San Francisco, night 1. Actually, staying in a suburb. Millbrae is to San Francisco as Bloomington is to Minneapolis. It won’t be the only parallel, I’m sure.
Impression 1: litter. Litter on the roadside. Litter in the brush. Litter used to obviously make someone’s home on a patch of busy highway. The litter stops abruptly when we come to the hotel – literally, at the gates, as though some mysterious repellent fends off windblown bits of paper and tubes of random hardware adhesives. They need to share this spray.
I suspect this spray is paying someone to clean that shit up.
Mike took me to Mission District for dinner; for some reason I thought he’d already been on one of his trips out here in early spring. The BART line seemed OK, a little old, but well-kept, but on the walk to the station again with the garbage everywhere. The sun had just started to set when we boarded the train; we passed through a tunnel still in twilight and came out the other side with the sky dead black. It startled me – and also answered my eternal question about Buffy the Vampire Slayer of why California?
I realize that landfills are a lousy solution and incinerators the worst possible idea for this state. But jeez, there was a lot of compostable stuff I saw lying along the roadways. I began to look around a little desperately for an Adopt-a-Highway sign. Roads in California are all orphans in need of care. There must be some urban spirit, some mother Theresa of roadways, to invoke in these situations.
My first impression of Mission District was to turn around and get back on the train. Garbage everywhere. Restaurants opened sporadically – it looks like many people in San Francisco, like the people of Paris, eat only after the sun sets. Mike brought me into one café that is supposedly “very Mission.” It paralleled the Hard Times Café, with the Hard Times coming out superior – truly an unexpected win. It was entirely too small. It was only white people there, in various phases of hippie and hipster. People peered into my face, looking for something – perhaps because I was definitely not a regular, perhaps something else. There’s always a certain amount of staring when I travel and I ignore it but something about this combined with jet lag set me off.
I told Mike harshly on the way out that based on the impression I had of San Francisco so far there is no way in hell I would waste my energy living in such a place. We then turned a corner and lo – barely a single piece of garbage touched the ground. We started across the street to a tapas bar, went into a French restaurant instead and I got to enjoy service from a French Waiter who did not argue with me about the order in which I received my coffee. I just had a three cheese platter with fruit and pistachios – light and refreshing. Mike had a burger and got embroiled in a text discussion where all sorts of interesting things were said about me based on my being white, female and of “lesser” education than the men discussing me. I drew from my “lesser education” to make my opinions known and there was a backdown. But the underlying attitude is there – and my memory is long.
Mike took me on a way out of the Mission District that was less littered. I counted 7 churches very close to the severely littered streets, and noticed a K-12 school. All that church and education – and a supposedly dense environmentally focused population – and no one thought to clean things up? Bored kids in need of an Earth Day project? Churches, seeking to teach their congregants through practice the art of true service to the community? I saw none of that and could only pose one question to the universe before me: What the ever loving hell?
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a Walgreen’s as I forgot to pack my very depleted rescue inhaler. Alas, I will almost certainly need it here. There is both pollen AND not enough oxygen produced by plants to filter it here. We will have to call in the morning – the pharmacist did his best but could not fix the problem. A friendly chat with the store clerk revealed that alcohol may be sold until 2 am in California; that sales taxes are obscene on a Chicagoan level and that he seemed quite versed in the features of our hotel.
Mike decided to try out the Lyft service; it was quick, the driver was friendly and amused in a detached way at my jet-lagged insistence I was going to find a way to get San Francisco and the California highway department on this whole litter situation. Gangs, whatever, there’s no great solution yet. But c’mon, litter is a controllable issue. So now Mike and I are confirmed mustache riders.
We made it back to our rooms, Mike to do whatever it is he does so much of on his computer and I to take a shower, try to stretch out my sciatica issues and to layer on as much lotion as the desert will allow.
Too tired for now and will need room to think.
This is the core conflict of this trip: it’s not for pleasure. People keep asking me for the pleasures I plant to partake in and the truth is none. None of this trip will please me and I am not obligated to be pleased, though Mike is hoping being here will persuade me. Our calendar has already filled with acquaintances of Michael’s; I am hoping to find time to meditate, separate my ego and set it down somewhere so I can deal with what comes my way from the best place possible. There are just too many pressures this time.
No, this is a fact finding trip, the facts organized according to what I consider important. Mike has done his fact-finding. To his credit, he has brought me here to do my own. But how I go about this is intrinsic to me and utterly foreign to just about everyone who has attempted to talk to me about this.
The popular vote is that we move here. I had not set out a ballot. I have had many an unsolicited opinion. I have not said to anyone “What do you think?” or “Where should we go?” If I’m going to live here, I alone should be asking myself those questions.
I have learned that when something is popular, it is probably wrong. Everyone has a context for what they’re saying to me; perhaps this is payback for the many times I have waxed rhapsodic and pushy about hidden features of Minneapolis.
And here I pause to allow the one piece of genuine bitterness I have in me to flow out – I am forever the person designated to make hard decisions between right and popular. While I know yelling “it’s not fair!” is a useless act, sometimes a little fist shaking loosens some knots in the back.
We’ll see if I can get conversant with the land that is California and the city spirits of the Bay area tomorrow evening. That, and I’ll see if I can get some fucking time to work.
Also, I am still recovering from US Air keeping us on a plane for two hours while they fixed a broken chair. Those of us in front seats were just kind of stuck there.