We’ve been here three days in San Francisco and the highlights are many, already – but can also be reduced easily down to just two: time away from doing what we normally do and catching up with family we don’t get to see more than once or twice a year.
The chance to catch the bus around town brings with it so many overheard conversations. One man bumped into an old colleague and asked her how she was doing. He went from the oddly phrased “situations happen to the best to us” – which I took to mean he was in part saying absolutely nothing but within that he clearly didn’t consider her among the best – and the clichéd “you’ve just go to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going” to very quickly popping the odd question, “so, you’re getting a divorce then?” And here I was thinking they had worked together and lost contact due to a corporate restructuring. Next thing he’s quizzing her on how much rent she pays and whether she’ll even stay in the country. He asks how the ex is doing and she says he’s okay not that she really cares. He tells her he has no interest in ever seeing the guy he just asked about ever again. He asks so many questions – including a quick survey around Trump/Clinton preferences/predictions.
It’s odd hearing this – and I’m hardly even trying but our senses had been pricked as soon as we stepped off this stop.
On this bus there was an awful, awful smell. Almost every passenger had a hand cupped over their nose and mouth. Some were using two. One man was loudly proclaiming it “the worst fucking smell ever”. It was as if someone had passed out in the sun for three days covered in their own shit and someone else’s vomit. It was not great. Oddly, the man most overtly concerned with the smell moved to the front of the bus to take it up with the driver and though the smell did not move with him it disappeared a couple of stops later when he declared it all too much and stepped off early.
There are plenty of nutters on the streets of San Francisco. It’s an odd place – full of two halves always. Spots where it’s $4000 a month and more to rent have homeless crazies tuning strange frequencies from their heads and stolen shopping trolleys just outside. The best are the charismatic ones that aim for some brief entertainment and colour-commentary as they rattle their cup for change. One guy targeted Oscar with “have a word to your dad for me”.
“OKAY” Oscar beamed as we kept walking. Next breath the man is all “you leaving me already baby”, as an unimpressed and far too important businesswoman brushes past with her bag on wheels, late for too many meetings and with just enough time to have stopped for drip-coffee.
A guy who was clearly channelling very early Tom Waits bugged us to buy his drawings at a bus stop. I’m sure the piano had been drinking, not him…
Some guy dressed in his civvies loudly announced – in one of the best book shops you could ever hope to get to – that Picasso was actually a genius. It was news to him it seems. News just in. He had read it in a book. News he just had to spread. Spread it he did. But none of us cared. We were too focussed on narrowing down our want-lists. Because a) aren’t we all. And b) those bags aren’t going to squeeze themselves shut in a few weeks.
I keep reminding myself that we’re on holiday and that’s why I’m overhearing – and oversharing – so much. American people speak in movie dialogue. TV phrases pile-up and knock down any chance of an awkward silence. And because I’m not at work, and open to new sights and sounds it means I have the time – and heightened, eager senses – to hear these phrases I’ve heard before on shows and in the grooves of records: the pitch and tone and timbre. The absurdity and poetry of it all. The poetic absurdity. Absurd poetry. Beautiful and baffling in equal measures.
We went on the carousel at the zoo and I thought of so many suspenseful moments in thriller films where the scared mom protecting her child is stalked by the deranged ex-lover or neighbourhood psychopath, tiptoeing past the wooden horses with garish, glazed clown-faces. It was only me and Oscar on the ride, me holding him as he held the horse and the horse held its ground but I looked over my shoulder to imagine a Cape Fear character stalking us. I was, for a split second, disappointed to remember that this is still real life – not just the reel life I’ve lived for so long.
I’ve found Terry Reid records and free comic-strip zines and I haven’t even – exactly – been looking.
I’m reading a book about how society is obsessed with being outraged and one about how to calm thyself. I figure I’ll find some version of the truth not only between the lines but in the spaces between each volume.
There will be museum visits in the coming days, and other friends to catch up with, great food – new cities to go to too. I’ve been to San Francisco once before and I’m a little bit amazed I’ve remembered so much; so much of this place seems very familiar and similar and I like it a lot. It’s like a bigger, friendlier version of where I’m from. There’s more to do, and more seems to be about celebration – about positivity, about enjoyment, exploration. It’s both more urgent and more laidback.
There’s heart and soul here.
And when there’s not there’s frozen yoghurt and a happy, skipping four and a half year old, a wife and best friend who is no longer tied to long hours. I’m checking my Facebook feed a quarter as often as I used to. And I’m sleeping a little bit longer too.
America feels warm to me in so many ways.
We were sunburnt yesterday through cloud-cover and fog.