SoloFriday

There’s something to be said for a solo Friday as a woman in San Francisco.

Alack and alas, I am inherently a social creature, and nothing is more calming than a Friday night in a French cafe, overlooking Washington Square Park. At the corner of startup and ’69, the sun lingers lazily (as it so cliched-ly does) over the pulsating limbs of Monterey Pines, and the sun sets behind chilly tourists and bustling locals as they move to their meal, their mistress, or their next martini. A golden glow fitted by the fog settles over North Beach, and the sea-birthed wind sweeps across the parked Teslas and Vespas that cross continents and generations of dreamers and schemers. An unexpectedly calm evening and chilly wind places me gingerly in a corner booth, a drink for one, a moment for me. Acoustic semi-francophone music brings a smile to my lips and a mischievous glance to my eye.

I’m flying solo and decently attractive – a near-30 blue-eyed firecracker with an expressive face and a ready laugh, but not turning any heads. I’m seated near the window, placed at the front of a half filled restaurant, in front of passing crowds. My glass of red sits lazily beside my iPad, as I struggle with the non-touch and sound, getting used to the fact that I am typing on glass and nothing else.

They seat another woman next to me – younger, more pulled together than I. Whereas I enjoy my bright blue Adidas (complimented by the waitress, I must add), pants normally relegated to lazy Sundays and sick days, with hair hastily twisted into something that resembles a style, she is perfect. On-trend chambray, delicate blush and perfectly tousled hair. She sits facing the window while I position myself sideways (I tell myself that facing out seems intimate, voyeuristic, confrontational, but really I just hadn’t thought of sitting forwards.)

The staff from the next-door haberdashery come outside for a smoke, styled and coiffed in just-so trousers and rascally grins. I think of my fine lines and an extra ten pounds. My also-solo companion’s makeup is perfect. I worry about ragged cuticles, and being the weird girl typing in the corner of the restaurant. An accordion comes over the stereo and I think of Amelie and Creme brûlée and studying in France and being 19. The waitress smiles at me across the room.

It could be 1920, or 1950, or 2030, depending on the technology and how often people look at their phones. San Francisco whirs around me, and I drink my wine. And write my story. And sink into stillness, and peace, and nostalgia. Creativity comes from melancholy, from thoughtfulness. And I sit alone on a Friday night, adoring the window pane laced twinkly lights and comrade-in-solo.

Unfortunately, she’s brisk with the waitress, to the point of rude and abrupt, and I look down at my virtual Vanity Fair and drown myself in Wolcott and Fanfair. After paying the bill and downing her glass of Shiraz, she leaves, perfectly belted trench coat flapping in the wind as she urgently strides north.

I order another glass. The sky is on fire.

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The weekends I love living in SF the most are the laziest ones. Other busy weekends, when you can’t find a parking spot / wait 45 minutes for a donut / get ignored by a salesperson / attempt to look hip at a party you’re way to old at (heard it from a friend) / navigate the treachery that is the maze into Oakland, the “charms” of San Francisco are lost on me. One look at my monthly rent, and I wonder why I haven’t split for the ‘burbs or East Bay yet.

This weekend was without agenda, and as a result showcased everything wonderful about living in this city, including a concert, a culinary adventure, and a lazy sunday with a climb. Also was tranquil, and calm, and lovely. Until I got stuck behind a Segway Tour.

Fun fact: every time I see a Segway Tour here in SF, I nearly scream at them. Perched on their awkward chariots, the grampa-helmet-wearing participant peer down on us makeup-free masses with amusement. Avec bright neon reflective vests and steely visages, these groups invade the various side streets with cocky swagger cum sheer boredom. They point, as if we could not possibly see them pointing, as they are on segways. Look, Mom, a hipster who probably had one too many cocktails at Romolo last night, as this gaggle of not-so-street-legal motorized contraptions block an entire lane of traffic on Stockton with, hemled by tourists without their sea legs stretching to take a picture of Coit Tower with iPads.

