Thursday was the worst day for me. I woke up dizzy and exhausted. I do not know why. I drifted in and out of semi-consciousness between San Jose and SF. What was going on? We went over some bridge in SF. Drew, Jake, and Josh made a big deal out of it. Gold-somethingorother. I did not care. I just wanted food.
Finally we checked into our hotel, Hotel Bijou. It is a creaky boutique hotel with a San Francisco movie house theme. Pictures of stars line the hallways and every room is named after a movie shot in SF. We got room Lenny. I was not thrilled with this pick, but at least it was not room Mrs. Doubtfire.
Once fully moved into our hotel room, we decided to get food. We walked down Market Street and turned on to Mission. It was a long walk and I just shuffled behind the others, keeping to myself. I saw a lot of homeless people. Eventually, we walked into a restaurant -- a vegan Mexican restaurant ... Oh! How I hate Mexican food! My experience in this restaurant is too horrible to describe. I walked out of it feeling a thousand times worse than I had before. My stomach rebelled. I wanted to go to the hotel and die. It was not to be so. The others pushed on to new sights, and I stumbled to keep up. My eyes were at my feet. I didn't know where we were. Did not care. I thought the world a black and vile place, a cesspool, a torture chamber, a pit of monsters in slime,
I looked up every so often to be sure I had not lost the others. At some point I looked up to see a RuPaul poster and a gay pride flag. Oh, that's where we're going, I thought. We wandered around The Castro for awhile. We passed bars, hair salons, mannequins in studded-leather. We stopped at Harvey Milk's plaque. Josh, Drew, and Jake were tremendously entertained. Were this a better day, I might have been entertained, too.
It began to rain. The rain was not hard, driving, foreboding rain, but it would last all day. We hopped on a (heritage) streetcar down Market to Fisherman's Wharf. We cruised Pier 39 and did a generally bad job of staying dry. Josh bought a $100 windbreaker jacket at the Gap, but not even shopping for Josh could cheer me up; I was still cursing lunch.
Josh left us to meet his (other) San Jose friend. Jake, Drew, and I briefly went to a bar near Ghirardelli Square and had an awful time. Afterward we went to the squiggly street and had an awesome time. Jake met up with Josh while Drew and I took the streetcar back to the hotel. The streetcar was exceptionally crowded, uncomfortably so. And still the driver asked people to shove in. Drew and I did not make it to the hotel. Josh called us as soon as we got off the streetcar and asked if we would meet up at Whole Foods for dinner. We said we would. And did. We had been on our feet all day, it was raining, and both Drew and I were feeling ill (Drew had a headache), but we made the walk.
Our hotel, as part of its movie theme, plays a double feature every night (of films based in San Francisco). American Graffiti was the first film playing that night, and Josh and Jake went down to watch it. Drew and I meanwhile nursed our bodies -- he with Lost (on Jake's laptop), I with Montaigne. While I felt better, Drew felt worse. I could hear his head throb. He sent me out for Tylenol and did what he could to relax once I brought it back. His headache would be gone by morning, but he would be stuffed-up for the remainder of the trip. Poor Drew. As for me, I promised myself that I would never eat Mexican food again. I have kept this promise so far.
The beds were really small, so I slept on the floor. We all woke up early and went back to Herbivore to try out their breakfast menu. Since our rental was parked in a garage, we hailed a taxi. It was a tight squeeze. The driver was a nice fellow -- born in Africa, raised in Sweden, making his way in SF with his family. We told him we were from Denver. "Oh, I hate Denver," he replied. We asked him why. He told us his story: "My cousin owned a liquor store in Denver and I was supposed to come out from Sweden to stay with him. He was doing well. But then he was shot and he died." All of us agreed: that was a legit reason to hate Denver.
We arrived at Herbivore a few minutes before it opened. Outside the restaurant sat an abandoned couch, on that couch sat a styrofoam container, and in that styrofoam container sat an enormous, rotting slab of meat. It looked like a pig's thigh. Flies picked at it. We had a view of this hideous thing from the restaurant and watched as everyone who passed by stared at it in shock. One girl took a picture. A homeless man meandered in its direction; we all watched him with anxiety. Drew: "If that guy takes a bite of that thing I'm going to barf." The man saw the meat and stopped. He stooped. He examined it. And then he tore off a chunk and ate it. Actually ate it! We could not believe it. We cursed and shouted in disbelief. Nothing could make this sight believable. He actually ate it! Thankfully, Drew did not barf.
