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Tuesday, 17 May
You Don't Have To Go Home, But We're Not Open Yet

Upon deplaning following a perfectly smooth flight, the wife and I moved smartly through SFO to the BART station, where we would then catch a train to our stop at 16th St. Mission to meet our friends, J. and A.

And so right away I knew that San Francisco was a bit . . . weird. Not that the BART was a nightmare or anything, apart from the wildly intuitive ticket machines. "WELCOME TO BART TICKETING I AM EXTRACTING TWENTY DOLLARS FROM YOUR CREDIT CARD THAT IS OKAY RIGHT?" I yelped a while before figuring out the ridiculous little machine's little wiles and then promptly misread the fare rates and overpaid anyway. But that's not too weird, neither the laughably lo-fi technology, nor my unsurprising failure to really master same--not weird.

What's immediately weird about the BART is . . . who the fuck sets up a mass transit system and then carpets the trains? Rattling towards SF, I had nothing else to stare at but that carpet, whose unlovely grey and every-other-color-stained tones made it look a bit like someone had recently mown over a layer of diseased rats and called it good. I found myself engaging in truly unfortunate mental games such as Is That Vomit? and Which Looks Stickier?

Our tirelessly patient and accomadating hosts, J. and A. met us at the station, and by "met us" I mean "called us from their car." My phone rang. A: "Hey! You see the Payless Shoe Store?" I looked around at . . . well, bums and crazy people. "No," I said. "I see a Walgreen's," forgetting to add, "and also my impending assault by hoboes." "A Walgreen's?" A. sounded perplexed. "Okay, go to Walgreen's." None of this was making sense. Walgreen's? Pick us up! Where the fuck are you? It was like being sent to Fassbinder State Clown College to pick up a salami and two giraffes. Pick us up!

We had little choice. And, freakishly, the "Go To Walgreen's" gambit turned out well, as A. and J. did indeed meet us there, and even made the bold move of getting out of their car. Drunks eyed us weirdly, probably wondering, as I was, why two tourists with their damn luggage were being picked up at this inauspicious spot. We climbed in the car.

"I need a drink," said A. with a casual ferocity that quickened my pulse. "I agree!" we pealed, zooming down the street. Turns out that A.'s family had been staying with them for the last week, had in fact left just that day, making them 1. the best hosts in the world and 2. the most frazzled people in the world. A. revealed a story of two-year-olds and waking up VERY EARLY and going to bed VERY EARLY. "And very fucking sober," chimed in J.

We don't have to spend all that much time on the first night, since it is all variations on this theme: when we arrived at the apartment, J. hauled out three gigantic bottles, one of Jim Beam, one of Maker's, and one of Glenlivet. Brown liquor it is! Appropriately, since later on we all browned out a little bit, particularly after we went out to a bar for more.

The next day we went on a little hike over to Haight St. (you will find that we did a LOT of purely touristy things) and ambled along its busy sidewalks and cliche-spotted. "Green buds, green buds!" Psychedelia. Head shops. Presently we wandered over to Amoeba, the intimidatingly large music store that, I am given to understand, was formerly a bowling alley. A concrete cavern, Amoeba has the ambience of a particularly depressing mausoleam overrun by antlike creatures who plumb its grey depths, hunched over music racks, running through CDs with a chittering noise that fills the whole place. After only fifteen minutes or so, the insectile rattling of plastic on plastic got to me, and I started to have hallucinations that I was surrounded by thousands of chatterteeth Cenobites and soon hooks would descend on chains and rip me apart while Pinhead's booming laugh bounced off the gloomy walls. Plus, I already had three CDs picked out in that short time anyway, so I had to get the fuck out of there. J. and A. didn't even last that long.

Later that night the four of us went out to dinner at a lovely little crepe place called Ti Couze, which my brain unfortunately insisted on translating as "The Cooze," which is just what you want to be thinking about when contemplating a meal. We were joined by another couple of friends and dispelled any lingering cooze-associations by promptly ordering three bottles of wine and then a big pail of some kind of cider, which was then decanted into . . . bowls.

Like I say, SF is kind of weird. Whatever. We cheerfully Fidoed that shit down with a minimum of actual lapping at the bowls. Later, J. and A. begged off, citing exhaustion, while the other friends, one an old college friend of the wife's and the other being J.Z., a renowned pornographer, repaired to some loud dive joint called the Warm Ass or something like that, where they actually played Falco. Eventually, J.Z. drove us home, and we tiredly staved off her attempts to get us to do a bit part in her upcoming biblical porn opus called The Loads and the Bitches.

