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By Andrea Aranda
Author, playwright, and National Public Radio star David Sedaris is well loved across the United States and around the world. But perhaps nowhere else is he more adored than in lit-crazy San Francisco. His self-deprecating humor and fatalistic view of life have made works like Me Talk Pretty One Day instant bestsellers at neighborhood bookstores. (Just try to get a seat at a Sedaris reading at Cover to Cover.)
When his latest collection of essays, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, was released this summer, local fans might have noticed the dedication on the first page: "To Ronnie Ruedrich."
It just so happens that "Ronnie" is Veronica Ruedrich, one of the more familiar faces in Noe Valley. Ruedrich, 52, who lives in the Mission District, has managed Astrid's Rabat Shoes at the corner of 24th and Sanchez for two decades. She's also--you guessed it--a close friend of Sedaris, who currently resides in France with boyfriend (his word) Hugh Hamrick.
Last month, I had a chance to talk with Ruedrich about her friendship and travels with Sedaris, and her life at the store. What I discovered was that "Ronnie" (but please call her Veronica) too has a knack for humor and storytelling.
Andrea Aranda: In David Sedaris' latest book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, you were the dedicatee. How did you find out about the dedication?
Veronica Ruedrich: It arrived in the mail at the shoestore from his publisher. I thought, Oh great! David sent me a copy of the new book! He always has the publisher send me a copy before they come out. It's one of the perks. So I opened the package, and inside there was the book. And there was a little tab attached to one of the pages. I said out loud, "Oh good, he wrote something in it," thinking that he had signed the book for me. I opened it up and there it was! I threw my glasses across the room and I screamed and then I called him up and yelled at him.
A: How long have you known David Sedaris?
R: I must have met him in 1975 or 1976. Whatever was my first and only year at Western Carolina University [located in Cullowhee, N.C.].
A: What was your first impression of him?
R: I was in love, immediately and completely, with him. I had a big crush on him right away. We met underneath a bush in the middle of the quad between the dorms [at the university]. There was this bush that actually had a room in the middle of it. People would go in there because it was cool. A friend of mine said, "C'mon, let's go into the bush!" and we went in and David was in there. I got introduced to him like this (she bends down and comes close to my face).
A: Nowadays you two are best friends. How did that happen?
R: When we were 18 years old, it was me and him and one other person named Dana. We were like this trio that were inseparable. Dana was an extremely remarkable person. She was so enthusiastic about everything and was crazy about jazz. One night she went to a concert, I think it was a Bonnie Raitt concert. I came walking back to the apartment from doing laundry, and I saw an ambulance down there. When Dana came back from the concert she had gotten out of the car, stepped into the road, got hit by a car and was killed. So you can imagine, me and David and Dana--we did everything together. We knew the mountains behind the school like the back of our hand because on the weekends we would go bushwhacking. Then all of a sudden she was dead. She was such a special person. That is partly what sealed our friendship forever. We had something that nobody else knew.
A: How did you get from North Carolina to San Francisco?
R: I moved out here in 1977. My brother Mark was the manager of the Castro Theater. He got me a job working at the Lumiere, the Clay, the Surf, and the Castro. In the summer, David came out here to be with me, and he got a room at a hotel on Market Street. We decided that we would go apple-picking in Oregon. We hitchhiked up to Hinman Farm. Neither of us had ever picked apples before.
A: Why did you decide to pick apples?
R: We weren't quite hippies, we were just after hippies. We were following the avant-garde. We did performance art, and the apple-picking was our version of education in the avant-garde movement. It was an adventure, and that was the kind of education that we wanted.
From there we hitchhiked to Vancouver, Canada, and we had so much fun. David insisted that we stay at the sleaziest hotels there were. We would not even sleep in the sheets, we slept on our sleeping bags. We rented an apartment for two weeks in Vancouver. It had a Murphy bed and a little kitchen and everything. One day, we came down the stairs and we looked down the hallway and there were these young women with really old guys. They were wearing hot pants and fishnet stockings, and they were all hanging out. Finally it dawned on us, "Oh, my God! We're staying in a whorehouse!"
We hitchhiked with this guitar that I bought for $10. I knew how to play two songs, and David was so sick of this guitar. Later, I ended up leaving it in the back of a Mustang. I was so sad, but David was so happy.
A: Tell me more about the performance art. Were they funny?