Our waitress at Herbivore that morning was unpleasant, and this put us all in a bad mood. After breakfast, we walked over to Buena Vista Park. The park rises steeply up a hill (and we began at the bottom); the plant life is very thick, very damp, and very green (it was like a rain forest, I thought). The morning sun streamed through the thick leaves, and these occasional shafts of light stood like great, gold pillars there to guide us through the gloom. We climbed to a clearing and discovered a wonderful view of the city. Overall, a very impressive park. Two facts we did not know about the park when hiking through it: it is the oldest 'official' park in San Francisco; because of it's proximity to the Haight and the Castro and its secretive shrubbery, it is a notorious spot for anonymous gay sex. There are parks in every city that can claim this distinction, but generally I am wary of these claims -- I have never actually seen anybody cruising for anonymous sex. Indeed, the only people in the park that morning were old women walking their dogs (and smiling at us). These claims, I conclude, must be overstated.
We walked down to Haight-Ashbury, famous for its counterculture history. I was very disappointed. But what did I expect? As tourists, you can't just see counterculture and take a photo (although I suppose we did that in The Castro). The neighborhood was humble, as it should be. But I was not into the shops; they were either stereotypes of what counterculture shops should be (bong shops, coffee shops with angry sounding names, record stores) or else totally commercial junk that no respectable person would go to (Ben & Jerry's, McDonald's). I looked at the local art house theater's schedule, hoping to see some hardcore art films in its lineup, but the most interesting film on the schedule was M. Hulot's Holiday, which has been rounding the art house circuit recently (and had shown in Denver about a month before). Hardly counterculture.
Drew and Josh played around in Amoeba Music while Jake and I hung out at the edge of Golden Gate Park. My disappointment with the Haight was not so much a disappointment with the neighborhood as with the whole "Summer of Love" legacy; it was an adolescent desire for independence then, a nostalgic sentiment now. But more important things were on my mind -- Golden Gate Park stretched before me. On the other edge sat the Pacific Ocean, and I was going to meet it.
We convened and decided to split up. This was potentially dangerous because, of the group, I was the only one without a cell phone. This made my appetite for going alone all the greater. We planned to reconvene at 5pm. Josh, Jake, and Drew went to Alcatraz. I went on an adventure.
I set out through the park. Like every other San Francisco park I had been to, it was beautiful. I hiked across fields, past waterfalls, around statues, through tennis courts, over homeless people. At times I stuck to the main roads, at others I plunged into woods where there were no roads at all. I saw museums, stadiums, the botanical garden, the Japanese Tea Garden; but I could not take time to stop for such tourist traps (however much I wanted to for the Tea Garden) -- I was on an adventure.
I stopped to rest at Stow Lake and gazed at the peace pagoda. Ducks, lots of ducks, floated around the lake and acted duck-y. Old Asian couples power-walked past me. The lake is a donut -- an island is the donut's center -- and I sat on the outside of the donut and looked in. I saw a bridge and thought about crossing over to the island, but I thirsted to get on with my adventure and could not be sidetracked by things as unimportant as islands and donuts and decided to press on without crossing the lake and this happens to be the only thing about the entire trip that I regret (really regret). I should have crossed over to that island. It would have been an adventure.
The most surprising thing I passed on my journey west was the Bison Paddock. Multi-layer fences surround a sizable slice of meadow, and in this meadow are four, big, brown, bulky bison shapes. I did not think they were real. They were not moving. Besides, how could they be real? But I watched them (it takes a long time to cross that meadow), and eventually one of them moved. And then another. And then another. And I could not believe it. Nor could other people -- a car stopped in the middle of the road to take pictures. A bus tour did, too. The people walking the other direction on the same path as me seemed more savvy; they did not stop to gawk (but they, too, kept their eyes on the bison). I reached the other side of the meadow and read a sign that told me all about the Bison Paddock. Yes, they are real. Yes, they are bison. Yes, you are allowed to gawk.
I turned off the main road and got lost in the west end of the park. I saw a windmill through the trees and aimed for it. The windmill is old fashioned and very cool. On the ground below it grows a flower garden called the Duchess Something Garden or the Queen Something Garden or something Regal like that. The tulips looked pretty, but I did not have time to smell flowers. I could hear the ocean. I was on an adventure.
I had reached the Pacific. It was cool and breezy and overcast, but at least it was not raining as I had feared it would. I crossed over to Ocean Beach. It was not very crowded. Most of the people there were loitering. I stayed on the walk and looked down over the ocean. In the distance to my right were cliffs and an island (Seal Rock, the island is called); in the distance to my left were sand dunes. The water itself was violent and gray. Posted signs warned me that the current was strong and that it had killed people in the past. I knew then that this was a popular surfing spot (although no surfers were out that day).
