Bobby, the kids and I pile into the Honda at 5 a.m. The trunk holds an ice chest packed with leftover curry, salad, peanut butter, jam, sliced cucumber and juice. Despite our love for City cuisine, we’re attempting to stave off spending too much money on eating out. Four surfboards sit on the roof, lashed with aging softracks and an extra strap for security. We’ve never taken them so far.
Bobby and I argue over whether the car interior is too hot (him) or too cold (me), but the drive otherwise progresses smoothly. We arrive in Ocean Beach, where the family unloads the boards into my coworker’s garage and me into a meeting. This meeting is followed by another meeting. While I’m working, Bobby, Kaylee and Nick walk the beach, observe the surf, load back into the car and find our hotel. We’re staying at the Best Western Americania tonight, one of a boutique chain that includes Hotel Tomo.
My meetings end, freeing me to walk the seven blocks or so down Mission to the hotel. Stunning architecture gives way to sketchy Adults Only theaters. The daylight and post-work rush hour protect me, but I realize we probably won’t be walking the neighborhood after dark.
When I arrive at the room, the kids have turned on HBO and are caught up in A.I., an old Steven Spielberg flick that’s partly disturbing due to its thematic elements and partly due to the wax sheen coating Jude Law. Bobby and I do attempt a stroll around 9 p.m., but turn back after a block and go for pizza instead. Good Pizza. It is good. We buy a bottle of wine for $20 rather than drink it by the $8 glass. It is also good. Everything’s good. I wake up at 3 a.m., mind awhirl. Despite the comfort of the bed, an hour passes before sleep returns.
We meet my brother for his 30th birthday breakfast at yummy bakery Tartine (yummy, but pricey!), then return to Ocean Beach, hoping to surf, but the wind’s up the wrong way, so we search down the coast instead. After much debate, we paddle out at Rockaway. I catch a few, but the delay in decision-making has cost us: the incoming tide kills the waves, turning our session into fruitless paddling. The novelty of surfing elsewhere still charms us, however – we leave content. Mostly. Everyone’s hungry and has eaten most of the food from the ice chest, so we head up to Vanida for Thai food. We’re already spending more money than I intended. I mentally calculate some budget adjustments, then shrug my shoulders: this trip is partly a last summer hurrah. Let’s eat.
Nick’s appointment goes well. His doctor, the one who greeted us when we arrived via plane and ambulance three years ago and has been with us since, has left for a new job. We’re sad, but his new doctor seems nice and clued-in. I’ve been worried about his A1C level due to the high blood sugars he’s experienced over the last few months. Remarkably, the number has come down a teensy bit. We’re still on track. A huge relief. Adjustments are made to counteract those highs, notes taken, questions answered. After a stop at Green Apple Books, we’re off to Oakland, where we stay the night with dear friends who not only have coconut curry waiting, but help finish the remaining wine – and open a couple more bottles of their own. I’m happy and relaxed, but wake up at 3 a.m. once more, worries ricocheting through my brain. I totally forget to take a photo of God’s Gym.
Back to the City. Today is all about family vacation. Bobby and Nick catch a Giants vs. Dodgers game – in what would be a continued experience on this trip, everything falls into place perfectly: A major league game is a rare thrill for Nick, so when it goes an extra inning and ends with a walk-off homerun victory for the Giants, the trip escalates from fun to amazing. Meanwhile, I surf Ocean Beach with my coworker and Kaylee kicks back with one of her Green Apple purchases. Ocean Beach can get crazy, I hear, but today is easy. The waves arrive waist-to-chest high, some fast, some mushy. Wildlife abounds in the form of dolphins, seals, sea lions and pelicans. We walk over the dunes after; I feel at home.
Thanks to another Hotwire deal, we’ve scored a room at the Hilton on O’Farrell Street (“score” meaning for $100, tax-included). While the guys are at the game, Kaylee and I drive over to check in. My hair dries frizzy from the ocean. I try to comb it, wipe the salt off my eyebrows before entering the four-star hotel. When Kaylee sees the lobby, she pauses. “It’s so fancy,” she says, eyeing me. “Do I look bad?” I ask. “Hmmmm,” she replies. I tuck my sunglasses into my hair to create a semblance of order. She approves. We continue. The entire population of Western Europe appears to be on vacation in San Francisco. The Hilton is no exception. We stroll down Market to the Ferry Building for a late lunch marveling at the accent-riddled crowds.
Later, Bobby and I abandon the kids to more hotel TV and hit 111 Minna Gallery, where the hipster crowd doesn’t quite diminish our enjoyment of Kelly Tunstall and Ferris Plock’s collaborative works. We are likely the oldest people in the room. Pretension fogs the air as men in ugly shorts demonstrate exactly how not to dance to overly made-up women whose expressions range from bored to drunk. But the art, we enjoyed the art.
We then wander over to Varnish, where deeper, richer paintings hung above petitions decrying eminent domain. The City’s knocking down the building housing Varnish and other businesses to build a transit terminal. The owner chokes up when relating the story to us. Saddened, we return to the hotel, where, despite the extremely comfy beds, another bout of insomnia wakes me at the now-habitual 3 a.m.
After a quick breakfast, Bobby and the kids hit the road. I stay on to attend the Surfrider conference happening Saturday and Sunday. Haunted by my wee hour worries, I opt to hit Hotwire and hole up in yet another hotel, this one around the corner on Ellis: Hotel Fusion. (Total cost: $89.) This is my new favorite SF hotel. Welcoming staff, small rooms more reminiscent of a boarding house than a hotel, extremely clean, quiet and with the amazing Infusion Lounge way underneath.
After lunch at a cheap Vietnamese place recommended by a friend ($5 plates!), I set up the laptop and work for hours.
Coincidentally, I’d arranged an interview with Salon.com‘s Cary Tennis; when he realized I was in the city, he opted to meet in person. We chat on Union Square, sun once again blazing down so hot and bright I never remove my sunglasses. Summer reaches San Francisco like it arrives in Humboldt: in August. I return to the hotel and write my column for the Journal, then call my brother up.
“Hey, the bar downstairs has a happy hour with $5 cocktails.”
He said he’d come right over.
We descend two stories down into a club that appeared to be right out of an upscale 1980s L.A. dream. Neon, metal work, plush couches, a holographic Japanese hostess – and the aforementioned cocktails with decent well booze (Myer’s, Skyy, etc.).
Upon returning to the hotel, I work until I can no longer type, then trade the laptop screen for the TV. Quickly bored and somewhat horrified by a show featuring the “real lives” of truck stop hookers, I give up and opt for sleep. All the catching up must’ve helped – I sleep till 5 a.m., then am able to return to sleep within a half hour.
To be continued…