Now before you scream at me for being a tourist snob, I’m going to metaphorically stop you right there. Let me get this straight: I love tourists, of all shapes and sizes, and I hate the tourist vs. traveler debate. One of my favorite parts of living in North Beach is being approached by anyone who needs a tip, or directions. I proudly point them on their way, suggest a good watering hole and provide a smiling face. I know that that interaction could make their day, or at least make them feel slightly more comfortable in a strange place. I take hosting VERY seriously, as a Calgarian who firmly believes in the white hat, and it is an absolute pleasure to help a stranger get to know the city that I love.

The damn Segways, on the other hand, completely remove said traveler from their surroundings. Ta-nehisi Coates posits an “asshole rule” in the Atlantic: a person who demands that all social interaction happen on their terms. Since a segway is not a car, nor a bicycle, nor a form of walking, a group of them occupies a vehicular role and takes up an entire lane, while each individual rider demands the freedom and slow speed of walking. As a result, these groups are not walking tours, nor bus tours (both forms of tourism I am perfectly OK with) and instead slowly creep around North Beach, causing congestion and general grumpiness in me (and remember, it’s all about me).

If only that group could disembark, partake in one of San Francisco’s excellent City Guides walking tours with the hills beneath their feet (feel the burn!). Heck, I would even be, for some ungodly reason, more OK with Riding the Ducks, a semiaquatic, hopped-up bus tour that  heeds both nautical and vehicular parameters (also, have you SEEN them jammin’ on that tour? I’m this close to taking it myself fo funzies. Also, kazoos.)

I don’t like to judge other folks’ travel preferences, really I don’t. But when I get stuck behind one of these tours, or get cut off by them when I’m in a cross walk near Washington Square Park, it takes every ounce of my being to not scream “DID YOU KNOW THAT SAN FRANCISCO IS THE MOST WALKABLE CITY IN THE WORLD?”. I want to shake them, make them look around, take them for a beer and show them the best places to explore.

But then I snap out of it, and continue on my Saturday.

flowers

I’m going to go out on a limb and posit something rather controversial (stay with me now) – weekend getaways are the absolute best, and it’s important to go on them as often as you can, and Napa is Disneyland for grown-ups (I warned you you’d be shocked – shocked!)

It’s a pretty common topic amongst travel writers (and SEOers) – 3 days at, 24 hours in, where to go in Napa when you only have half a tank of gas and a prayer, that sort of thing. We realized it was our anniversary late in the week (and by we, I mean me – Ben had already started planning this all), and Ben was able to secure one night at the Cottages at Napa Valley (quite possibly the most underrated and excellent accommodation in Wine Country, hands down). We woke up Saturday morning, hastily packed a bag – I still think I’m 0 for a million for remembering toothpaste – strapped the bikes on the back of the car and drove over the newly-staff-free Golden Gate Bridge towards my own personal heaven, racing the threatening rain to ensure we’d get a ride in before dinner.

So it has to be said – what the crap can anyone, at all, say about Napa that hasn’t already been written? I know it’s a writing cliche to write about writing cliches, BUT COME ON. Everything was magical. It smelled amazing, the scent of eucalyptus wind blocks on the vineyards intermingling with the heavy humidity and bustling kitchens of Yountville. Our forty-miler up 29, cutting across at Calistoga and down the Silverado Trail, was the kind of “thing to do” that whole entire guidebooks are dedicated to: flat, speedy, and absa-freaking-lutely amazing. The weather held up until the bitter end, with hot sun and scattered cloud giving way to a warm and welcomed shower and rainbow (I MAY have heard someone shout “what does it mean“, like for reals.)

