San Francisco, Days 2 and 3
This post is part of a series, for part one, click here.
9 am, Muir Woods
"The oldest living things," "Madeleine" says to "Scottie" in "Vertigo." They're in Muir Woods in that scene, looking up at the 350-foot tall redwood trees.
I was in third grade when I first learned about the sequoias. Even in third grade I was a pessimist. I predicted that by my adulthood some idiots would have cut them down for paper. Thank goodness I was wrong and the trees still stand. I knew whenever I went to San Francisco I had to see them.
I woke up on Halloween, dressed and ran downstairs to meet my tour bus for a ride to Sausalito and Muir Woods, where there is the highest density of redwood trees. The concierge is beaming when I tell him I'm waiting for a tour.
"Oh is it one of those Napa Valley wine tours?" before I can answer, he's got his chin in his hands. "Can you take me with you?"
I laugh. "I wish I had time for one those tours too."
I'm dragging from the late night, there's a pastry stuffed in my bag and after the bus picks me up I stuff it in my mouth. After some ticket-taking and reshuffling, I'm on another bus and we're suddenly crossing The Golden Gate Bridge. Our driver stops at a lookout point to get good photographs of it from the edge of Marin County.
"You're lucky," he says. "Most days the fog covers the entire bridge and you can't even see it."
Oh the fog. It's making my hair damp, and it's rolling dramatically over parts of the bridge. It makes for a perfect picture.
We re-board and start towards Muir Woods. I had no idea that the ride would be so scenic. As the guide explained, the narrow one-laned roads were now regulated. In the old days, double-decker buses (even bigger than his 35-foot bus) were allowed to make the trek up to the woods, clogging the path and making it even more dangerous than it already was. I wondered how the driver managed such tight turns, steep curves and hills all while minding the flux of cyclists. He made announcements with a headset, telling us the history of Marin County and the Muir Woods -- and of course the redwood trees.
"They are the oldest living things," he said as he parked the bus. I wondered if he knew that he was quoting the film, or if it was just something everyone says.
It was a chilly morning, I zipped up my jacket and went inside the gift shop for a map. A man there, in a big floppy hippie hat, told me the best path. I walked north. The mid-morning sun crept through the trees and cast light on the woods. The trees were so tall it was hard to get them in the frame for a picture. I passed a plaque that said that when one fell the vibrations were felt 7 miles around the park -- confirming what I always knew about trees falling alone in the forest.
The highlight was The Cathedral, a space in the park where all the trees arched up in big groups, reminiscent of the arches of a cathedral and equally moving to the spirit. After rounding the park I bought my father a Redwood seed kit, then met my driver at the bus. I was the first person back.
"Did you like it?" he asked.
"Yes, I went to The Cathedral like you suggested, it was great," I said.
"Where are you from?" he asked.
"New York, you?"
"New Jersey," he said.
"No way! What part?" I asked.
"Kind of south of Hackensack," he said. "You live in Brooklyn?"
"No, Washington Heights near the bridge."
"I remember there used to be a lot of nightclubs, good nightclubs in Manhattan," he said. He turned to his left, exposing a ponytail underneath his uniform baseball cap. I should have known, he was a rebel at heart. "Is the um...Gray Ball still open? On the Westside?"
"I wouldn't know," I said.
"That was one of my favorites," he said.
We boarded the bus, then headed to our next location: Sausalito. The drive required a frightening ride on the Marin Headlands, a long winding road on the edge of a mountain surrounded by mountains. My stomach lurched each time we rounded a corner. Out the window I could look down and imagine going off the edge to my death.
"They put these barriers up," the guide said. "but I kind of liked it when they weren't there. I used to hear screams at the back of the bus." He joked. We drove down to Sausalito for an hour in the downtown area. Its a cute, affluent little seaside town. The weather was perfect.
I walked along the shore, had coffee at an Italian cafe. As the driver told us, Sausalito was the super-rich part of Marin, and the cars were exotic enough to prove it. A few vintage ones were seen on the streets. In a downtown area as cute as Sausalito, they fit right in.
We crossed back over the bridge and travelled back in to San Francisco proper. There was brunch to be had.
2 pm, Farmer Brown
I took a cab to my next location: family brunch. This would be a highlight, seeing as I'd be meeting my other cousin, and seeing my aunt and her brother again for the first time since they met me in New York.
The food was amazing. I had a full breakfast with fried catfish and biscuits. I caught them up on all the family news from the south, and got more acquainted with them. We talked so long that the staff had to tell us to leave, they were closing to get ready for dinner.
Allegra invited me to a Halloween party, and so we got in the car and drove to The Persidio to change into our costumes. We turned on "Agents of Shield" and watched the sun set. Her boyfriend arrived dressed as Tupac. In my college days, my mother made me a Regency Era dress to be "Elizabeth Bennet" for Halloween, so I was her for the evening. My cousin Allegra, was "Neytiri" from "Avatar." It would be my first time attending a party where I knew no one. I anticipated it the way a writer anticipates the day they get caught accidentally in a food fight -- I knew I could write about it forever.
