A flight to San Francisco from DC will cost you a decent amount of cash, but it’ll grant you a few extra hours of life. If only Ponce de León were alive today, I’m sure he’d be a frequent flyer.
Some good friends of mine living in the bay area had been, flatteringly, asking me to visit for some time, and when I was asked for the umpteenth time during a particularly awful day at the office, I bought a ticket without hesitation and made plans to celebrate the Fourth of July in California.
In retrospect, my trip was already written in the stars: I wasn’t looking forward to a 4th in Trump’s DC and the influx of particularly ill-informed and rabid constituents that the day would attract – their heads hidden under a bobbing sea of red trucker caps with white letters, swarming over the mall and the museums and the streets and tearing up as they stood in front of the White House while, at the same time, the President daydreamed about moving back to New York. The weather was a consistently miserable eighty-five with humidity in the seventies – they could have it – and I missed my friends and my spiritual home, San Francisco, one of my favorite cities in the world.
I stayed the night of June 30th near Dulles to avoid an early and lengthy commute from the city and found that my height fascinated the natives; when I ordered some room service for dinner – a chicken sandwich and a Corona – the young waiter’s jaw dropped as his eyes glanced up and then away again in regular intervals of polite curiosity as I hurriedly signed the bill. I thought about throwing a french fry into his mouth, but then thought better of it and instead defaulted to the typical gratuity.
My flight the next morning had been upgraded to First Class through the good graces (and miles) of a friend, and so I was spared the typical ritual of attempting to will other taller or bigger people away from my seat as the plane began to fill. While it’s bad enough having to fold yourself into living Origami on a five hour flight, it’s much worse when you’re stuck next to one – or God forbid – two other practicing artists. The flight was blissfully uneventful and uncommonly more comfortable than I was used to, although I did go overboard, metaphorically, with the free orange juice.
I disembarked at about 8 AM local time and texted my friend Tyler for pickup.
The Pigeon has landed, I wrote. I repeat: the Pigeon has landed.
Sweet. Leaving now, he wrote back.
As I waited for on the curb, I pressed myself against the wall to avoid a quick moving flood of Chinese tourists, led by a stern looking guide holding a brightly colored umbrella aloft like I imagine Arthur would Excalibur. I caught brief snippets of animated Mandarin, which meant little to me, but it excited me as I envisioned exploring San Fran’s sprawling China Town – a welcome change from DC’s version, which in reality is a couple of square blocks of chain-restaurants with traditional Chinese characters sprinkled on the signage.
After twenty or so minutes, a dusty light-green Prius pulled up to the curb and honked once in the diminutive way only that car can. Tyler jumped out, beaming, “Well, well, well” he said “the giant finally decided to visit.” We hugged briefly and probably high-fived once or twice before I threw my bags in the backseat and joined him in the front. “You can move that seat back, you know” he told me with a smirk as he saw my knees nearly pressing into the dash. As I struggled with the seat, which wouldn’t budge, Tyler and I chatted animatedly as he zipped in and out of traffic and into the city proper.
Sunlight occasionally pierced the cloud cover as the hills began to roll in earnest. Small houses stood clustered here and there along the lower hills not far from the freeway, and more than an occasional mansion dotted the peaks in the distance. The morning fog had lifted earlier, Tyler said, and his neighborhood was sunny. “At least that’s how I left it.”
Our conversation continued as we exchanged freeway for side-street and the Prius groaned against the inclines. My head threatened to hit the roof as we bounded over street car tracks and wound around the narrow neighborhood streets of anycolor Americana Victorian buildings jutting up and out at angles that seemed surreal compared to the flat and orderly architecture of DC. I felt as if the buildings were sprouted from seeds that slipped through a hole in the burlap sack of some long forgotten behemoth, first sinking deep into rich soil and then flowering into a vibrant urban garden.
We drove further still, around the Eastern Edge of Golden Gate Park, its greenery on full display – “not a drought year for the first time in a while,” Tyler explained – and found our way into a quiet neighborhood of row houses illuminated by the sun over a clear, blue sky. The Prius slowed and pulled to the side of the road, its deathly silent electric motor taking over as we lost speed until we came to a full stop. We exited the car, he only slightly more gracefully than I, and a cool breeze blew down the street toward me, carrying with it the distant sound of traffic and music and laughter from the park. “It’s good to have you back here, man” Tyler said. “It’s great to be back” I replied. And truly, it was.
PART TWO: Russian Delicacies, The Surprises, Touristy for an afternoon