Another Trip to San Francisco
After I returned from my first trip to San Francisco, I was on an incredible high with respect to creativity, but an incredible low with respect to sleep hygiene. I was surprised at how quickly I adjusted to West Coast time, but even more surprised at how slowly I adjusted back to East Coast time. It was a solid two weeks before I was falling asleep at night and waking up at a decent hour the next morning.
Just as soon as my sleep ironed itself back out again, work told me that they were sending me back to the Bay Area. They wanted me to take some training, and it was coincidentally being held just south of San Francisco. I'd never been there before in my life, and now I was going back for the second time in two months. I was way psyched. I would fly out on a Monday and be stuck in class Tuesday through Friday, but to get a reduced rate on the air fare they had me stay over the weekend. That meant that once class was out on Friday I could head into the city and have the weekend all to myself. The administrative assistant in our office made reservations for my work associates and me during the week, and I made reservations for myself at the Pension for the weekend.
I had a look at the calendar, and I realized that the weekend they had me staying in San Francisco was Memorial Day Weekend. It would have been nice to spend the long weekend at home, but I wasn't going to look down my nose at a free trip. I contacted Kenny to let him know I'd be coming back. Unfortunately he and Richard were going away for that weekend. But they expected to be back on Sunday or maybe even Saturday, so I should get to see them at least briefly. I also contacted Biron, who said he would be around all weekend and would love to see me again.
The timing of this trip was further complicated by the fact that it was immediately following a trip to Toronto. I got back from that trip a little tired and strung out, with just enough time to pack (again), grab a quick night's sleep, and fly back out of town. I decided for simplicity's sake to pack nothing but blue jeans and white t-shirts for the whole week. That had kind of become my defacto "look" anyway, combined with my black leather motorcycle jacket.
Monday May 24 thru Thursday May 27
I was getting rather accustomed to these marathon flights to San Francisco. This time the movie was "Message in a Bottle." These airplane films were going from bad to worse. Kevin Costner seems to only want to make preposterous future-shock films, or sappy romantic muck. I managed to get through it without falling asleep or barfing into my air sickness bag; no small accomplishment on either front.
Finally we landed and my associate from work dutifully met me in the baggage claim area. This was very good, because during the flight I realized that I hadn't brought any hotel documentation with me. If he hadn't been there I wouldn't have even known which hotel to call. But he was there and we drove straight to the hotel. For once I was staying in a bona fide hotel with cable TV and my own bathroom. After I got settled I met back up with my associate and we took BART to Berkeley. It was actually a pretty long ride. We got a quick bite and downed a couple of pints. Our conversation inevitably migrated to shop talk, although we both resisted for as long as we could. It actually wound up being an interesting discussion. After our meal we hit a couple record shops and book stores and headed back.
The next four solid days were spent in training, the details of which are not worth documenting here. Each day was a cognitive marathon, capped off by dinner and drinks with my work associates. One day during a break I decided to call Peter Berlin. I was surprised that he answered the phone. I was under the impression that he screened 100% of his calls. Still, here he was on the phone and he seemed glad to hear from me. I had called him from home between trips and left a message on his machine. I never heard back from him, which didn't surprise me as I knew he was not one to return calls. He told me that he had lost my number. "I eventually found it," he said. "It was with my coupon clippings. When most people think of Peter Berlin they don't think of one who clips coupons, yet I do." He asked me if I wanted to hook up while I was in town. This kind of blew me away, as I was concerned that I'd have to pester him for a meeting and here he was suggesting it himself. He said that he was going to L.A. for the weekend, but maybe we could hook up on Sunday evening. I returned to my training on an emotional high.
Friday May 28
I had expected to be stuck in class right up until 5:00 on Friday, but was pleasantly surprised to find that I could get out by noon. I went to lunch with my work associates, switched my t-shirt for a tank top, and then got dropped off at the BART station. I was able to take one train directly into downtown San Francisco without having to transfer anywhere. That was good for my mass transit paranoia. Again, it was a rather lengthy ride. I finally got to my station and emerged right on Market St. I instinctively started walking in a particular direction before I decided to stop and consider if I was going the right way or not. I looked around for clues without really knowing what I was looking for. Finally I realized that there were high-rise buildings off in one direction and mountains in the other direction. I had somehow started off in exactly the right direction from the get-go. This is very odd for me. Usually when I'm faced with a 50/50 choice on which way to go there's a 100% chance that I'll go the wrong way. I must be getting better at traveling.