I mean, how can anyone ever say anything original about how freaking awesome your bed and breakfast was? About how the second we checked in, muddy and sweaty from the last 30 minutes of the ride, resembling starving hipster drowned rats in local beer jerseys, the fabulous staff at the Cottages welcomes us with hot towels and a bottle of chilled Sauvignon Blanc? About how I may have drained out the entirety of Hetch Hetchy having bath after wonderful, nearly-scalding bath in our obscenely large tub, regaining the sanity and strength left un-tapped after 4 years of a bathless abode? About how ever single detail in the cottage was mindful, how the robes were perferctly comfy and warm, how the cheerful staff drove us to dinner and politely laughed at the amateur-hour banter emanating from our seat (thank you, don’t forget to tip your waitress.)

I MEAN COME ON, who the eff wants to read about how the clerk at the wine store in V Marketplace was able to find us a great cigar and bottle of bubbles for $20 to take home? About how we naturally found ourselves at the bar at our favorite Yountville standard Bistro Jeanty, sipping Lillet cocktails evoking our time in France while people-watching locals? How our amazing B+B picked us up and drove us back, so we could sit on our comically oversized bed and catch up on Game of Thrones? SERIOUSLY. Who wants to read that when you can just curse at someone’s oversharing Foursquare feed (“OMG THIS PLACE IS AMAAAAAAZING”) and feel superior to unnecessarily-filtered travel snapshots on Instagram? 

Why? BECAUSE WE NEEDED TO and we had an amazing time and so I’m writing about it. Because sometimes you spend a little bit of extra money to play tourist in one of the most popular destinations in California. Because it meant something to cruise down the valley on a speedy bike, stopping in fancy tasting rooms along the way and tracking in hard-earned mud. Because it’s important to invest the time to get away, turn off your work email, and enjoy traditionally enjoyable places (there’s a reason they’re super popular.) Not because you’re first, not because you’re seeing what someone else told you to, not because it gives your some kind of moral-superiority about doing something “no one else” does. Because YOU like it, because it takes you away, and because it makes you happy. Because that’s what travel freaking does.

Oh, and we found the absolutely most fabulous roadside beer bar ever in the history of the world on a detour, but that’s for another seo-friendly “off-the-beaten-path” post.

Trip: Caltrain home from Menlo Park, Friday evening at 10 PM

At work, we talk about how mobile is the new cigarette, how we as a modern Western society are as addicted to an instantaneous connection as one used to crave nicotine in one’s blood when one woke up in the morning. Fun fact I’m not proud of: at the end of high school and on and off throughout College, I smoked. Never a lot, and never in front of my family (hi, Mom!), but I smoked. Brisk walk towards a history seminar? Cigarette. Just punched out a 10-pager a week early and feeling good about myself? Cigarette. Awkwardly exploring a party I was only stort-of-kind-of-not-really invited to? You bet your ass that’s a cigarette.

I landed at Princeton an inexperienced 18 year old from Canada, with a shaved head, a guitar and huge fucking chip on my shoulder. Smoking was my self-proclaimed solace, the thing that differentiated me from all of the other A-Types around me, people smarter and more charming and more focused than I was. Smoking made me a rebel at the first time in my life I had ever desired to be one, and connected me with fellow textbook-dwelling revolutionaries who harmed their bodies in order to feel different, together. Note: if you ever want to get anything done in a theater company, you’d better have lungs of steel.

For some reason I thought about this while waiting for the train in Menlo Park. I’d just come from a networking event with hundreds of people, copious wine, and more pitches than a no-hitter (ed note: I’ll never try a baseball joke again, I promise). I actually had a good time: despite how PR-y this sounds, I get a high out of meeting new people and hearing their stories. Where other people see an impermeable wall of strangers, I see massive story potential (see The Simpsons, Streetcar The Musical: A stranger’s just a friend you haven’t met). Ben doesn’t like it when I’m in what he calls “Marketing Mode” because it reminds him of a light switch: on, and off, and on, and off. While I understand how a huge grin, a loud greeting and a burst of undimmable light can be frightening, I love it. I honest to God love people, and I adore networking and meeting new friends.