We met up with J.Z. again the next day to go to MOMA, thereby fulfilling that one undodgable requirement of traveling: MUST SEE ART! And boy did we! There were some interesting video installations, and also of course some stuff like a saloon door with some beer cans stuffed into its slats. There was another piece that looked like someone's closet had vomited. There was yet another piece called, I believe, "Women I'd Like to Fuck in Time," which is possibly unique in the art world for deriving its apparent inspiration from Throw Momma From the Train. At another display, I was staring at some terribly cramped and hard-to-look-at painting of some sort, and J.Z. piped up, "My friend Henry does art like this." "Oh, really?" I asked. "He's eight." she said. And that was it for us, as a storming case of the crying giggles forced us out of the room.

The next day was Monday, and so J. and A. had to go to work. The wife and I decided to roam again over to Haight--there was a bookstore there we wanted to hit--and then maybe wander back over to Divisadero area to scope things out, and then maybe back to the bar that we had gone to on our first night for a late afternoon cocktail. It's vacation! And this all worked out well, right up until four o'clock or so, when we finally did make it back to that bar.

It was closed.

Again, I must point out how weird San Francisco is about small shit like this. What kind of fucking bar doesn't open until four? DO THEY NOT HAVE BARFLIES IN THIS TOWN? Does NOBODY drink before five? Because, look, sometimes--vacation or no--you feel like a drink at two in the afternoon. I can't be alone in this. But this shit happened over and over. For instance, the day we went to MOMA, we wanted some lunch. I know, crazy! And let me also point out that that particularly day was Mother's Day. What did we find ALL OVER THE PLACE? Closed restaurants. Downtown. On Mother's Day.

Another example, though I admit part of this was all our fault. One day the wife and I were down by the Square, and just wandering around seeing what was what. And we fucked it all up: we walked right into the shopping district. Great. Prada. Sharper Image. D&G. Even if I could afford these fucking places, I can find this shit in Seattle. Or the internet. I began to hunt for a hole in the wall where I could escape the awful looming upscale retail, but I had picked exactly the wrong neighborhood. "Does this fucking town not have one goddamn hole in the wall where I can duck in for a drink and a sandwich?" Well, the answer is of course "yes," but not where we were, and in any case, it probably wouldn't open until five anyway. The wife helpfully pointed out a restaurant at one point. "It looks like it costs a million fucking dollars," I helpfully snarled. Don't you wish you were married to me?

We ended up in the Square morosely drinking a beer and a wine while staring at all the people with their fucking cell phones screwed into their ears. (Look, I finally got a cell phone, and I think it's dandy--and certainly useful--but there are times when I just want to go after these people with a heavy shovel. You know who I'm talking about.) In the end, however, we left kind of happier for sitting and peoplewatching if only because SF is a real dog town, and hey, people with dogs. [COUPON: Entitles the bearer to one free annoying public cell phone conversation provided they have a hilarious dog. Not valid with other offers.] I mentally rechristened the city as Bay of Dogs.

I'm about halfway done here, but I'm going to quit for tonight because my fingers are tired, particularly because I have a helluva time typing "San Francisco" for some dumb reason--I fuck it up almost every time--which explains the SFs sprinkled throughout. Also, this is long. But rest assured: I am not done detailing the many reasons why SF is so goddamned weird.

And I haven't even gotten to the bus tour of wine country.

That's a whole post all by itself.

Roam | Skot | 17 May, 2005 |

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Comments

The worst part is the people here think the gross carpeting is *normal*. Freaks.

Comment number: 005301   Posted by: Anil on May 17, 2005 11:18 AM from IP: 66.245.251.41

There are lots of afternoon bars in the Mission District. Mostly because there are a lot of really, really scary alcoholics down there.

Comment number: 005302   Posted by: aldahlia on May 17, 2005 03:52 PM from IP: 64.84.16.134

I'd also like to mention a lot of open day-time bars in the financial district. I know this because...I've seen them open.

Comment number: 005303   Posted by: Jason on May 17, 2005 04:27 PM from IP: 216.239.124.38

You missed out the bit about the BART having a perverse lack of signage, virtually no maps, and large electronic screens that scroll through the train arrival times once, briefly, every five minutes or so, then remain blank. Thus piquing your interest. Or saving electricity. Or making you regret blinking. Or something. Perhaps the general lack of usable information is designed to distract tourists from the skankiness. Or perhaps it's just to discourage further use. Either way, it's a piss-poorly designed and run system.

Comment number: 005304   Posted by: Mark on May 17, 2005 04:48 PM from IP: 63.121.30.223

FWIW, the Washington DC Metro is also carpeted.

Comment number: 005305   Posted by: FS on May 17, 2005 07:50 PM from IP: 12.64.114.199

see, i should read you more often, because i would have suggested that you go to the ha-ra. it's divey, the drinks are cheap, the bartenders are excellently surly, and i think it's pretty much open all day. although there are a few rules for the ha-ra...

Comment number: 005306   Posted by: koroshiya on May 18, 2005 07:39 AM from IP: 205.169.164.67

Don't forget the taxis. Of which there are FIVE.

Comment number: 005307   Posted by: Space Kitty on May 18, 2005 10:54 AM from IP: 66.194.2.9

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