trip so much, I wouldn't want to cancel it for anything."
When lunch is over, Anna checks her notebook for the address of the Egyptian consulate, fishes through her purse for her car keys and promises to send postcards from offbeat locales. Still holding her white rose, she climbs into her VW Scirocco and drives off. And the license plate? Of course, it reads "WILDSID."
Photography by Stephen Wayda, Kerry Morris