But after the smiles, the greetings, the cocktails, after the sun sets over the Northern California hills and an unfamiliar-to-Silicon-Valley chill sets in, making you wonder whether you should don your bag-wrinkled sweater, the desire to head north and head home sets in. After saying your gracious good-byes, dodging a few drunk intros and lingering shop talk, you bum a ride from a kindly new friend, and end up at an empty Menlo Park Caltrain station, counting the minutes until your train arrives and you can be one step closer to home.

It’s here I grab my phone, as I used to grab my pack of Menthol Ultra Lights (I know, I know). I feebily flip through twitter, looking for a mention, or a meme, or a scandal or something. I check messages, I call home. I find myself on the map, I check the train schedule. Head at my hands, I read work emails at 9 PM on a Friday, to hear voices and get that rush of adrenaline that comes with a problem to solve, a crisis to avert. I make a few calls, check in with my folks, or with Ben, or with my voicemail.

I was tense in college, a recovered [insert eating disorder], a full blown anxiety addict. Princeton was overwhelming, knowing that I knew what I didn’t know was crippling. I missed home and I was afraid I’d blow the chance of a lifetime. To calm myself, to get away, I smoked. I walked right into the middle of the quad and smoked like a Pariah. TAKE THAT, I thought, ALL YOU WITH YOU FIGURED-OUT LIVES AND FRIENDS YOU’VE ALREADY MADE CAN KISS MY ASS. I smoked to get away, while using it as an excuse to justify why I wanted to be alone.

Tonight, the train approached the station in that rather timeless literary train-like fashion. Lights steadily encroached, the whistles sang in perfect harmonic dissonance (serious question: do they mean to do that? because it’s awesome) and the steady thump of engines slowed and stopped in front of me. Not that I would have enjoyed any of this a few minutes prior, as my face was buried in my phone.

Now I’m on the train, and I instinctively got out my computer to check my email, but there was no wireless to be had. Instead, I write, for whomever and no one who reads these words, returning to the habit I had before smartphones and cigarettes and irony and anxiety. I write to connect with something, if only for a minute.

I like food, a statement which should come as no surprise to the 20 people who read this blog. Having dealt with body issues and insecurities when I was younger, moving to San Francisco made me abandon my obsessions and restrictions; food, and the various industries orbiting around it, is king in this town.

One dining aspect I most respect about San Francisco is the lack of pretension. Only in SF can you get a stellar, well-prepared meal made from locally sourced ingredients for under ten bucks on your lunchbreak. Good food is a default in the city by the Bay, and I’ve come to take for granted just how creative, ambitious, and downright freaking crazy food professionals are in the town.

That being said, it isn’t always gastric nirvana in jeans: the money that trails the tech industry in this town, not unlike a whiff of My First Cologne after you pass a teenager on the street, brings with it the very worst (to me) in dining. I’m talking puffed up menus, $20 “bar nibbles”, drinks that cost more than parking, assholes who insist on telling you why a shiraz with the wild rainbow trout JUST WON’T DO. Specifically, I’m thinking of the vast experience chasm I experienced between Dixie in the Presidio and Mission Chinese Food in, well, the Mission.

Let me start by saying that YES, I know I’m late to the praising Mission Chinese bandwagon. I know it’s old hat, and the hipsters have new chefs to gastronomically idol-worship, but I don’t give a shit. It was damn freaking good, every moment. We endured a thirty minute wait (super short, so I’ve been told) and from the moment we walked in the door and our nostrils were assaulted by the capsaicin hanging foggily in the air, I knew I was home. No need for a faux-foodie review on this one: it was spicy, inventive, had a point of view, was delicious, and was seriously well priced. Ben and I left with enough leftovers for 2 dinners, all for $50 or so. With beer. That’s a good deal.

Part of the reason we fell so heartily for MCF and have proceeded to order delivery from them numerous times since is how it’s all about the food and not so much about how the restaurant wants you to perceive the food. Yes, the Kung Pow Pastrami was a bit of a mind fuck, but who cares? It rocked! While I didn’t adore all of the dishes, I knew what the the chef wanted to say, and I appreciated that: I like when I can tell that a real live human has crafted a menu.

