Thursday, February 5, 2009

txting san francisco

Author's note: Over the weekend, my husband and I flew up to San Francisco to celebrate our birthdays in the town where we met, fell in love, got married, and had a child. As this was the first time that we had left our two girls in the care of someone else for this long a period, there was an understandably hefty amount of phone calls exchanged to check in and reassure them that we were, in fact, planning on coming back home to them. Eventually. But not until we had eaten our collective weight in food, San Francisco style. One of the more delightful (and least anticipated) bi-products of the trip was the copious amount of texts exchanged with our 10-year-old daughter in particular, which inadvertently served as a date-stamp travelogue. Here, then, is a to-the-minute recap a few of our favorite highlights from the trip, as well as some of what happened at home while we were gone.

Friday
January 30, 2009

11:57:43 AM
@ Julia

Touchdown! We flew right over Malibu and home. It was so cool!

Normally, you prefer to fly out of Burbank, as it's more accessible from home, and getting into Oakland, and from there, San Francisco, is much easier. But this time, you thought you'd try LAX. This decision added nearly two hours to your travel time, but you're not complaining. Flying up the coast, following Highway 1, you gained a better perspective on the wild frontier you call home, this rough and rugged and righteous jewel at the edge of the continent, this swath of coast and desert and mountains, forged from violent volcanoes millions of years now dormant, that always pulls you back, pulls you back, no matter where in the world you go.

12:19:46
@ sister-in-law

We're here! We are both in a puddle!

What can you say about catching sight of the City skyline, huddled precariously on landfill at the edge of the Bay, as it comes into view from 10,000 feet? There's the Transamerica Pyramid, and 525 Market Street, your old building, and 555 California Street, the tallest building in the City. Over there is the Bay Bridge, a gigantic structure that somehow manages to be both elegant and utilitarian at the same time. In the center of the Bay is Alcatraz, and beyond that, the Golden Gate Bridge, bright and bold and noble. People save up their entire lives to see that bridge. You feel proud, and possessive (that's your bridge, this is your town), and eager to share it with anyone else who finds it just as achingly beautiful.

12:23:44 p.m.
@ sister-in-law
re: meeting up for Hunan

We are totally flexible and will work around your schedule. Are you driving or taking BART? We are just leaving SFO right now...

And so begins the food fest that will return you home feeling five pounds heavier and oh, so happy. In a city that claims more restaurants per capita than any other place in the U.S., the best Hunan you've found is above Broadway, on Sansome. You used to walk there after work with your boyfriend, before he was your husband, making the trek from Market Street, working up an appetite for meat pie and Chinese chicken salad and green beans.

But the Hunan reunion won't be for another seven hours. For now, you are content to ride the shuttle from the terminal to the new BART station. Happy to settle into your seat on the train, to smell the familiar, underground punch of electricity and humidity and humanity. Content to people watch while the train screams and shudders through the tunnels. Ecstatic when you finally climb above ground to the suburbs, where the sun is shining with blinding clarity, and the homes that march up and down the hillsides in tidy, Monopoly-style fashion look like ribbon candy — pink and yellow and green home-sweet-homes to thousands who are willing to pay the high price of living here.

12:23:56
from Susan (sister and your replacement for the long weekend)

I'm outside school right now. Have fun!

As your BART train burrows its way into downtown, you have to stop salivating a moment and wonder at the people in your life who grease the wheels, who graciously stand in when you need a rest from the heavy lifting.

393 miles south of where you are at this moment, Susan is picking up your oldest from school. It's no small thing to entrust the complexity of your life and the love at the center of that life to someone else. But with your sister, you don't have to think twice. She is there, waiting, as promised. School will be out soon, and your daughter will have someone to feed her and listen to the drama of her day and tell her how cool a kid she is — someone, that is, who will do her best to meet her every need.

You thank her with this:

1:32:36
@ Susan

Within seconds of getting off the Powell Street train, we were sampling tri tip, pizza, and quesadillas in the food area.

It was not a pretty sight. Neither you nor your husband had had anything yet to eat that day, which meant that blood sugar was understandably low. But that's a thin excuse for what happened, and you know it. Because even if you had stuffed yourself before setting foot in the Westin San Francisco Center food court, you still would have consumed the tri tip and pizza and quesadilla on offer. You're not crazy. You might not take a second pass through the court for additional bites of tri tip as you did this time around, but that's just pure speculation.

