The Coldest Winter, etc.


I went to San Francisco last weekend. I drove there. I wanted to take the train, which is much more civilized, but it’s kind of expensive, and it’s just not that convenient, so I drove. I left Nevada City at 9 p.m. and arrived just before midnight. After the hot, slightly smoky air in the foothills the cool gray dampness of the Bay Area in the summertime felt heavenly. I paid the Bay Bridge toll collector in dimes and quarters, and it was only $4. I thought of all the time I’d spent scouring my bedroom for that last dollar and how I’d never get it back.

I always stay in my friend A.’s little downstairs apartment in Bernal Heights. A. and her wife, L., don’t really have it fixed up yet, it’s just a bed in a corner and some of their crap, a lot of books, a drafting table, a couch, a bicycle, but it’s totally fine with me. I could live there forever if I had to, though I’d probably put the bike to the side. I woke up at around 6 a.m. because their five-year-old son runs around and there is absolutely zero soundproofing between the downstairs and the upstairs. I went upstairs and drank two espressos from their neato machine that is very easy to use but somehow still took me six visits to figure out. One day L.’s father, who babysits their kid and was pressed into service helping me fish out a stuck espresso pod from the machine’s innards, told me that I reminded him of his wife, who was mostly very smart and then, in certain moments, rather astonishingly daft. I chose to take this as a great compliment.

I had done a lot of work already that week, meaning that I had already written the three pieces required to consider that I have done enough to hold my life together. I had also already gone to four yoga classes that week. I went outside and watched the fog obscure and re-obscure Sutro Tower. I decided that I was not going to do any work that day or any yoga. It would be a day of senseless enjoyment. My friend asked me if I wanted to spend the day with her and her five-year-old. I politely declined. I texted a Facebook friend who knows everyone I know but whom I myself have never met, and she said that she was free for lunch and named a place that sounded appropriate to my festive mood. I told her I’d pick her up.

“I’m the blond on the steps, near the ice cream store, looking forlorn,” C. had texted me as I made my way through the Mission, and I had no trouble finding her. We drove across town and she explained to me that she is English though she does not have an English accent. She described getting off the plane in England and smelling the air and knowing that she was home, and it occurred to me that I have never felt that way anywhere, except possibly Los Angeles, although I am not from there. We talked about how we don’t understand why everyone thinks San Francisco is so beautiful, and she explained to me, with a historian’s steady patience, some facts about the way San Francisco was built that I promptly forgot.

The restaurant we went to was in Hayes Valley and called The 20th Century Café. It was kind of my ideal space for a restaurant: white walls, some pretty light fixtures, a velvet root beer colored banquette, and a spectacular bathroom. I let C. sit on the banquette because the banquette is for the lady, and since she is blonde, I felt that she was slightly more of a lady than I. Plus, she was paying. We split chicken paprikash, a salad, and then, a piece of honey cake so delicious that I am still thinking about it. The owner was a friend of C.’s from their misspent semi-youth in Chapel Hill, she had hair dyed an obviously unnatural shade of red and wore a vintage dress and glasses. It was the sort of place where everyone working there wore a vintage dress. While we ate, we strangely talked about the same things I talked about the last time a beautiful, learned woman had bought me lunch: Anthony Trollope, ISIS, and the future of feminism. I almost felt guilty that I was such an intellectually predictable creature, but then I remembered that I was not supposed to feel bad today. Today was all about no yoga and eating and nothing remotely not fun. We went to some expensive stores and talked about how we’d like to be so rich we just picked up $300 tunics off the floor to put on when the UPS man came to the door.

Afterward, I was meeting my friend A. to see Boyhood. I left myself 30 minutes to get from Hayes Valley to Japantown, but then, I found myself sitting in traffic on Geary Boulevard. Next to me some guys in a truck smoked a joint. On the other side, a woman was in a Volvo, her radio, like mine, tuned to NPR where everything was all about Gaza. The sun came in and out and windows went up and down, and we just sat there. After what seemed like an eternity I was able to make a right onto Laguna St. and I saw the problem — a block ahead, Geary Boulevard was blocked, and there was a MUNI bus just sitting here, kind of listing to one side. I wondered if everyone born between 1960 and 1980 thinks of 48 Hours when they see a wounded MUNI bus.

I parked in a lot, and when I got up to ground level, was totally discombobulated. I asked like eight people in the Japan Center where the theater was. None of them knew and in my agitated, tardy state, I found this very annoying. Plus, I used to live in San Francisco, so I was really the big dummy here, but I went outside and I just couldn’t tell which way was which and my iPhone was doing that annoying thing where it was insisting that I was still in the same mall in Sacramento I was in three days ago. Finally a Japanese man that didn’t speak English took pity on me and walked me the third of a block to the theater.

A. was coming from Bernal Heights and was also very late. “Fucking bus,” she said. “I need a fucking Diet Coke.” She had bought my ticket, and I bought the Diet Cokes, which cost nearly as much. The theater was filled with retirees and Europeans. We saw a trailer for a movie about some hot young people who think they are in love because they have sex for two days and laughed at their folly, and then laughed harder when she suddenly died and he went to India because someone in the guy’s “science lab” found a girl with “the exact same eyes” and he had to track her down and, yes, someone actually said, “the eyes are the window to the soul.” We were cackling. The old woman next to us looked very annoyed, and I whispered to her, “I assure you we will not be speaking during the feature,” and she looked briefly frightened, but then, reassured.

Boyhood was a heartbreak. A. and I staggered into the lobby, clutching ourselves, blinking at the sunlight. I wanted to tell A. how much I loved her and how much it meant to me that she had been my friend for so long, and how lucky I was that we had randomly met on a long-ago Thanksgiving, but I didn’t want to sob in the Kabuki theater, so I just said “I can’t believe how good Patricia Arquette looked in that movie. I mean, she looked really good. And it’s crazy how they got those kid actors that looked exactly like the older ones. How did they do that?”

She asked me if I was joking. I said that I wasn’t. She explained to me that Richard Linklater had made that movie over the course of 12 years, and that those were all the same people. “No way,” I said.

She looked at me darkly and said, “I think you need to move back to the city.”

+++The next day I met a friend of mine from college who is blind. After we ate lunch, in an unremarkable Thai restaurant in Pacific Heights, I walked her back to her apartment. She held my arm. There was no sun, but no rain. Everything was still and cool, and the flowers were brilliant. We walked very slowly, the two of us and her service dog, and people just went around us, and no one complained or gave us a dirty look. To tell you the truth, if I had my way, I would always walk that slow.

Previously: Anger Problems and The Trivia Superteam

Photo via hdz/flickr.

Sarah Miller is keeping a summer diary. She is the author of Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn and The Other Girl. She lives in Nevada City, CA. Follow her on Twitter @sarahlovescali.