So rewind back two weeks beforehand. It was a foggy, misty San Francisco Saturday, and Ben and I were struggling to find a place to eat. Having no reservations, I consulted my go-to source that makes me look more “with it” than I am and found Dixie in the Presidio. Hmmm, I thought, I like soul food, the pedigree of the chef is impressive, hey there, they just opened and we should support local businesses! Having scored a seating in an hour, we got ready, called an UberX (BEST THING SINCE CREATION, if you ask me), and made our way out into the mist.

My business is schmoozing and I went to a pretty fancy school, so normally I don’t get uncomfortable in fancy situations (you should see me rock a dinner party) but I tightened up the second I walked in the lobby area. There was something, something I couldn’t describe or point out, something that made me think “shit, they’re going to find out we’re frauds”. What I mean to say is that I felt like the other-side-of-the-tracks significant other meeting the country club parents for the first time: out of place but trying really hard to pick the right fork. The lighting was low, the decoration was modern lodge chic-ish (or was it? I really felt I couldn’t stare for too long), and the clientele was… how do I put this…. not of my social status?

I guess what bothered me the most is not the fanciness (I’ve had the pleasure of being treated to insanely fancy meals that were comfortable and laughter filled), what bothered me was the insistence on making comfort food seem fancy, that there was some inside joke I didn’t know about.

Thing is, when we were laboring over our choices on the menu, the couple sitting next to us, an impeccably dressed older gentleman from Brussels and his much younger (and gorgeous) companion, ordered the tasting menu. I must reiterate, I’m not hating on the structure here, I’ve dropped at least a third of a month’s rent on a tasting menu and ate Kraft Dinner to make up for it. The elements didn’t irk me: it didn’t bug me when they waiter overheard the man’s french accent and did his best to converse in his native tongue. I thought nothing of it when they brought out a bottle of St. Emilion that sat firmly in the two hundred dollar range, and the gentleman remarked on what a bargain it was. It wasn’t an issue that the service seemed eager but uneven.

I was flabbergasted, however, when they brought out the first course for the couple next to us: a hush puppy covered in caviar. There, the delectable hush puppy, the very same hush puppy that a moment before we’d enjoyed as an appetizer, sat forlornly on a plate, adorned with a pile of inky eggs, not unlike a British bearskin hat. The couple raved over the dish and proceeded to dig in.

What bothered me, what made me absolutely wish we’d stuck to our favorite pizza joint, or taco place, or Indian Curry Pub, was that there wasn’t anything inventive on that plate that I could see, only wealth heaped upon a humble dish. Now, I didn’t try the dish mind you, and I’m no caviar aficionado, but I cannot imagine that the little fish eggs on top of that puppy actually elevated it to fine dining.

And maybe that was my problem: I don’t eat at “fine” establishments often. Maybe I’m not the target audience for such a dish, or an establishment like this – after all, I’m not a startup billionaire, descended from the Rockefellers or a member of MI6 (OR AM I?) Maybe my palate doesn’t understand the intricate flavors the caviar brings out in the hush puppy. Maybe I’m not meant to “get it”.

But then I remember back to wonderful meals/experiences I’ve had at stunning places – marveling at the details of a foot stool for your purse and perfect plating at Del Posto, saving up for three months for an eight course tasting menu that lasted until 2 AM at Babbo, insisting we try pounded beef heart and lamb tartare, and realizing I’d been pushed out of my comfort zone and loved it at Incanto, catching a rare non-busy day and experiencing the epicness that is the pasta at Flour and Water, washing down the peanut butter bacon burger and thai chile hotwings with a Rio Grande at 15 Romolo, the absolutely epic meal I ate after watching its creation at my hometown’s own Petite… restaurants that were welcoming and warm, no matter how expensive or not, chi-chi or not, for other people than me or not.

and let us not forget fish eggs used well, for all I could think about at Mission Chinese when we plunged our spoons into uni custard topped with roe, a perfect little cup of salt and brine and sweet and depth and acid and oh my god how is it possible that I love this dish as much as I do… how each deliberate component on that plate served a purpose and made every bite a weirdly wonderful trip down a memory lane that wasn’t mine. How nothing was wasted, nothing was showy, there was no “wink wink” or sleight of hands. So maybe I get it: all I could think of was THAT is how you fucking rock a fish egg.