I walked the beach and tried to relax, but the hike through Golden Gate Park tired me out, and I still had to hike back through it and all the way back to the hotel. Since I had walked most of the way west through the north side of the park, I started on the south side of the park for my tramp east. I stuck to main roads throughout this hike back because my legs were aching and if I collapsed in less traveled woodland and had no cell phone and some homeless fellow happened upon me ... well, I did not want to think about that.
The walk back was equally beautiful, if less adventurous. People were throwing tennis balls across fields, and their dogs would bring the balls back (amazing!). I saw a lot of attractive girls on bikes and was upset that I did not have my bike. But this was no time to think of
I reached the Panhandle and felt this to be an important moment even though I had not yet walked half the distance to the hotel. On the bike path in the Panhandle, I discovered an amusing path sign; I did not have a camera but bet that a google search would give me a picture. I was right:
I love you, San Francisco.
After the Panhandle, I was hiking city streets. When I reached the Alamo Square area, I took out my map and considered my choices. To my north, a park tempted me -- it was Pacific Heights, and though it would take me out of my way it promised to be stunning. To my east was Civic Center, which I could not see but which was on the way to the hotel and promised to be spectacular. I (wisely) chose Civic Center.
Civic Center is a dozen public and arts buildings around a plaza. It is very Stately. I collapsed in the plaza and finished the orange juice I had bought at a local store. I could hardly move my legs. I was not sure I would be able to walk again, but of course I could because I am awesome. I wanted to hang around and look through some of these buildings, but I was also exhausted and had to be at the hotel some time in the future (I did not have any way to tell time, so was unsure how late it was). I decided to make one stop, the San Francisco Public Library (main branch). I walked in. I loved the building. It was very modern and complicated and clean. I wandered through the stacks. I became frustrated. "Yes, this is a beautiful building, but it's modern and complicated and I just want to figure out where the philosophy section is but CAN'T because this building is modern and complicated and I'm exhausted and can't spend the rest of my day trying to figure out this library." Thus ran my thoughts. Denver Public Library's main branch is simple to learn and comfortable to hang out in and the San Francisco Public Library's main branch is not. I was very upset.
I walked up Market, exhausted and delirious. I did not know it, but I passed our hotel and walked a couple blocks in the wrong direction; but this proved lucky, as I met Drew, Josh, and Jake in front of the Mac store. They had just returned from Alcatraz and were on their way to the Levi's store to shop for Josh. Although I was tempted to partake in my favorite hobby, I was too exhausted to accept and made my way back to the hotel. I was sidetracked, however, when I discovered that I was right next to Union Square, which we had yet to visit though it was so close to the hotel. I walked up into Union Square and sat down. I could not think straight. My legs bent like wheat in the wind. A thousand people walked by me like so many ants -- I recognized a pattern in their many-tracked movements but could not decipher them. Buildings hung over my head like the boughs of steel and glass trees, rocking gently in the afternoon sun. The squeal of cars resonated throughout the square like the pitch of raptors echoing down canyon walls; car exhaust blew across the Square like a desert breeze. The very stone I sat on shook and rumbled with the city's life. And I was exhausted and delirious.
The hotel was only a few blocks away from Union Square, but I got lost. This happens when you cannot think straight in an unfamiliar city. I lurched a bit through the Tenderloin -- a charming neighborhood -- before I finally circled back to Hotel Bijou. Once in our room, I slept for half an hour before Jacob, Josh, and Drew returned. They showed me their Alcatraz pictures and told me about how great it was while I told them that my adventure was greater (but I did not have pictures to prove it).
That night we met Josh's other San Jose friend, Jessica, and ate at Golden Era, another vegan Chinese restaurant dedicated to the Supreme Master. Jake was visibly fed up with all these restaurants -- not that he wanted a steak, but he prefers meals without the ceremony or hassle (like a salad from Whole Foods). It was Friday night and Jake and Josh were determined to get drunk. They went off to a bar with Jessica while Drew and I went back to the hotel. Drew thought about going with them, but I convinced him that reading his Land Rover Owner International magazine would be more fun than watching the others get drunk.
Back in the hotel, I read Montaigne while Drew watched Lost and spent a long time talking on the phone with Beth. He had been calling her everyday. He would frequently explain her awesomeness to us. Quite often, and quite unprovoked, he would exclaim: "[*expletive of your choice*], I miss that girl!" I am not sure, but I think those two might have something going on.
