March 25, 2008

Arriving In San Francisco

My mother opened my door, allowing light to spill in from the hallway. “Time to get up!” she called out.

“Nneoow,” Isis complained from her nest in the pillows beside my head, glaring at me with slitted yellow eyes. She echoed my own thoughts, but as I reached over the rub her ears she inevitably began to purr. I waited a few more moments and then heaved myself out of bed and into my jeans.

The shower was running as I wandered downstairs to make my coffee. I brushed my teeth and pulled the tangles out of my hair as I waited for the water to heat. I am ignoring the television when my mother comes down and bustles about in the kitchen. I sip my coffee. When I hear the dishwasher door open, I get up to put my boots on. It is still dark as the garage door goes up.

My mother listens to KFAB, the local talk radio station.

“This week in congress, Democrats blocked the government’s ability to get wiretaps on terrorists!” I don’t know who was speaking, but he certainly spoke with enough anger and disdain to make me long for gangster rap. It was scary, the things he was saying and the way he was saying it. Even though I know exactly what he was talking about and stood firmly on the other side. I always wondered how GW got elected the second time, and now I know. Whoever the commentator was, I hope he doesn’t give himself an ulcer. I know I couldn’t live with that much seething vitriol in my tummy.

It was becoming lighter as we passed the stubby downtown towers, the gleaming lantern of the First National Tower, and the solid box of the Woodman Tower. At the airport, I kissed my Mom and gathered up my bag and wandered into the unhurried flow of early morning travelers. The Omaha airport is small and quiet, comparatively. Only one terminal, not a single moving walkway in sight.

My connecting flight at Denver had been cancelled. I stood patiently while the check-in lady diligently typed on her keypad to find a flight without too much additional delay. I was out of Omaha on time, on a little three by three seat puddle jumper, and into Denver before I was even hungry enough for breakfast.

Denver is a big airport. People are either hurrying madly or sitting still. It seems to be one endless row of gates after another, all connect by the smoothly flowing walkways and bright glassy atriums, with shopping malls in between. I was sixth on the stand by list. I didn’t think anyone could butcher my name, simple as it is, but I was wrong. Still, I hurried up to the desk when I thought I heard it called and was swiftly on my way to San Francisco on a big Boeing 757 – or, as I measure planes, a three by five by three. Of course, I was in the middle of the middle, without a view of the mountains I had never crossed, but I took the opportunity to read.

The San Francisco airport was much like the Denver airport, but with more levels – down to baggage claim, back up to the air-train, back down to the subway. Travelling in such places is somewhat like navigating a maze, one of my favorite childhood games, and I take a foolish pride in my ability to do it well. The train was the in station when I made it to the subway, or the BART as it is called. I settled into my seat and a few moments later learned I had guessed wrong. The train swiftly headed north and I found myself facing south, having chosen the wrong direction seat, not terribly comfortable, though not unbearable. There was a woman a few seats ahead of me, chatting amicably with the man in front of her. I eavesdropped.

The young man explained how California is so liberal, but it can be intollerant and sanctimoneous. If you don't recycle or do other things for the environment they think you're lazy or stupid or just not as enlightened as them, he explained, when it may be that where you come from you just might not have the opportunity. But for the most part people were very laid back because of all the pot, he added with a smile.

“That should be me,” I thought. The breezy and beautiful girl from the Midwest who strikes up an impromptu conversation from the gregarious San Francisco musician just returning home from a gig. The one who makes an immediate friend and gets the scoop on a great band at a great club. But no, I just sat and listened and looked out the window as the train pulled away from the airport on an elevated track.

The trees were different. That was the first thing I noticed. And the foothills are right there, dotted with houses, almost mountains in their own right, but not quite. The sky is blue and they have Jack In the Box and In N Out Burger joints. Soon the train dipped underground. Mom would hate the subway. It was loud and she would have to take out her hearing aids. She hadn’t wanted me to go to San Francisco. “It’s full of weirdoes!” she told me. I had laughed at her.

A big crowd got on at the Civic Center Station. I made room on the seat beside me for a young woman about my age with a medical textbook. A man and a woman, both dressed in suites and trench coats, entered through different doors and rushed for the empty seat which was between them. The man made it into the double seat, and the woman promptly sat down in the outer of the two seats. The man didn’t sit. He asked the woman to move, I don’t know why. It wasn’t safe, he told her. He was quite upset, even threatened to sue her. She simply sat, head turned away from him, and neither moved nor answered. Finally he warned her he was going to touch her. He warned her three times and then pushed his way past her and back out into the open space near the door, were he could stand and hold onto a rail, muttering about crazy people. I found both their behavior passing strange.

“Well, what do you know,” I thought, “there are weirdoes here.”

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