It was an early viewing of "Vertigo," I think.
From then on I considered San Francisco haunted and mysterious, poised for drama. For goodness sakes, even the hills told that story and the fog seemed to confirm it. For that reason, and because of that film, I always wanted to go.
How I would get there, was easy. For a year I've held on to an unused ticket credit from a cancelled Montreal trip. The price was right, and so were the potential company. I have so many relatives in San Francisco that it wouldn't be the lonely solo trip I was used to.
Everyone gushed when booked the ticket and revealed my destination. My relatives rolled out the red carpet with an itinerary: Friday lunch, a Halloween costume party, a Sunday brunch. I folded in my own plans (some solo): drinks at the Top of the Mark, the major tourist attractions, a streetcar and a tour of Muir Woods and Marin county. It would be done in true Ariel style: long flight, short stay. I boarded a plane Friday morning before dawn.
10:00 am, San Francisco International
There's a reason for the California stereotypes. They're true. I deplaned at San Francisco airport Friday morning, running on three hours of sleep, a half an episode of "Mr. Robot," a cup of coffee, a ginger ale, and a gurgling stomach. Read: I was semi-exhausted. As I raced through the airport to the BART, I passed a sign in the baggage claim: "Check out our Yoga Room." I passed a VW van and a shiny silver airstream, "well, at least I know where I am," I said to myself. I boarded a BART train headed to San Francisco, and when we popped out of the tunnel and into the light, the famous California Haze joined us.
Yep, yep. I was definitely in California.
What kind of a person comes from a place like this? I asked myself. It's so dry, and beautiful, and hilly. All the houses looked like nothing I'd ever seen in person -- flat-topped, three-storied, smushed together in rows and painted in pastel. Occasional palm trees. It's nice, better than Florida (as a native Floridian, I can say that).
I was nearing closer to my stop on Market Street. I stood up to exit. A man approached me.
"Where you comin' in from?" he asked me. He nodded to my suitcase.
"New York," I said.
"Ah, I know Brooklyn," he said. I didn't know it, but this would be the tagline from the trip. For some reason, every San Francisco person I meet seems to know Brooklyn better than they know Manhattan, usually it's the other way around.
"Cool, Brooklyn is nice," I replied.
"You here long, wanna come party with me in Oakland?" he asks.
"If I had more time," I start to say, being nice. I realize what a good excuse a short trip can be.
"Man," he says, he lowers his lip and runs his eyes up and down my body. "next time you're here, I gotta take you out to party in Oakland."
Good excuse number two: we're at my stop, Montgomery Street.
I tell him, "This is me!" and wave goodbye. I pop out in downtown San Francisco, my hotel just a few blocks away. I booked a room at The Stanford Court in Nob Hill. It's over my budget, quite frankly, but every other hotel had a bug problem, or a shared bathroom problem, or an "it's in the Tenderloin" problem. I splurged, and I got luxury, and I decided that I wasn't going to keep apologizing for it.
I walked confidently through the streets, even if I didn't know where I was headed. I had to conquer some major hills. I took a rest on a corner, my calves burning. When I got to the hotel check in desk, I nearly laid on the counter, sweat all over my forehead.
"I just went up that..." I pointed behind myself, "that big hill."
The woman checking me in shook her head. "Girl, you gotta take the streetcar!" Her colleague handed me a cold bottled water.
"We'll upgrade you," she says with a thick German accent. "Bigger room, better view."
I check in and my room is enormous and pristine. I have a view of the street below and of the Transamerica Pyramid. There are cards around the room telling me to post as much as I can about my stay, and the bed even has it's own QR code. You know, for a bedtime song.
The fact that there are towel warmers makes me want to cry with happiness. I call Bo, since he's in Milan and it's the perfect time to call and tell him how excited I am and how nice the room is. Then I change and go downstairs.
Noon, Nob Hill
I hop on my first cable car with two tourists in their mid-50s. We squish inside, hang on to the bars. It's unbelievably good weather. The hills are so steep, I can't believe the car has the strength to go up and down them. The hills make for great views, you can see a whole few blocks of a street just by looking down it. We pass through Chinatown, then go west and north into Russian Hill. I enjoy the breeze in my hair, the sun on my face, the view out the back of the car and the feeling that I, Ariel Davis, am in a brand new place.
We all get off at Fisherman's Wharf, a touristy pier covered in boats and seafood restaurants. I walk around looking for the sea lions but don't see them. There are a lot of aggressive pelicans about. I shiver when I remember that Bodega Bay is just a bit north.
My stomach is grumbling, so I stop at In-N-Out burger and eat lunch in the sun.
On my way out I walk down the block and it happens. I finally see The Golden Gate Bridge.
"You know, you see it all the time on TV or in art and so I imagined that when I first saw it that I wouldn't be impressed," I told Annalise later that night. "But it looks majestic. It's absolutely beautiful."
"It is majestic," said Annalise.
I was agog. The Golden Gate Bridge was the most beautiful thing I'd seen second to the New York skyline. And the color! Pictures don't do it justice. As I stood outside Ghirardelli Square, two teenage girls rushed by me, whipping out their phones.
"It's so pretty!" they squealed. I agreed. I took a few photos, bought some chocolate at the Square. A man named "Ariel" rung me up.