So Tupac, "Neytiri" and "Elizabeth Bennet" then drove to Richmond for a party.
In a third floor apartment in Richmond, "Elizabeth Bennet" held a glass of punch and then --
This punch is dangerous. I don't even taste the alcohol, its like Kool-Aid. I just want to gummy bears at the bottom.
It gets really cold in New York, how do you handle it?
I go to Whole Foods with $180 in my bank account and I come out and I'm like, 'where'd it go?'
I got this costume with Amazon Same-Day.
I do almond milk. Non-GMO everything. You know?
I was in New York, then I moved to San Francisco to be with him.
How long are you going to hold that over his head for? 'Honey, I moved for you.'
Because of the Dustbowl Effect our produce lacks the nutrients in European produce.
Wasn't that the 1930s?
It's still affecting it.
You can see the self-driving cars in Palo Alto, mostly.
I was looking at what I was paying for rent, and I was like, 'I might as well be in New York.'
He's in Milan? Oh my gosh. Can you do your job in Milan? That's tough girl.
[Guy dancing.] That's all you get, OK. That's ALL. YOU. GET.
There are two 'Pocahontes' here.
Have you seen the new Segways? They don't have handles.
My Uber is here.
My Lyft is here.
The boys in San Francisco! Dating is so hard.
I made this myself, I watched a YouTube tutorial.
You're from New York? What part? I remember going to Brooklyn and wishing I could live there.
Black dudes are known for being sexually good in bed -- I mean, I'm not complaining but I'd like to be known for something else too.
You're staying in that hotel? That's really nice. Man, party in your room tonight.
I'm a Dutch-y, so I have at least three bikes.
Because of the tech industry all the rents are going up, cause suddenly you have tons of people making $100,000 a year and can pay $2,000 a month in rent. Everything is going up, everyone is moving out.
1 am, Richmond
The fog returned to Richmond that night. It was also quiet, not a soul driving down the streets or passing by in costume. Allegra and her boyfriend drove me back to her place so we could meet my Uber ride home. We were the only car on the roads, the headlights the only lights breaking the fog.
We cranked up the radio, Drake's "Hotline Bling" was on. It was the kind of moment I'll look back on my elder years as the true definition of "being 31," rolling through San Francisco Halloween night, dancing in the backseat of a car.
My Uber car home passes through the district with a lot of bars. Everyone is still out, the diners are overflowing with costumed patrons. I realize that the Halloween party was the first time in my life that I wasn't nervous going to a social event. My Uber drops me off on the wrong corner. As I'm crossing the street to the hotel, a group of young revelers are whooping and hollering. One of the girls dressed as a Disney character jumps on a guys back and they race down the street. They are swinging bags of candy.
In my room I look at the time and sigh, 1:45 pm. I wouldn't get much more sleep before I had to wake up and meet my cousins for breakfast in the Tenderloin.
"If only it were earlier," I said. 15 minutes later I glanced back down at the clock, it was 1 am again, daylight savings time had officially begun. I climbed into bed and told myself that this was proof: time is all in our heads. I closed my eyes and had a nice, uninterrupted sleep.
Sunday, November 1, All Souls Day
7 am, Nob Hill
Despite the long night, I'm nearly up with the sun. Perhaps from the time change. I dressed and gathered my things. There's brunch at 11 am, but I want something to tide me over.
Across the street is a cute Italian cafe. I order a latte and a smoked salmon plate and sit in the window. Every fifteen minutes a streetcar rolls by. There's a woman in a leopard-print jumpsuit cat-costume and still wearing fake red blood on her chin. She's pleading with the owners of the cafe, she swears she was there the night before but she lost her wallet and is lost and she can't remember the night before.
What luck I've had! I tell myself. To arrive without incident, to get the most darling room, the most beautiful weather, the ease of every exchange. Even then I was drinking my favorite coffee (Illy) and having my favorite food (salmon) and still had more trip to go. I say a little prayer for her safekeeping and to receive a slice of my good luck, and leave.
11:00 am, Chambers and SFO
I phoned my parents and Bo back at the room. Then I packed my things, checked out of the hotel, and went to the Tenderloin. My cousin Allegra suggested a spot for lunch, Chambers Restaurant, a hip place beautifully dressed in Edison bulbs and wood, velvet and a roaring fireplace. We dined decadently (pork belly!) and then drove south. I needed to see my great aunt before flying out. We sat with her for an hour catching up then at 2 pm my trip began its a sad close.
I thanked Allegra for all her hospitality, she was the best host anyone could ask for. Beyond a drunk passenger being ejected and delaying take off, it was a smooth flight back. I wrote the whole way. I had a lot to say.
Bo asked me over the weekend what the "take away" was from my trip.
"Is there ever a take away?" I asked the universe. Bo laughed.
"I'm not sure," I said. "I guess this just taught me that there are so many beautiful places I haven't yet seen." I mentioned that I was struck by the way the urban city accommodated the beaches, the bay, the mountains and the forest like I'd never seen before. I mentioned that it left an impression congruous with what I'd been told about the west.
I'd always thought that the only people who romanticized California were California natives. Now I see the myth is real. It is a kind of paradise.