Sunday, March 28, 2010

October 15, 2009 Day 6: San Francisco

I got in an early flight, ugly early flight. I woke up in the morning at 3am left the hotel at 4am to make sure I caught my 6am flight. I can blow a train early in my trip, but I can't miss a flight towards the end of my trip. The flight was full and luckily, fairly quick, a tad over 2hrs.

I had only 4-5hours of sleep last night so when I went directly to the hotel arriving around 930am, of course there were no rooms ready yet. So I left my bags and went strolling through San Franciso. Random walking, no rain, so it was great. I wandered out past Union Square, not knowing that later in the afternoon, this place would be mobbed by crowds waiting to glimpse Pres. Obama's arrival. I almost stayed at that Westin Hotel that he was staying at. But I chose a boutique hotel a mere 2 blocks down. No regrets.

Then it started to rain and I ducked into a super cuts where a little Asian lady talked me into a trim. Some Asians take an "American" name, her real name was Hong, but when she answered the phone "...this is Holly." Go figure.

While I was getting the hair cut two firetrucks stopped right in front of the store, earthquake preparedness drills. Of course.I was there on the 20th Anniversary of the Loma Linda earthquake. Lovely.

By the time I wandered back to my hotel, they had a room for me. Corner room, facing a brick wall and the building next door. No problem, I wasn't here for the view in my room.

But when I came in, I turned on the TV and Falcon Heene's story was unfolding live. I once watched my 3yr old niece cry over the balloon that got away from her, my brother was traumatize (he says) when he lost his balloon, all I could think about was a frightened little boy. Thank God he was fine.

I watched it, riveted to the coverage, then I fell asleep. My meanderings through Seattle and my early morning flight took their revenge on me in the form of a crazy migraine headache, the kind only sleep can cure.

I had The Ruse gig I said I would go to. So I got up from my nap and went out around 7pm. It was a Thursday night but there was a lot of activity because of the President’s presence. So I stopped to talk to the doorman, ask how safe tonight would be if I walked back to the hotel. Well, he said it should be ok, lots of people around and it should be a good 20min walk. He didn't think I'd be able to find a cab. He didn’t understand; I was asthmatic recovering from knee therapy and you want me to walk all over San Francisco at night? I was being a baby, so I marched up the alley and proceeded to walk.

The street was still full of car traffic, but pedestrian traffic was very sparse. I thought to myself, if it’s this empty at 7pm how is it going to be around 11 or 12? I shrugged, I've walked through darker alleys, been through deeper dramas and survived, I wasn’t about to let a little thing like walking in a strange city alone deter me would I?
I had a nice dinner at a little restaurant, Chai Yo Thai Noodle, a few doors down from Kimo’s, the bar The Ruse was going to play at. Yummy salmon wrapped in banana leaves served with veggies and a green chili dipping sauce. To top it off I had Singha beer, nom nom.

Next door to the restaurant, attached to it actually, was an ice cream parlor. It had halo-halo ice cream. I asked for just one scoop, it was the biggest friggin scoop of ice cream I’d ever gotten for $3! I chewed it because it was melting too fast. There is all kinds of stuff in halo-halo ice cream, strings of young coconut, sweet red beans, as well as the strange sort of purplish tinge. The purple was from the ube (a purple yam).

After I finished shoving that down my throat, I walked out and there was the band just coming out of their short bus. It looks like a short bus, but it was all white, a private little touring bus. It was nice, from the outside.

I asked if Jason was there because he was the one responding to me on Twitter and I got introduced to him. Next thing I know, I met the rest of the band and John, the lead singer and I are standing on the corner just hanging out and chatting.

     It was the coolest thing, me and the rocker.

Kimo’s is a neighborhood corner bar, dark, dingy, hole-in-the-wall where everyone one knows your name. Except mine.

It was an older crowd, not the kind you think would be going to a gig with 4 rock bands. One guy came up to John and I. He was nattily dressed. He had on light colored pants(I didn’t see the shoes, but it should have been white saddle shoes to match his outfit), he had on a dark blazer and a stripped button down shirt neating tucked into his pants. He said he was 72yrs old, he looked older to me. He was as bald as a melon, with a neat grey moustached. I’m sure in his time he was a dashing young man.

Another rich story, he came back to San Francisco after living in New Orleans, but after the Katrina storm and resulting flood, where he watched all his belongings in his house float away, he left New Orleans and came to San Francisco. I asked about the neighborhood and John remarked how he’d been here before a long time ago and it seemed to have cleaned up.

The old timer was telling us about how the neighborhood used to be full of street hustlers, young men propositioning people as they walked down the street. I couldn’t be sure, but I did a little investigating on the internet and I thought I saw that Kimo’s used to be a drag bar. But upon arrival, I did see a small sign “New Management”. But you can’t lose the clientele you have, so I had this suspicion about the old timer. But it doesn’t make any difference to me; I thought he was a riot. He told me that if I saw people on the sidewalk, don’t worry, they won’t do anything to me because they’ll be afraid their friends will snitch them out!

He was out there standing, talking to us telling us his story; which took much longer than it needed because he would inadvertently stop talking in the middle of his sentences. At first, I thought it was because he was old and forgetful. Until he finally admitted as he snapped out of one moment:

    “I am so stoned.” Yes.

    I was right, he was definitely an old time hippie.

The bands were playing in the second floor. The room was small, crowded and hot. The music was rocking, good and loud. What more could I ask for? Oh yeah, a shout out from the band to the crowd declaring how I came flying down from Seattle to see them. I kept trying to tell them, I came from Chicago, but well, after a few beers, who cares?

I left right after The Ruse played, but not before I met the president of the longshoreman’s union in Canada. I swear, I met so many people from all walks of life, for a minute I forgot who I was and was going to start calling myself Jack Kerouac. I still have his business card, Tom, president of a union, pretty much a big shot right? Yup, I met him in dark bar and traded stories about the trains. He said he used to jump on until they got kicked out. He said he road the rails as a younger man. It was so odd to see this guy, probably 50+ in this out of the way place and he finds me to talk to!

I took my leave and quickly made my way back to the hotel. Yes, there were spots that were dark and too quiet, but I’m from Chicago, what do I have to fear? There were a lot of panhandlers and street people in the area. But I wove my way though up and down the hills. There was one spot that was dark because there was a large tree next to the side walk, and I could see at least 4 people loitering in the dark. I crossed the street and walked in the light.

On the corner, by my hotel, there is a Walgreens drug store, the same panhandler always stands there, it’s like his territory. I would see him push his paper cup up to anyone passing by. I saw him as I walked towards him, he saw me, he gave me the once up and down, but when I passed, he left me alone. In the streets, that’s respect. I felt so proud of myself. I got respect from a homeless man.

I know it sounds strange, but think about it. This man stands on that street day in day out, he sees all kinds of people, that he’s still standing there also tells of his ability to survive. He can tell a sucker when he sees one. And he can tell who he can’t mess with. I was one of the latter. You can’t imagine, after the keen look he gave me, how assuring that was to me.

I went in to my room, safe and sound and I slept like a baby. I left the windows open and heard the sounds of the city and strangely enough, on that night, it was a comfort.

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