"You're from New York?" he says. "I really like Brooklyn."
2:45 pm, Marina Boulevard
Its getting hotter. I convince myself that if I speed walk, I can make it to the Palace of Fine Arts fast enough to race back to my hotel, change, and meet Annalise for 4 pm drinks at the Top of the Mark.
My map isn't to scale, so the walk takes nearly an hour. I race through the Palace, noting a swan on the embankment, brides and models monopolizing all the photo-worthy spots. I keep waiting for someone to ask for admission, but no one does.
It's refreshing there. The amber sunlight is dressing the mauve stone very nicely and bouncing off the lake in all the right places. I wish I had more time, especially since it was one of the spots where "Vertigo" was filmed. I just close my eyes, I'll have to take the feeling with me.
I hop in an Uber car back the hotel. I change for drinks, and walk one door down to The InterContinental, where "Scottie's" car rolled through in one of the famous "Vertigo" scenes.
4:30 pm, Top of the Mark
In Bo's family, San Francisco is of great importance. It's where his parents met and fell in love. They often tell me stories about their first dates to Tiburon and Sausalito. His mother drank a gin fizz at the Top of the Mark when she arrived from Europe. (Bo and I had the story wrong, we though his parents had a date there.) I decided I'd do the same thing.
Annalise was such a good sport. She doesn't drink but wanted to join me. The bar is known best for it's views of the city on all sides. It's just my type of thing: old school, jazzy, iconic. From our table, I could look down and even see my hotel room window, the bay, and Treasure Island.
I don't know Annalise as much as I would like to, we met once at a wedding and kept in touch via Facebook. We had a lot to catch up on, and laughed our way through funny first date stories, and life stories, and work stories. In many ways, she and I are having the same life decisions to make, it was nice to talk it through with someone.
She offered to ride me back to my next appointment: meeting my cousin for the first time.
5:45 pm, California Street and the Persidio
The In-N-Out burger wasn't enough dinner. The gin fizz goes straight through me, and I'm a touch tipsy as Annalise and I walk through The InterContinental Mark Hopkins driveway and to her car in the garage. I feel like I'm talking a lot louder than I normally do, and that instead of being in the flat shoes that I'm wearing, I get the sensation that I'm walking on six-inch heels. My drunken mind thinks it should write The InterContinental a letter suggesting they "re-think their capitalization practices."
"Ah, it's such good weather, you know a scene from 'Vertigo' was filmed here!" I nearly scream. Annalise likes the film too.
"Oh these hills, and look Grace Cathedral!" I exclaim. I undertip a valet, stumble on something. Oh, it was embarrassing. After being dropped off somewhere downtown, I pass my cousins office a few times looking for it. When I finally find it, I wait for her in the lobby and regain my sobriety.
And so, we finally meet.
Its always interesting to see a face that you've heard so much about but never met. It is as if you're seeing them through a lens, filled with every comment, every photograph, every impression upon impression from someone who met them. My whole life everyone said that my cousin Allegra was my twin. Her late father and my mother were nearly twins themselves growing up. I see photographs of them in high school, and they look identical. Time changes things, Allegra and I grew up separately, never meeting. Now we are two very different people sharing the same family cheekbones. She's very smart, very, very mature for her age and easy to talk to. I feel as though I'm talking to someone wise beyond their years.
We take her car back to her apartment in the Persidio. The sun is setting, Allegra points out all the things about San Francisco that I might not have noticed. She's in an enviable neighborhood, it's close to Baker Beach and near the Golden Gate bridge. It's one of the few areas not over-developed because the housing units there used to be military housing. From what everyone tells me, tres exclusive. We round the two lane roads to her house, the bay is a flame as the sun sets. It's unbelievably pretty.
"I can't believe someone lives here," I say.
She shows me her apartment, we have a glass of wine. One of her friends who lives in the Persidio comes over, and we sit on the couch and girl talk for hours. (During one of those "dating is hard" conversations, we even convince her friend to sign up for Tinder.)
I realize that this social activity is really what I've been missing on my other trips. I think back to my previous evenings alone in other cities -- Hong Kong: chocolate covered almonds, soda and TV, Paris: soda, TV, ice cream with chocolate covered almonds, London: TV. I'd much more prefer good conversation, and I already had Ghirardelli chocolate covered almonds in my hotel.
The time difference hits me at by midnight (3 am, New York time). I can barely keep my eyes open. I take an Uber home.
"Your cousin lives there?" exclaims the driver. "This is very nice. May I ask how she got it?" Then later, as he's showing me around he makes a statement that I will hear about 10 times during my trip:
"There is a big problem with the rent prices here," he says. "The rent is going up because of the tech industry." I nod. It's sad to think that all the beautiful real estate is also unattainable. We pull up to the hotel.
"You're staying at The Stanford Court? That's fancy!"
I giggle. "I'm not fancy. They were having a deal."
1 am, The Stanford Court
I check my phone, and I have a string of text messages from my mother.
What is the name of your hotel?
Where are you now?
Where is her office?
How did you get there?
What are you doing?
Watch your food and drink.
I fall asleep with a smile on my face. It was technically Halloween, and I had been waiting for that day for quite some time.