And it was under $10, which is 1/7 the cost of the aforementioned Caviar Hush Puppy tasting menu.

Have I ever told you that I once went to a summer camp for gardening? Oh yes. That. In addition to the badminton league I was in and the curling lessons I participated in, it sums me up in a nerdy little nutshell: I went to gardening camp.

Sure, it was a day camp at the local Golden Acres Garden Sentres (oh yes, they spelled it like that, and it fricking infuriated 8 year old Amy. I loved – and still love – rules, like spelling and refusing to talk down to children for cute’s sake). There, I learned all about annuals and perennials and fertilizer and how my hometown had a 2 month growing season and how all we could do is grow plants indoors if we ever wanted anything resembling kitchen herbs.

After said gardening camp, I promptly forgot this information, and went back to plotting how I was going to win a Tony AND a Nobel Prize at thirty (ed note: she’s still got 1.5 years!).

Anyways, fast forward a couple of decades, and Ben and I are standing in the succulents aisle at Home Depot in San Rafael, determined to turn our shared, neglected roof deck into a leisurly paradise worthy of coverage in Gardenista. Unfortunately, we had no clue what we were doing.

Ben grew up here, in the land where everything grows despite the fog, and if you let it go it will take over your home and assume your apartment lease and possibly steal your SSN, or something like that. A land where palm trees are a nuisance more than anything, and where a plant left unchecked will actually AFIX ITSELF TO YOUR CEILING. Like, for reals, plants will do that in Northern California. Where I’m from, roses need to be “bedded” (cue saucy whistle) in August to avoid the frost. Here, they mutate and multiply and have their own reality shows. There was no way I was going to win this war.

Back to home depot. In California, where things grow, I wander aimlessly, touching leaves, smelling lavender, generally resembling a frat boy encountering his unplanned offspring for the first time: curious, but not quite ready to take charge. I resort to my best habit, namely wondering a bit-too-outloud about what to do. Within seconds, a fellow shopper proceeds to take a full 20 minutes to explain exactly what to expect. When I mention something about “the lavender’ll be ok, right?” she eyes me up and down. Obviously, this product of the Great White North doesn’t quite understand what to do with greenery. With unsolicited-but-much-appreciated advice in hand, we part with a couple of hundred bucks and fill the Mini with plants.

Now, move forward a couple of weeks, and I’m sitting on my roof glaring at the lavender. It seems Mr. Lavender is having nothing of this unseasonably warm San Francisco weather and laughs at me, as he goes in and out of green health and borders on brown, or wilts, or stands tall, or gets blown over by the wind. Ben suggests we should toss ’em and start over again, but the competitive A-type eight year old is rearing her overzealous head. I shall beat you lavender, oh yes, you shall live and thrive and attract bees from hives that bear their name on top of Tony’s Pizza.

Tune in next time when I talk to the Cacti. That post’ll be a scream.

Note: I started writing this a week ago on a business trip. Revisiting now. We’ll see how it goes.

I’ve never understood the artistic fascination with Los Angeles. Growing up, only the Hollywood portrayed in Singing in the Rain was my absolute ideal: I wanted to be Debbie Reynolds, belting her heart out, jumping out of cakes,  sassy and pretty and sexy and desired and downright funny, swooning in Gene Kelly’s arms – never mind, of course, that it turned out he was awful to her on set. Note: I found that out a few years back and it broke my heart.