I fell asleep on the bed rather early. This means that Josh, to my relief, slept on the floor. Jake and Josh did not stay out very long and could not have been very drunk considering how easily they woke up the next morning. Jake, in fact, would be the one to drive us out of SF. We were packed and ready and checked out by 7am. We walked over to the garage where our rental had been parked and asked for the car. They could not find it and we waited in the garage while a worker ran to a lower floor to look for it. What would we do if it was gone? It wasn't though. The car rolled up and we drove out.
We left San Francisco and headed for Las Vegas. Vegas was Jake's special request. Drew, Josh, and I hate the place, but Jake (who loves it) paid for most of this side-trip and made all the arrangements. He planned to get plastered and blow a lot of money on roulette. We were not to get in his way.
It rained for most of our drive, even/especially in the desert. The drive through California was wonderful -- nothing but wind farms and rolling, green hills. Josh moaned about leaving behind Michelle; he had been used or rejected by all the girls he liked in Denver and so lamented leaving behind this new romantic horizon. He called Michelle his "ideal" girl and cursed the distance between Denver and San Jose. I do hope the two get together again.
I slept for a lot of the drive. Once in Vegas, we checked into the Luxor. I had already felt uncomfortable just driving in Vegas, but I was downright terrified walking through the Luxor lobby/atrium/casino. The empty, tasteless glamor of a Vegas casino (of the whole Strip) stinks of desperation. What won't Vegas do to separate me from my dollar? "I feel like I'm about to be robbed," said Drew. I agreed.
After checking in and putting our things in the hotel room (the nicest room we had during the trip), we went to Whole Foods for dinner. How many Whole Foods had we gone to this trip? On our way out, I grabbed the most decadent desert I could find: a cannoli (cannolo?). "Why did you have to grab my favorite?" the girl at checkout asked. "Well, I am looking for a wild night in Vegas." I got it--
I had trouble keeping my hands off my cannoli. But I convinced myself to wait until I was alone. Josh and Jake showered (if you'll remember, Josh's first in days) and prepared for a "night on the town." Jake had it all planned out -- clubs and casinos and girls (he wished) and everything. He had already downed three cans of Pabst.
Jake, Drew, and Josh hit the Strip. I was alone. Bliss at last! Little compares to the decadence of a cannoli! I took a hot shower, sunk into a bed, and read Montaigne. Rain rapped a tranquil rhythm on the window. I was oblivious to the desperate cacophony of the casino beyond the door. I was asleep by 9:30.
At 11:30, Jake body-slammed me. Bewildered, I pushed him off and he rolled onto the floor. "Whoa! How'd I get here?" "Jake's wasted," Josh explained. I only got the story in jumbled bits, but the gist is this: Jake drank seven cans of Pabst; then he ordered a "football" of hard liquor, and before he had finished half of it, he began vomiting; Josh (also drunk) and Drew (not drinking) got him home (but not before he vomited several times in the street/parking garage); Jake didn't even get to gamble. In the hotel room, not far from where I had pushed him off the bed, he passed out under a table.
Jake's enthusiasm and planning had all gone to waste. Originally, he hoped to stay up and party for the entire night, and we would dutifully fetch him at 6am or so and let him pass out in the car while we drove the stretch back home. Instead, he lasted about three hours on the Strip. He did seem to have fun though; and now a new phrase has entered our circle: "That's [messed] up like Jake in Vegas!" If you want more of this story, ask Josh or Drew what happened.
I was the first up the next morning but everybody woke reasonably early (they were, after all, in bed before midnight). Jake had vomited on the floor during the night and had to clean it up. The lobby was quiet when we checked out aside from a few, old, rural Americans with Hawaiian shirts and beer bellies sitting at penny slots. But no Chads or Ashleys around, thank you. We went to Whole Foods for breakfast and began the long drive home to Denver.
Snow blanketed the Utah desert. A light rain met us at the otherwise clear Rockies. We crossed through the Eisenhower tunnel and hit the final leg -- thick snow and white-out conditions! From a green San Francisco to a glowing white Denver ... We had found a new appreciation for this little city, our home.
--------------------------------For more details and legends about our trip, especially those I am too modest to discuss, look for Joshua, Drew, or Jacob: Josh can usually be found at Whole Foods; Drew can usually be found with Beth; and Jake can usually be found converting Republicans to Democrats. I have tried to be honest yet judicious with my notes; for every line I have written, there was a line I could not write. I still may have written too much. To those offended by this immoral account, I apologize.