Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Studying 'No-Cal'"

The last time we went to San Francisco, we flew.

It took us half an hour to park our car at the L.A. airport, and shuttle over to the terminal.

We waited two hours at the Departure Gate, because the terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center ten years ago.

We waited two additional hours, because the plane to San Francisco was delayed by fog.

And the flight itself took an hour.

Making it: Five and a half hours.

To go to San Francisco by plane.

This time, we drove.

Total Travel Time: Six hours and ten minutes.

Slightly longer, but a significantly better experience. We avoided the adventure of being suspended thirty-five thousand feet in the air.

And we had considerably more legroom.

But, being our ages, we did a lot of stopping along the way. To stretch. And for other reasons. Riding "Shotgun" allowed me the opportunity to notice stuff along the way. One thing I noticed was that, as a result of our frequent "Rest Stop" intermissions, we passed the same motor home three times.

I can’t imagine what they thought about that.

“I must be seein’ things. The same people passed us three times!

Even if you stop a lot, six hours is a long time to spend sitting in a car. To temper the tedium, we took along Books On Tape, or, more accurately, Books On CD.

We started with American On Purpose, a memoir written by "late night" host, Craig Ferguson, and read by the writer himself. It was chatty and entertaining. Almost like having Craig Ferguson sitting in the back seat, telling us about his life. But better.

When we got tired of hearing about Craig Ferguson’s life, we could eject the CD, and listen to the radio. If the man were actually sitting there, you’d have to either say, “Could you shut up for a while, Craig?”, or throw the guy out of the car.

San Francisco is a gem. Beautiful. Compact. Great air. And lots of hills, making it distinctive, but in some cases, problematic. If I were an old person living in San Francisco, I would never go out of the house. And if I did, and I lived in a place that was higher than the place I was heading to, I would never be able to get home.

“I can see my house from down here, but I can’t get back. Will you tell my family I'm here?"

I mean, you could take a cab back, but it would be like,

“Where to?”

“The top of this block.”

I don’t think they’d like that. But who knows? Maybe San Francisco cab drivers are used to old people doing that, and they don't even charge them.

The San Francisco vibe feels like “New York Junior.” It’s bustling with energy. Making it a bracing antidote to laid back L.A. I don’t know which city is actually older, but San Francisco feels like it carefully studied L.A., and as an overall concept, decided that their city would be “Not like that. Possibly even the opposite.” Which, in many ways, it is. It definitely opposite weather.

Though I’m by no means a "Clothes Person", my sartorial “Holy Grail” is finding a great pair of shoes. In L.A., I am always disappointed. Even in L.A.’s finest menswear stores, the "Dress Shoe" selection – I’m looking for something for Anna’s wedding – looks like it’s from 1962.

Lace-up shoes with those stitches on the "toe." Loafers with tassels. Loafers with “gold” decorations – linked chains or interlocking "Chinese Puzzle" designs. I never liked these styles the first time around. And yet, somebody must, because they never go away.

The last pair of nice shoes I bought was more than four years ago, in Rome. The shoes in Rome are sensational. All of them. I don’t know why they don’t just fly a bunch of them over here. Maybe they do, but somewhere over the Atlantic, they mysteriously transform into the kind of shoes they’d wear on Mad Men.

I know it’s a cliché to think that a city with a large gay population would be the answer my shoe-searching quest. That’s such a stereotype, don’t you think?

In the first San Francisco menswear store we went into, I saw three pair of shoes that were to die for. I bought one of them. (Not one shoe, one pair.) I could tell they were special, which was confirmed when I later showed them to Anna, who anointed them “A 'Ten’!” Unlike her Dad, that girl has taste.

Telltale signs you’re in San Francisco, or its environs. This falls under the dictum:

“By their toiletries shall ye know them."

In total, we were away for three nights. Because of our itinerary, we were required to spend each night in a different place. To confine my observations to a manageable length, I have limited my focus to “bathroom condiments.” Consider them – as I do – representative of the prevailing, No-Cal (Northern California) motif.

Provided in the Bathrooms In Sample-Sized Plastic Bottles:

Hotel Number One

Citrus de Vigne Bath and Shower Gel.

Soy Shampoo.

Pomegranate Conditioner.

Welcome to San Francisco.

Hotel Number Two

Aloe Vera Skin Care Bar.

Relaxing Sea Fennel Body Lotion.

Detoxifying Sea Kelp Shampoo.

Welcome to (nearby) Sonoma County.

On the third night, we were invited to stay at the home of our wonderful friends, Joan and David, in Berkeley. When people invite you to stay at their house, it is not polite to expose their bathroom appurtenances to public adjudication, so I won’t. Suffice it to say that their sample-sized plastic bottles in the Guest Bathroom took no back seat to the Aloe Vera and the Sea Kelp. Who knows? Maybe they took them from the hotels.

Tomorrow: A fundraiser buffet, featuring wild boar, duck bacon and braised quail. I had absolutely nothing to eat.


This is not bullshit or buttering you up, and I would have left it as a comment yesterday, but I got "Brain Freeze" and somehow couldn't figure out how to do it.

The comments people wrote yesterday on the topic of "Greatness" were among the most penetrating and insightful I have ever received. I feel honored and humbled that you would take the time to write such extended, personal and thought-provoking observations.

Thank you.

And I mean it.

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