When I finally was able to see a street sign or two I realized I was not far from where I'd bought my fetish garments on the previous visit. It wasn't a terribly long walk, but with all my luggage over my shoulder it started to get old very fast. It was also a little cold and the wind was whipping wildly through the streets. By the time I finally got to the Pension I was out of breath, sore, and sweating. I got checked in quickly enough, and went up to my room. It was adjacent to the room I'd had before, but rather than facing the street it had a window that opened into a dingy alley. I figured that would be better with regards to street noise, but it gave the room a very dank and dismal appearance.
The first thing I did after I dropped my bags was to pick up the phone. I called Kenny and got his voice mail. The message said that they'd be out of town until late Monday, and specifically said "Toaph, we're sorry we missed you." Well, so much for that, I thought. Apparently their plans had changed. Next I called Biron. He was home and was anxious to see me. I told him I had an errand to run first, and I should see him in about an hour.
I ran right out of the hotel and caught the first bus to the Haight Ashbury. I wanted to score a bag. Given the ease with which I'd found one on my first visit I figured it would only take a matter of minutes. I walked all the way up the street, and not a single person was offering any. I walked all the way back down the strip. Still no offers. I walked all the way up again, and all the way back. I was a bit perplexed, and more than a little frustrated. This should have been as easy as picking up a pack of smokes. I made one more lap of the strip, and still not a single person was offering pot. Finally I gave up the search and hopped a bus back to Market St.
From there I went straight to Biron's. He buzzed me in and I went up to his apartment. He was drinking sherry and offered me a glass. It really hit the spot. We sipped sherry and chatted for quite some time. I eventually finished my glass and walked into the kitchen for another. There wasn't much left. A little light-headed and not really thinking what I was doing, I poured the remainder of the bottle into my glass. Biron walked in to fill his own glass, and was surprised to see that I'd polished off the bottle. "Well, so much for that," he said. I felt like a jerk. I poured half of my glass into his, despite his protests. We went back into his living room and continued sipping and chatting.
After a while it was time to go out for dinner. I had promised him dinner in exchange for a CD-ROM of the photos that he'd taken of me on my previous visit. By this time I was in my tipsy, anxious, Friday night funk where food seems anathema. But a promise is a promise, so we prepared to go. He asked me where I wanted to eat. Having no knowledge of the local restaurants I had no idea. He wasn't expecting to have to make the choice, but he quickly thought of a restaurant. The owner was someone whom Biron had photographed before. Despite the fact that the man was French, the restaurant featured Brazilian cuisine. We put on our coats and away we went.
It was a cold and windy night. Biron complained about the weather as we walked briskly along. "It seems very cold to me. Is it cold to you? You'd think the weather would be nicer by now, wouldn't you? Don't you think? Doesn't this seem like a cold night to you?" I'd forgotten how Biron tends to phrase all his opinions in the form of a question, like he's seeking validation. I agreed with him. It certainly seemed unseasonably cold to me.
Before long we arrived. We went inside, and when I removed my coat Biron realized that I was only wearing a white tank top t-shirt. It wasn't terribly appropriate for a restaurant atmosphere, and he fretted over it a bit. I figured if they said anything then we'd go elsewhere, but if not then there was no problem. The host seated us, so I guess it was okay. I ordered some pasta dish and Biron ordered the same thing.
The food arrived, and it was actually quite good. As a matter of fact it was very good. We were eating away when the owner came out to greet us. Biron introduced us, and then they chatted away in French. I had no idea what they were saying, but they were smiling and laughing. I was, however, gratified to see the owner wearing blue jeans and a white undershirt. This had been my wardrobe all week, and would have been exactly what I'd be wearing if I hadn't don the tank top after lunch. As I sat there listening to them talk, I pondered my situation. I felt like the mysterious model in the company of a San Francisco artist who was personal friends with the owner of the fancy restaurant in which we were dining. Wearing my white muscle shirt and a big old smile on my face I certainly looked the part. It was actually a very nice moment.
Biron turned to me and suggested that some time he photograph me and the owner together. It sounded like a fine idea to me, but the owner shook his head and spoke to Biron in French. Biron started to tell me what the man had said, but he said, "No, no..." After a few more words he left us to our dinner. When he was gone Biron told me that he'd said that I was too young and attractive to be photographed with him. He was a bit older, but I thought he was very masculine and would have made a fine pairing with me. But alas, it was not meant to be.
After our fine meal the waiter brought out a desert and said that it was the owner's treat. It was like a mango mousse or something. It was very tasty. All around it was a very pleasant meal. I paid the bill and we were off.