R: Oh no! They were not funny. They were supposed to be thought-provoking. But they definitely had a sense of humor. They were an art piece, like an installation.
A: What kind of venues did you perform in?
R: "The Housing and Urban Detectives" was done in the rotunda in the art department at [North Carolina] State. And one of them, called "Gilt by Association," we did at the North Carolina Museum of Art.
A: Has his fame changed your friendship in any way?
R: I get to see him more! I get to see him twice a year for his lecture tour and his book tour.
A: Have you met any interesting people through your association with David?
R: I love NPR and always have loved listening to Ira Glass [host of NPR's This American Life since 1995]. Ira was the one who discovered David doing a reading in Chicago all those years ago. Eight or ten years ago, when David was out here, there was a big fancy reception for David and two other writers on the tour. I told David, "Whatever you do, I want you to introduce me to Ira Glass." I'm a huge fan of his! At the reception, Terry Gross was there and a bunch of famous people who I didn't even know. All of a sudden, this big tall guy comes walking over, and he says, "So you're Veronica! I have been wanting to meet you! I can't believe this!" And it was Ira Glass!
A: Have you appeared in any of David Sedaris' stories?
R: When the book Naked came out, he sent the manuscript to me of the story--I think it's "Planet of the Apes"--and he said, "Ronnie, I put you in this story, but I disguised you by calling you Veronica." And I said, "David, my name is Veronica!"
A: What's a typical day in the life of Veronica Ruedrich?
R: I walk my dog. I walk to work. I order shoes, sell shoes. I order socks, sell socks. Water the garden. Feed my fish. Pay bills, make phone calls. Come home, eat dinner, and watch the news. That's an "everyday" day.
A: How did you start working at Astrid's Rabat Shoes?
R: On March 23, 1987, I walked in to buy a pair of shoes and asked if they needed any help. They said yes and that was it. I started the next day. I had bought a pair of men's shoes for myself because back then the man-tailored look was in.
A: When did you transition from employee to manager?
R: I've managed the store for about 20 years.
A: How has business changed since you took over the reins?
R: We're more focused on stylish comfort. We tailor the business to fit the neighborhood, to fit [customers'] needs so that they don't have to leave the neighborhood to shop for shoes or accessories.
A: Was it totally different before you decided to focus on comfort shoes?
R: When I started working here, it was in the time of punk rock and edgier. There were buckles, grommets, safety pins. Astrid [Doder, the owner/buyer] liked fancy, pretty shoes. Mix that with the punk, and it was interesting!
A: What do you like about working in Noe Valley?
R: It's like a small town within a big city.
A: Do you have a tip for customers buying shoes?
R: If it's snug, it will stretch. If it hurts, it won't.
A: Where do you see your friendship with David in 20 years?
R: In 20 years, we better live near each other so we can continue to see each other.
A: You might have to move to France for that.
R: I would do that. [My husband] Blair wouldn't mind living in France. We could move to France if we had to.
David Sedaris Talks About Veronica
While David Sedaris was in town for a lecture tour, I had the opportunity to ask him about Veronica Ruedrich and why she holds a special place in his heart.
Andrea Aranda: What was your first impression of Veronica when you met her at Western Carolina University?
David Sedaris: Relief!
A: What do you like most about Veronica?
S: She's loyal. She inspires trust. She's considerate, cheerful, and silly. It's hard to find silly people as you get older. Today we laughed until we cried. She can get so silly that she cries.
A: Why did you dedicate your most recent book to her?
S: She's my best friend, and I've always wanted to dedicate a book to her. The other ones were dedicated to Ira Glass, my mom, dad, sister Lisa, and Hugh. When I dedicated a book to my dad, I got no reaction. When you dedicate a book to someone, you want them to choke up.
A: Does Veronica have any hidden talents?
S: She's a real good driver and good at parking.
A: Are there any songs that remind you of her?
S: Anything by Joni Mitchell, because she introduced me to her.
A: Why did you go hitchhiking together?
S: She wanted to pick apples and I was too timid to do it on my own. We thought, "If we could survive this, we could survive anything."
A: What is your fondest memory of the hitchhiking trip?
S: She had been teaching herself how to play guitar. When she left her guitar in a car, I was relieved.
Andrea Aranda is a regular contributor to the Noe Valley Voice and also works part-time at Astrid's Rabat Shoes.