On the flip side, “Los Angeles” did not equal “Hollywood” to me. The LA shown in films I’d seen was gritty, dirty, car-filled and downright unpleasant, shot through a muddy yellow overexposure, stringy dyed hair and dead eyes. I visited in March 2010, distinctly underwhelmed (and, frankly, a healthy bit freaked out) by the freeways, high heels, and ubiquitous botox.  Think about Crash, Drive, Mulholland Road – none of these films ever made me sit up and say “gosh darnit, please let me MOVE to this city to drink cheap whiskey and wonder where it all went wrong.” LA remained a city not for me but beyond me, somewhere numerous members of my college theater entourage had mass migrated to and I’d never heard from since (Note: I’ve heard from them).

This past trip to LA I stayed in an area that – two years ago – had seemed uninhabitable, a wasteland of concrete buildings and tumbleweeds. Days were long on the trade show floor and at the end of the day I couldn’t even fathom mustering strength to formulate sentences and reminisce with LA-based friends. Instead, I threw on comfortable-but-not-too-ugly shoes (I was in LA, after all), and ventured forth into the yellow southern california sun, to find something or nothing at all while giving my brain a chance to un-PR itself and rest a bit.

The Standard beckoned. I’ve mentioned my obsession with finely crafted hotels before, and the opportunity to visit the downtown outpost of a hotel that pioneered women in aquariums at check-in was one I couldn’t pass up. After mistakenly thinking I could head to the rooftop bar without a wristband (silly Canadian), I entered the just-vintage-enough deco elevator and headed to the roof.

Doors opened and setting sun reflected off the buildings opposite, blinding me, in that good way. I gingerly stepped out of the elevator, careful to gawk at the beautiful clusters of people, but not enough to draw attention (Note: I failed). I grabbed a tall table and awkwardly perched on a too-tall chair. Way to blend in, I thought, they can smell Canadian interloper from a mile away.

Meekly ordering a glass of rose from the bright-red uniformed waitress, I asked her how she got to LA. Not as small talk, as a part of me truly wanted to know what exactly drew her to this strange beast of a city. She smiled kindly and told me she came to be an actress, was no longer an actress, and now just couldn’t bring herself to leave. Despite a gaggle of douchebags demanding her attention, she stayed with me and told me of dreams, adventures, disappointments, and a community of much-loved friends she couldn’t leave.

I mentioned I was from Canada via SF, and I’d always been afraid of LA – how I left NYC with my tail between my legs and that the prospect of living in the land of (what I assumed was full of) botox, unread screenplays and eating disorders gave me heart palpitations. She saw me shift in the smooth plastic too-tall chair and laughed. She promised me it wasn’t that bad, in fact she thought I’d love it in in Silver Lake, Echo Park or even a few blocks from the hotel. Trust me, she said, I think you’d like it here.

Miraculously, it was clear day and the mountains gleamed beside the US Bank building. At a low enough angle to cast a golden glow over my face and the road below, the sun cast a calm over the city scene and somehow I took my first real deep breath that day. Clear air, sun on my face, and a new friend who gave a minute to an uncomfortable business traveler looking for a glass of wine and a conversation.

The sun set and the air chilled and the glass emptied. I noticed I myself smiling, a silly little grin of a girl taking solace in the plate glass forest, in having a moment in an unknown space.

Contemplative sepia cinematography kinda makes sense, or at least feels slightly less foreign. I paid my bill, took the elevator down to the deliberate lobby and passed a group of skinny pre-starlets flirting with the security guy. Wrapping my sweater around me, I ventured forth into the unknown.