With no more liquor in the house, I split off from Biron to pick up some more. I went to the little corner market behind my hotel and got a little bottle of Johnny Walker Red. I walked quickly back to Biron's house and poured us each a glass. The rest of the night was a bit of a blur, as I got rather more drunk than I expected to. I'm mostly a beer and wine kind of a guy. Hard liquor tends to really go to my head. At some point I said good night and staggered back to my room. It was well past midnight, so I fell into bed and passed out cold.
Saturday May 29
I awoke feeling absolutely miserable. I wasn't just hung over. I felt ill. I wasn't sick to my stomach or anything, but I felt a lot worse than I expected to after just sipping a few glasses of whiskey the night before. Having no appetite whatsoever I lay in bed for a while until I fell back asleep again.
I woke up later and mustered up enough energy to walk around to the corner store and buy some food. I got a small pack of Lunchables™ and a pint of milk. I still felt horrible. I was shaking, short of breath, and light headed when I got back to my room. I choked down a cracker or two, but couldn't eat any more. I climbed back in bed. I tried to watch TV, but this room was not equipped with an antenna. The dankness of the room started to get to me. I felt like I was in a cell in some Keseyan asylum. I tried to sleep some more. I had a vague recollection that I'd made plans to take more pictures with Biron that day. I knew I should call to tell him I was incapacitated, but I just couldn't muster up the initiative to pick up the phone. I managed to doze off to sleep for a while.
Later that day I went to meet someone who subsequently forbade me to retell any stories or descriptions of him whatsoever. Once I was back in my room I jerked myself off, turned off the light, and fell asleep.
Sunday May 30
I woke up expecting to feel well rested and ready to go tear up the town. Instead I awoke feeling just about as bad as I felt the day before. I was awake, but exhausted. I wanted to sleep more, but exhausted as I was, I was still wide awake. I took a shower, but that didn't make me feel any better. I figured something had to be up. There was no way I drank enough whiskey two days ago to still be hung over that day. I thought maybe I was just exhausted from the solid week of training I'd just completed. It was moot, because here I was feeling like shit for a second day, and my last day in town.
I sat in the room for a while, but the dankness was too much for me. I put on my jacket and walked outside. It was cold and gray. With nothing better to do I hopped a bus for the Haight Ashbury. I tried to choke down some food, but nothing was appetizing. I wandered up and down the strip for a while, looking at the people walking past. They were all really depressing. They were dirty, unkempt, and unhealthy looking. Everywhere I looked there was someone who looked more ill than the last. I saw one kid who must have been about 16. He had bags under his eyes so dark I expected him to start chanting, "Brains... Brains... Must eat brains..." Feeling as crappy as I did, this endless parade of degenerate humanity just made me feel all the worse. After only a few minutes I decided that my dank, cold room was less unappealing by comparison. I hopped a bus back.
I got to the room and finally got up the gumption to call Biron. He was rather peeved that I had blown him off the day before. Apparently when I left in a drunken stupor I had agreed 100% that we'd get together and do pictures the next day. I didn't call, and since I still hadn't given him my number at the hotel he had no way to reach me. It wound up that he stayed in all day waiting for my call when he had other things he could have done. I apologized as best I could. He observed that I'm not very good at following up. This dug deep because it's exactly what bothers me about other people, and here I was behaving the same way. I apologized again, saying that back home I'm very responsible, but that when I'm on vacation I revert back to being a kid again. He was still frustrated with me, but he accepted my apology and I said goodbye.
I would have loved to veg out to the TV, but I couldn't get it to pick up anything. Despite the lack of reception, whenever I tried to change channels it would get off into some strange programming mode. I would have to turn the TV off and on just to get back to the static. After a while, even that wouldn't get it out of the null mode. I was amazed that they would have a very nice TV set in the room, and not have it hooked up to anything. I called Peter Berlin, but he didn't pick up the phone. I figured he was probably not back from L.A. yet. With nothing better to do I napped a little more. When I couldn't sleep I just lay awake in bed. After a little while I started to get a bit of an appetite. I ate down the Lunchables™ that I got the day before. It still tasted like ass, but at least I could put down the whole thing. After laying around a little longer my appetite grew. The only place I knew how to get to without any walking at all was the Haight Ashbury. I reluctantly got on another bus and was back there again. After choking down some manner of food I walked around until I was too depressed and I got on another bus back home.