In the end, none of the generous vendors got your money that afternoon (though you would make up for it on Saturday). After much circling and debating and stomach growling, you "settled" on sharing a salad and sandwich from Bristol Farms.

Dessert (after-lunch dessert, remember, because this is still San Francisco and you are still on vacation) consisted of Beard Daddy cream puffs (plural, because you were sharing) and Peet's latt├ęs, both of which proved the existence of a mighty God, and then it was time to check in to the hotel.

2:54:31
from Julia

I love you!!!

Enter the 10-year-old, complete with her big-as-the-ocean heart and passion for multiple exclamation marks. In her honor, you will give out more money than you usually do to the homeless that you meet, as you know that this is something she would beg you to do if she were there with you. She is on her way to dance class thanks to the gracious assistance of yet another person in your life. Checking in to the Hilton on Union Square, you mentally tick off another task successfully delegated, and wonder if you could get away with doing something like this more often.

4:20:52
@ Susan

We are at St. Dom's. Fr. Cassidy is still alive and kicking.

You almost talked yourselves out of it. The first Geary Street MUNI bus that passed you by was packed with commuters, and you weren't sure you were up for the balancing act that's required when you're standing on a bus that's throwing itself up and down hills with willful abandon. That was your commuter life, back when you worked for Wells Fargo and lived in Pacific Heights, and then Hayes Valley.

But you decided to give the next bus a shot. It was only just past four, after all — well ahead of rush hour.

So worth it.

It'd been a long time since you took the bus anywhere, and that's a shame. Because riding the bus in a big city grounds you, puts you eye at level with everyone else who's going your way, moves you into a meditative place as someone else gets to worry about the traffic and lights and getting there.

When you booked the trip, you decided that you wouldn't rent a car, that any place you wanted to visit this time through had to be reached by foot, taxi, or public transit. This skirted the ever-present challenge of finding and paying for parking. It also forced you to take San Francisco in on its own terms, to see things the way they were meant to be seen: deliberately. To jostle and sidestep, to join the hustle and flow.

The MUNI dropped you at Fillmore Street, which used to be the boundary line for your first apartment. You walked up the street, then down again, marveling at the number of chocolate shops, the coffee stores, the specialty home goods stores that are somehow managing to survive the current economic environment.

Then it was on to St. Dominics. This is where you were married, where you walked yourself down the longest church isle in the City, where you messed up your vows when you promised to take him to be your "wife-I-mean-husband!"

This is where your first child was baptized, and where your husband received the majority of his first sacraments. And so this is one of the first places you go when you're in the City, the place where you feel the most at home when you are a guest in town.

4:57:43 p.m.
@ sister-in-law

We're waiting for a bus out of the Presidio.

After St. Dom's, you make the five block hike up to where you used to live on Presidio. This area of town is residential, and it's a quiet afternoon. Tomorrow, the place will be buzzing with strollers and cyclists and power walkers with coffee in hand and a copy of the Chron tucked under one arm. For right now, though, you have the neighborhood to yourself.

This is where you want to end up. Eventually. Maybe after the girls are grown, or at least in high school. When you don't need a yard any more. Or a car, for that matter. When it's just the two of you again. And if you can't swing it before then, this is where you want to end out your days, writing, remembering.

5:53:54 p.m.
@ sister-in-law

We are walking to Sansome right now and will meet you there.

Back downtown now, dwarfed by towering steel and glass canyons in the grey half-light of a Friday evening. You take a walk past 525 Market Street, the building that once had a cheap cafeteria on the third floor where you'd go for lunch when you were broke and working as a legal secretary. It was during one of these lunch hours that you first laid eyes on your husband, and immediately determined that you needed to get a job in this place so that you could meet him. Lucky for you, that's exactly what happened.

With time to kill before meeting his sister and her husband, you take familiar back alleys to see if your favorite Dim Sum place is still there (it is), to see if there really is a grove of Redwood trees planted in front of the Transamerica Pyramid Building (there are), to peak into the steamy kitchens of hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurants where the bang and clatter of silverware tossed about by busboys elbows deep in dishwater makes you glad to be alive.

Then it was on to Sansome Street, to wait outside on some steps near the restaurant, hungry and sore from walking, eager to see family, but content for the moment to just sit, and listen to City as it stirred awake to night life, and be.

Next post: Saturday shopping, massage, only-in-San-Francisco-theatre, food, and a shameful science experiment.
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