San Francisco is intimidating to me and yet, so enticing. She can beckon with open arms and repulse me at the same time. The roller coaster-like hills would be more manageable, except for the clowns who drive like, well, circus clowns. The beauty of the architecture contrasts with the despair of those who sprawl at the base of aesthetically-pleasing buildings, oblivious to the flow of both vehicular and foot traffic, engulfed in a world of peace, prior to awaking once more to the purgatory that is homelessness. Alone in a world teeming with humanity.
I was observing one such individual, lying perpendicular to the wall of a business, partially blocking the sidewalk, when another man, visibly exhibiting all the classic signs of rage, hurtled a glass bottle against the wall, showering the sleeping man with shards of glass. He struggled to sit up, trying to fathom what had just occurred, no one there able to answer the question, “Why?”
Having experienced three gorgeous fall days in the embrace of this beautiful city, earlier this week, we had the advantage of seeing through crystal clear air, especially when we were twelve stories up in our room in the Holliday Inn. I was with Annie, while Lito had a room to himself. The three of us traveled by foot to a great many of our destinations, and many of the sites we visited required additional walking. San Francisco is no more hilly than what Annie and I encounter up here on the mountain, so we were ready for action-ready for danger.
We either took a cab to our meals or we walked, so that we could have a glass of wine or a cocktail. Cabs are plentiful in the City and surprisingly reasonable, one of the few exceptions to the steep price of poker in San Francisco. We never paid more than fifteen dollars for a ride, and if one includes the price of parking in one’s computations, cabbing is a much more reasonable and stress-free way to go. Of course we had to determine the appropriate rate at which to tip, and settled for around three or four dollars, for a ride which cost between ten and twelve bucks. More than reasonable, we all thought.
As we strolled along at one point, scanning the folks walking on the other side of the busy thoroughfare, I made eye contact with an elderly black man, pushing his cart toward the intersection, while hanging onto my gaze with a vice-like grip. Meanwhile, there being momentary confusion as to which direction we were supposed to have been traveling, we had reversed course, and then done so again, heading back in our original direction, arriving simultaneously at the same point in the intersection as the old man.
Reacquiring his grip on my attention, he said bluntly, “I ain’t gonna ask you for no change. I want to know if you’ll buy me an egg and sausage sandwich.” He glanced into the corner breakfast shop, beside which we stood, and back at me. “Well, I’m not interested in going into the shop,” I said, equally bluntly, “but I’ll spring for five bucks if you want to go in and get it.”
He never hesitated, taking the money and leaving his shopping cart outside, apparently figuring that someone would have to be pretty hard up to rip off something from a homeless guy. Anyway, if I have the loot, and someone asks me for a handout, I’m a sucker every time. On the other hand, if I have no money in my pocket, I don’t lose any sleep over not being able to help out.
I paid $6.25 for a one scoop ice cream cone, and never blinked an eye. However, later, as we scanned the menu outside a famous steak house, and found out I could order a rib eye steak for a scant $43.00, I did blink, and we ultimately decided on Mel’s Diner. It was kind of noisy and kind of bright, but all three of us had dinner for less than the price of one steak at the other spot.
Money was not an issue the whole three days, because I had been putting aside money all summer, so that by August, I had socked away fifteen hundred bones, to pay for the two rooms for two nights, and whatever else came along the turnpike. Anyone who has ever been to San Francisco knows that you have to pay to play. The alternative would have meant driving to the City on Monday, and returning home, only to have to repeat the process both Tuesday and Wednesday. Sounds like fun, but not that much fun.
And then there was the Exploratorium. It sounds good; who doesn’t like to explore? I mean, besides me? We paid $25.00 apiece to enter the highly publicized facility, not having any idea what to expect. I just figured it was some kind of museum. As the kids these days so succinctly manage to sum things up: whatever. I had told Annie that I had no agenda, and was willing to tag along just about anywhere, pleased to allow them to do the decision-making.
I heard the commotion inside before we entered, rounding the corner and looking out into a hall that was filled with people of all ages, engaged in a variety of hands-on activities, requiring some degree of both investigation, and then coordination, to be able to manipulate. I was overwhelmed. Too much happening, with way too many people. I trailed along behind my companions, while I pondered the possibilities. I even saw going back to the room at the Holliday Inn, by myself, to be a distinct option.
I did not want to stop Annie and Lito from enjoying themselves, but I knew from past experience, that one look at me, and they would know something was amiss. So I decided to simply bail, get a cab back to the room, and wait for them to text me when they were done. But when I informed them of my decision, I found out that neither one of them was really any more excited about hanging around in such a chaotic environment, than I was. And that was that. I felt bad that I had prompted the quick departure, but I also knew there was no winning this battle. It all worked out well, because we went from the Exploratorium to the wharf, and all was good.
Now I am at home by myself, while Annie is in Willits, completing the time she is required to be quarantined, to allow the radiation to dissipate. The proverbial grass being greener on the other side, I wish I were back in that Exploratorium with her and Lito. Anything to not be by myself. Sometimes it’s easier to deal with the random chaos of those around you, than it is to deal with the chaos, right inside your head. If not easier, at least preferable.