By this time a few hours had gone by and evening was finally approaching. Being Sunday, I really really wanted to watch the Simpsons. I'm not an addict or anything, but it's a routine I've come to enjoy. And after two days of physical suffering, the familiar humor would be a welcome relief. I went down to the front desk and asked the guy if he could scrounge me up some rabbit ears. He said he'd have to ask the owner. He'd check and let me know. Quite a while later he rang my room, saying that the owner had told him to check all the vacant rooms. He had done so, and none of them had antennae either. Having a little more energy now, I walked up Market St. to the SafeWay. I walked up and down the aisles, thinking they might have some kind of housewares section. I figured they wouldn't have a lot, but a small package containing a TV antenna might just be the kind of useless crap that would be the only thing you'd find there. Alas, there was no such product on their shelves.
I walked back to the hotel. By this time it was almost 8:00. On my way in I asked the guy if he could at least scrounge up a wire coat hanger for me to try using. To my surprise he said he should be able to find such a thing. I wasn't surprised that they'd have one on hand as much as that they'd agree to let me jam it into their expensive TV. But in a few minutes he showed up at my room with wire hanger in hand.
I disassembled the hanger as best I could with my bare hands. I tried to insert it into the coaxial jack, but it was too big to fit in. I looked inside the jack. There were two opposing wires inside that made contact with the cable. While the hole in the translucent plastic fitting was too small, the contacts themselves should easily be able to spread wide enough. I got out the little baby Swiss Army Knife that I take with me whenever I travel. With a little drilling I was able to get the hanger jammed in there. Before I turned the TV on I recalled how it would get off into some weird programming mode. I hesitantly hit the power button. The TV came on, and through the fuzzy reception were the opening credits of the Simpsons! I fiddled with the hanger until the reception got as clear as possible, and then I didn't touch a thing. My jerry rigging actually worked pretty well. The Simpsons is a good show to watch through bad reception, because the bright colors and bold lines of the animation still come across well. If I'd been trying to watch the X-Files, for example, with it's dark, shadowy noir appearance, I wouldn't have been able to see a thing. This is something I've learned from years of living in my rural farm house.
The Simpsons episode was one I'd seen many times before, and not a particularly good one at that, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. Simply the satisfaction of having achieved a seemingly unattainable goal was enough to make me happy. But it was over all too soon. I tried to flip the channels, but on the first keystroke the TV went into that weird programming mode. I shut the TV off, put it back in its original position, and destroyed the evidence. All I had to do now was kill a couple hours until I was tired enough to fall asleep. I called Peter Berlin again, but he didn't pick up. I figured that even if he was back in town he probably wasn't in the mood to go out. I couldn't blame him, because I really didn't want to go out myself, not even to see him again. I pulled out the laptop that I'd brought with quixotic delusions of using every night after my training sessions. I plugged it in and typed away for a while. Before I knew it I was ready for bed. I was anxious to put this whole escapade behind me. Despite the fact that I considered the trip to be worthwhile, I really felt like stool and totally wanted to get back home again.
The one remaining problem was that I had another damnable 7AM flight. That meant that SuperShuttle would be there at 5:00 to pick me up. My watch has a "world time" feature where I can display other time zones around the world without having to reset the base time on the chronometer. But the alarm still went by East Coast time. I had to do the math to calculate the difference. It's not like adding or subtracting 3 is all that big of a deal, but with my bad experiences with 50/50 options in the past, I totally fret over having gone 3 hours in the wrong direction. I went over it in my head again and again and again. When I was finally satisfied I went over it a couple more times. Finally I put the watch down and shut off the light.
Monday May 31
I expected to have insomnia and to toss and turn all night afraid that I'd overslept. Instead I fell right asleep and slept like a rock until my watch started beeping the next morning. I looked at the clock, and sure enough it was 4:30AM. I dragged myself out of bed and made a bee line for the shower. I was far too tired to be able to tell if I felt any better than the day before or not. I was showered, packed, dressed, and in the lobby in plenty of time for the shuttle. The guy was right on time. After I'd safely gotten my bags in the van I went back inside the hotel and dropped off the key. Soon we were on the highway and on our way to the airport.
Before long I was on the plane and heading home. We had a breakfast of tiny little pancakes, brown & serve sausages, and some cranberry cake kind of thing. I have no recollection of what the movie was. I couldn't have been paying much attention to it anyway. The flight back to Pittsburgh went much more quickly than the dull marathon I was dreading. Before I knew it we were down on the ground. I had just enough time for a smoke in TGIFridays and it was off to my gate to board for the final leg of the journey. Then I was back on the ground in Ithaca. My trusty Renault was waiting for me in the parking lot. She started right up, and soon I was home. This was Memorial Day. While everyone else was returning from 3 days of fun in the sun, I was dragging my sorry ass home after a largely miserable weekend. Still, my little house never looked so inviting.