The Ace Hotel, Palm Springs

Woke up without alarm. Padded into kitchen to peek in on overnight chicken broth simmering on the stove. Check on herbs by window: still alive (this is good). Look at fog, ponder clearing. Drink glass of water. Grab Newsweek with photo from Queen’s Coronation. Read entire article on Queen’s jubilee, as that’s what a good commonwealther should do. Ponder my own British heritage. Think about my Nana. Think about my Pappy. Remind self I need to call Pappy. Remind self I need to book flight to Calgary for 100th Stampede. Remind self to go for a run. Look outside, see fog, wonder if it will burn off. Hope it will burn off for run I remind myself to go on. Decide to strain soup, as Alice Waters told me that if it simmers for longer than five hours it won’t retain it’s “fresh”ness. Remember it’s been simmering for 10 hours. Decide to strain soup. Kick myself for not taking photos of the soup during preparation. Remind myself to start a food blog. Remind my self to post to THIS blog. Remind myself to run, dammit, I need to go on that run. Walk to kitchen, light stove for hot water for coffee. Grind coffee beans, remind self to pick up more coffee. Think of home. Think of work. Think of dinner. Look outside, see blue skies above Russian Hill. Get excited for run. Take kettle off stove, pour water into french press, set timer. Look outside, remind myself to run. Drink coffee, pick up computer, write. Get ready for run.

(that’s me above in my new Anchor Steam jersey)

I love riding a bike to work. In a city of sky-rocketing rents, questionable folks on MUNI, and a constant IPO measuring contest, the fact that it takes less time and two less buses to ride in to work astonishes / delights me.

I’m a cautious bike rider, with a relative fear of speed that’s evolved from my 11 year-old ski racing days  (you see, you’re not a very good racer if you don’t particularly care to go fast – but that’s another story for another time). I tend to stop at stoplights, signal when I turn, and stay in the bike line as much as I can. My caution, however, doesn’t preempt reckless behavior of others, whether they be drivers, pedestrians, or other cyclists.

The first time I rode to work 3 years ago, I took Ben’s Mountain Bike, not knowing at the time that the tires were nearly empty. The bike didn’t fit me, so I was hunched over, with no shoes for the clips, just huffing and puffing and trying not to fall down. On the Embarcadero, a car turned into the bike lane and nearly hit me. I was spooked to all hell.

After that, I purchased the cadillac of cruiser bicycles – a beheamoth more suited to the boardwalks of Santa Cruz than to the quick roads of San Francisco, but I didn’t care. I sat higher than most cars, could wear a skirt to work, and kind of looked cute and stylish (got a couple of whistles from messengers, no joke.) Problem was, I tended to huff and puff as much as the under-pumped mountain bike, got just as sweaty (and boy howdy, I sweat), and my 3 speeds were no match for even the slightest San Francisco hill. Which is, as you know, 95% of them. Also, I lacked a quick response time, so when a car door nearly opened into me, I had to swerve into traffic.

When I got my road bike recently, I was so skittish and afraid of the damn thing, I thought I’d never ride it. It was small, stupidly light. I had to clip my feet into it, and I had flashbacks of tumbling down the mountain on a snowboard firmly attached to my feet. Cyclists were tough, fast, intimidating. “I’m not a road cyclist” I’d think, “everyone’s going to look at me and know I’m an interloper. A fraud”. The first ride was shaky, as I figured out the rhythms and balance and power and OH MY GOD I’M GOING SO FAST. After that, I gave my brakes a crazy workout on the epic downhill in the Headlands, after falling and scraping my knee on the way up.  I had cried like a baby, but I was addicted.

I love my road bike. She’s zippy and responsive and I feel powerful when I’m on it. For someone who never thought she could be a cyclist, I’m the one getting the shakes if I’m not on the road by 9 AM on a Saturday. I’ve seen so much more of Northern California as a result (Santa Cruz, Wine Country, Marin, East Bay) and I’ve been outside more. Which, as you know, is the freaking point of living in this part of the world.

I lost a friend in a hit and run in 2005. She wasn’t on a bike, the guy was drunk, it pretty much has nothing to do with Bike to Work Day, but I have been thinking about her today for some reason. With everything that’s happened recently, it’s just a reminder that we share the road, and it’s on everyone including cyclists to ride safely.

Protect yourself, respect the road, and get in to work safely today. I sold the bike Cadillac, so I’ll be riding my road bike in for the first time. I’ve been looking forward to it all week.

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