Tuesday, September 7, 2004

San Francisco, Night One

I grew up, as you already know, in a suburb about 30 miles east of San Francisco. NOT "Frisco," as so many of you insist on calling it. Please. Don't. Not in front of me, at least. To any true Bay Area-ite, that term makes us cringe.

Oh, fine. Go ahead. Get it out of your system. I know you just want to bug me.

Okay. Done? Good. Moving on, then.

“The City” is what we called it. Because that's what it was. The. City. Always capitalized, because it was the only big city around. Well, maybe not the only one, but the only important one. Going there was an adventure, always begun on BART and other modes of public transportation. We rarely actually drove there, unless we knew the exact destination and that it wouldn't be easily accessible otherwise.

The City has a charm to it that other big cities don't have. I didn't realize until I visited Los Angeles, downtown Los Angeles, for the first time, that the reason for that is that San Francisco is not big. It sure did seem like it back then to a kid from the suburbs. The beggars, homeless or otherwise, are always creative about getting money out of tourists. They don't just stick their hands out and demand as is so typical elsewhere. They perform -- acting as robots that only move when an appropriate amount is placed in the appropriate canister. They shake bushes at unsuspecting passers-by while others eagerly anticipate the element of surprise of a bush suddenly walking and moving and talking. They even, heaven forbid, ask politely, as exhibited tonight by the woman who confronted me in the Jack-in-the-Box. She held out her grubby hand holding fifty-three cents or so and asked for a quarter. I dug in my pocket for my change, so she immediately saw I had about eighty-three cents. She had asked for one quarter, so I told he`r, handing her two, that I would save the rest of the change for the guy I had seen outside in the wheelchair. She was distracted though by the amount I wasn't giving her and asked for more. " But then there wouldn't be anything for the guy outside. I gotta spread it around -- can't give it all to one person, ya know?" I explained. She demurred that would be the right thing to do, and went to politely ask someone else for some money, "Hon."

But driving here at night, from the airport, when I haven't had a chance during the day to let the atmosphere of the city charm me as it usually does, I felt a little cold. Not atmospherically so, but charm that I’m used to was not on display, leaving me cold. It's another dirty, grungy, cement-filled, over-crowded city, made confusing by countless one-way streets and near-impossible to find hotel parking entrances.

Real estate is at such a premium here on a peninsula that can only grow up, not out, that even hotel guests are charged the astronomic price of $44 per day for parking. Forty-four. Dollars. Per day. To park my car that I will hardly ever drive anyway. I kept asking the valet guy about self-parking, and he said there's a garage across the street that only charges $30 / day with in/out privileges. While I would like to save the company $14 a day, the thought of getting back into that car and driving another 3 miles just to move the car across the street (remember the one-way streets?) was too exhausting to think about.

The guy at corporate travel was very excited for me to stay at this hotel. But when push comes to shove, a hotel room is a hotel room is a hotel room. Some are cleaner than others, and the cleanliness of this one is something to appreciate, but it has a bed. And a desk. And a phone. And a TV on a bureau, a closet and a bathroom with a toilet, sink, tub and shower. For this, my company pays $155 a night plus applicable taxes and surcharges for me to sleep. Oh, and the $44 / day parking charge. Sheesh. The most distinctive feature that separates this hotel from others in which I have stayed is probably the scent. Or odor, depending on your opinion. It's a Japanese hotel, and I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more ethnicity or culture or whatever to set it apart from other hotels. The smell does. It all has a faint odor of that dried seaweed stuff. Which is okay, I guess, if you like that, but . . . it's not really floating my boat right now.

I hope that my naive enthusiasm for being here can be restored in the morning. I plan on walking the half mile to my training class, so that my help. Some of my dampened attitude may simply be due to the fact I'm still recovering from this stupid sinus infection. I hope it's not just because I'm a jaded adult now who's been traveling for about two weeks too long to really enjoy this latest experience, when all I really want is to be home, with my own comfy bed, my fat, drooling cats, my friends, my own comforts. Wow, I sound old, don't I? But I shall try to enjoy this. After all, I'm not footing this hefty bill! (Why do I feel guilt about it then?)


San Francisco in Broad Daylight

Retrospectively, October 6, 2004

A decent night's sleep in a bed, that for a hotel, was almost as comfortable as the one I left at home, left me feeling a little bit better about my status as a guest in The City, as opposed to day visitor.

Walking to my training class, about six blocks away, was an infinitely easier prospect than driving, for the simple fact that it would probably only take about 10 minutes to walk a straight line, rather than 20 estimated minutes to drive a convulated route.

Even in the morning with very little traffic, pedestrian or otherwise, the city streets had a depressing pall about them. Maybe it's because there are more homeless people than I remember there being here before. And they don't all exhibit the charm that I'm used to from San Francisco beggars. most of them are just that -- beggars.

The day was warmer than most San Francisco days, draining even more of the charm that I'd come to expect from my previous day visits. In fact, not only was the near omni-present fog not present, the heat added to the increased amount of homeless people presented a sum of smells that assaulted my senses, and not in a pleasant way. There were pockets of urine smells, unwashed bodies on every side it seemed, and scents of just dirty city streets.

The highlight of my day was having an entire half (oxymoronic, I know) of my Quizno's sandwich left over from lunch to be able to wrap and give to a homeless person on the street who seemed genuinely pleased to receive it.

Lest I get any nasty notes from any San Francisco Bureau of Tourism people, let me hasten to add that as the week progressed and the weather returned to San Francisconormal, the charm of the city returned. I'm sure that still being significantly ill was not helping my initial attitude much.

Instead of letting silly things like a sinus infection and urine smells dictate my experience, I took matters into my own hands. I did not want to spend three days in a city that I've previously loved only to return home with a bad taste for it. Enjoying some simple pleasures made all the difference in the world in restoring my attitude. Using my company's dinner allowance, I took a friend who's attending USF from Burbank out to dinner and enjoyed her delightful company. I enjoyed a solo dinner, indulging in rich English-style food in an Irish pub down the street from my hotel. I visited a Rasputin music store and browsed as quickly as possible in the half hour allotted me before closing time, their three stories of used CDs.

Overall I remembered, that we're only as happy with a situation as we allow ourselves to be. If I had chosen to allow my initial frustration at navigating an obnoxious rental car through annoying, non-sensical city streets, or the disgusting citified smells dictate my overall experience, I'd be, well, frustrated and disgusted.

As with any situation that presents itself to us, regardless of our current environment or circumstance, how we perceive that situation makes or breaks us. We can choose to accept it at face value, potentially turning us into miserable human beings, or we can adjust our own attitude to accept it graciously, trying to find the humor and joy in each situation. Regardless of how obnoxious or smelly it is, there is good to be had everywhere.

I just realized that sounded a little soap-boxy, and for that I apologize. But sitting here some weeks after the fact, reading what I wrote that first night and trying to capture the timbre of those few days, I am glad that for as upset as I was that first night, I can look back on that time and say that I truly enjoyed it.

Happiness is always a choice.


: "Insatiable," by Marne Davis Kellogg