San Francisco is Other People

In the course of getting to and from San Francisco, Penelope and I traveled above ground and below it, slow and fast, carrying things and dragging them. We went for an illustration conference, to see the city and to see our friends: Katrina, Christine, Mati and Kate, but along the way we encountered lots of other people too - people we had no intention of encountering.

There was the skinny retired trucker in the BART station, spindly legs and yellow-lensed glasses, describing the shakes he used to get after his one accident that forced him to give up trucking. 22 years, he said.

There were the quiet Frenchmen and women on the flight from Atlanta, peering out the window at this vast foreign nation scrolling beneath them, reading their intriguingly indecipherable magazines.

There was the tanned, overweight teenager on the second leg of our journey, twiddling with her nose ring and listening to her Walkman.

There was the meek Italian waitress with a cryptic tattoo on her twiglike wrist, who looked directly into our eyes but only for a moment and spoke so softly it was like a leaf blowing.

There was the slut in the airport shuttle, clutching a cardboard mailing tube and spilling out of her tank top. "To the Hyde," she told the driver, before flipping open her cell phone.

There was the man with staggering body odor, wedged into seat 16A of the tiny commuter jet that took us from Cleveland to Indianapolis, fogging the skies over Ohio in his wake.

There was the persistent bum, who hit us up for change only seconds after we'd said no, and our friend had already given him a few quarters. "Uh, we just told you we don't have any change..." we explained. "Maybe a change of heart," he said. "Maybe you had a change of heart."

There was the other homeless man, who wanted to sell me a newspaper or sexually assault me in prison, but got turned down on both offers.

Getting on the ferry from Tiburon there was a nice bicyclist lady from Virginia and her asshole husband, who yelled across the parking lot at me, demanding to know when the boat was arriving. Like *I* know.

There was the novice front-desk clerk, smiling and checking us in but not really knowing how to do much else. She tried, then referred us to the concierge, who sat at her desk across the lobby glaring severely at her monitor, tapping away at the keys.

There was the automated phone voice that woke us up in the morning, for some reason always a few minutes after seven.

There was the smiling Japanese woman who took my picture beside the Golden Gate bridge, who knew right away how to operate my digital camera.

There was the kind, heavy woman with tired eyes and a little boy, waiting for the MUNI to come pick us up, passing the time spotting exotic cars with her son. "That was a Bentley," he said, looking up. "Ah, you didn't know until you saw the 'B,'" she smiled down at him. "Nuh-uh," he laughed. "I knew before then. I could tell."

There was the tireless young pair outside the supermarket, asking me and everybody else if we had a moment to talk about solar power.

There was the tall, wary Chinese man behind the camera shop counter, who sold me two blank CDs for a dollar each, even though his mom said a dollar fifty.

There was the chipper, hip girl on the fifth floor of the used record store, who told me I couldn't take any pictures in there unless I got say-so from the manager. I apologized and said I was just pleased to see used records above the ground for once, and she laughed and apologized too. I still couldn't take the picture, though. Security reasons.

And the pushy cable car operator who told everyone where to go and how to stand and to give him some money. A lot of people in San Francisco want you to give them some money.

And the stylish Japanese valley girl in the sushi bar, yapping to her friend about their other friend, who is totally self-centered and only wants to talk about herself.

And the cheery Australians who rented me a really nice bicycle with "Blazing Saddles" on the front, billing a $500 deposit to my credit card in case I rode away and never came back. One, in a blue hat, showed me how to work the seat adjuster and the brakes and levers, saying, "This shifter on the left you probably won't use. You'll probably use the bell more often than these gears." He was right.

And the loud lady in line to register for the illustration conference, who was definitely *sponsored* and needed to be in the right line for people who are *sponsored* and oh aren't you *sponsored* and surely you aren't *paying* for this, right?

And the drunk hilljack in the bar in Tiburon, telling jokes about eight-point bucks having their way with hunters.

And the teenager with the wallet chain and black t-shirt who could not stand to have me walk up the hill faster than him, and withered noticeably when he would get stuck at a light and I would catch up beside him.

And the elderly Asian man in North Beach, who came around the corner, took one look at me and bellowed furiously, as I had obviously maligned his honor and had to be killed right there on Columbus Avenue. (That's when we met the Italian waitress, quick.)

And the wonderful older women eating cookies in the bookstore in Sausalito, where I bought an autographed copy of "Candyfreak" and explained why I was interested - because this guy visited chocolate factories and wrote about it, and that's kind of like some of my assignments for Nuvo. The owner woman scolded me for not having written a book yet so she could feature it in her store window.

And the laid-back SFO security checker guy, who guessed right away that my belt buckle was what was setting off the scanner.

And my favorite - the snotty old lady in the seat in front of us, who bitched about giving up her aisle seat to a young mother with an infant, then over the course of a five-hour flight won our hearts by warming up to the child, eventually even holding her for a while so the mother could rest her back, and by tending patiently to *her* mother in the seat beside her, who was suffering from Alzheimer's and could not remember things like what city they were going to or whether her great-grandchildren were boys or girls.


I knew there would be a stories from San Francisco. I just didn't realize how many characters would be in them.

I thought it would be me, Penelope, the city, and the friends. I'm awfully glad I was wrong.


christine said...

I'm so glad that I got to play an eensy weensy part in the story, though. It was so wonderful finally meeting you and Penelope. I hope we get to share--no, create--more stories together.

p.s. I love this entry! One of my favorite parts of the trip was sitting in any number of spots and just watching people.

Arnie said...

So yeah, when does that book come out?

Anonymous said...

What a splendid travel piece. I felt I was with you every step of the way. May I, with your blessing, borrow this approach sometime?

Colin said...

No problem, Anonymous. It was about the only way I could figure out to assign any kind of order to five days' worth of random observations. I hope it works for you too.