San Francisco Tales: Part I

Day 1: Anxiety Multi-Pack

My idea of San Francisco started with Karl Malden and Michael Douglas in Streets of San Francisco. No, earlier. Vertigo. And later, Zodiac.

This, then, was the San Francisco I knew, the one I was flying towards. Murder, serial killers, obsession.

Less dramatically, the reviews of the city from people who knew what they were talking about from personal experience were pretty consistent. You’ll be cold, everyone said. Well, after 4 years of Texas weather, I was ready for less extreme temperatures. It smells of urine, people universally observed. There’s a lot of homeless people, shouting at their reflections and pooping in the street.

But then, despite all of these things (I presume), they would all say, I loved it. But seriously, take a jacket. And watch where you step.

Prepping is the worst part for any vacation. Making sure all possible eventualities at work are covered. Making sure the puppies and the child are looked after. Just…making sure…

Come the morning of departure, I’m awake at 6.30am. I’m dropping The Rev and Miss Jordan off at the boarding place at 7.15. John Henry, dumb seeker of affection that he is, goes with the nice assistant. Jordan, who is slowly establishing herself as a Daddy’s Girl, hides behind my legs. The nice assistant has to pick her up to take her inside. Jordan doesn’t break eye-contact with me as she is carried away.

In my head, I chant “Don’t cry, don’t cry” and, so, magically, neither of us do. In the car going home, The Teenager shares some chocolate with me. He says I look like I need it.

As I drive away, I become uncharacteristically thoughtful. I explain to the Teenager that what this is is a day of removing layers: I’m leaving behind, first, my identity as a pet-owner; then it’ll be my identity as a father; finally, as a worker in my company. All these layers will remain in Austin while whatever remains is hurtled towards California.

“So, you’ll become a renegade?” he teases.

“I will not become a renegade,” I assure him.

I figure I’ll just hang out at home for a while but instead I crack and order my Lyft as soon as we get back. Isn’t it better to be at the airport than to be worrying about being late to the airport?

I decide it is.

Are “Lyft Driver Stories” still interesting or are they the modern equivalent of people telling you about their “really interesting” dreams?

Let’s find out!

Let me just say – and this is not based on a lot of experience – but Lyft drivers in Austin are never boring. And my guy to the airport was no exception. In the course of 20 minutes, he covered the following topics:

  • Places he wants to visit (San Francisco made the cut).
  • Texas rain versus Seattle rain (Seattle rain is better).
  • East Texas versus Austin (Austin is better).
  • “The Muslim issue” (he says it’s complicated).
  • Atheism (he believes it would solve a lot of the world’s problems).
  • “The Christian issue” (he says it’s also complicated).
  • The Constitution (he’s generally in favour).
  • The Second Amendment (he really likes to focus on the phrase “well-regulated”).
  • On being a veteran (he has stories).
  • The illogical nature of racism (“We need to listen to the geneticists!”).
  • Nature versus nurture (more genetics).
  • How walls don’t work (obviously).
  • How growing his hair long meant he had to leave East Texas (“it was just about the only thing we all agreed on”).

It was a very short ride. If I was around that kind of energy all day, it could kill me.

My middle-aged nostalgia extends to airports, which is surprising as I hate airports. I don’t mind flying; with enough books, pens, music, and pills, it can be a perfectly endurable experience. But, everywhere I have travelled, in the US and Europe, airports are universally awful.

But now they are worse. And yes, the high levels of security play some role in that. But this trip added a new level of anxiety: the ticketless ticket. Get the app, check in online, get to the airport, print out your boarding pass from a terminal if you want. You don’t have to; you have it on your phone! If you’re not checking bags, the only person you have to talk to is the person who checks your photo ID at the security gate.

My terminal didn’t print out my boarding pass. Although I didn’t at that point realize that I already had it hidden away on the app on my phone, I would always prefer a physical card. Maybe because travel isn’t travel without the anxiety of losing my boarding pass in an airport bathroom. A nice lady who was lucky enough to still work for the airline was kind enough to print the damn thing out for me. I clutched it in my hot, sweaty hand like it was Charlie’s winning gold ticket.

On the plane, there was no internet service, so I had to…you know…think for myself for 4 hours. But, as I said, with enough pre-planning, flying is fine. I had my book, some music, and a firm intention to nap. It was fine. I also, of course, had the journal that I was going to write in for the entire journey.

A black journal cover with the word "write" written in large, gold capitals on the front.
Stop bullying me, journal.

Questions my brain logged while I had no internet:

  1. How are Liverpool doing? (Qualifying for the Champions League final, that’s what.)
  2. Is work trying to contact me? (No.)
  3. Can the lady sitting beside me see the creepy stuff I’m reading in the true-crime paperback I chose to read on the flight? (Probably. Weirdo.)
  4. What will passport control look like in San Francisco? (It’s a domestic flight; you walk right out of the airport.)
  5. Will I find my Lyft OK? (Yes; there are signs.)
  6. What are the doggies doing? (They didn’t say.)
  7. What awesome lunch venue has my wife got lined up? (It was awesome.)
  8. How long can I avoid Avengers spoilers? (Just long enough.)

I’ve had worse flights. And worse places to end up after a flight than San Francisco.

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