Less than a week after September 11, 2001, two friends and I headed over to America for a holiday. It was my first overseas trip and I was nervous and excited. The day I was to leave, an attractive co-worker wished me luck and told me to have a good trip and I, being anxious and preoccupied by her aforementioned aesthetic appeal, told her to have a good trip also. I felt suitably silly but I later found out that this clumsy way that I had in her presence somehow only made me more appealing to her. She had long, well-toned legs and wore short skirts and that sort of thing works when you’re a dumb 24-year-old male. She also had a long-term boyfriend, an older gentleman that apparently went to the same high school I did, though I didn’t recognize his name when she told it to me. But I digress.
We thought about cancelling the trip. We planned it a few months prior, in July or thereabouts. No one told us there were going to be multiple terrorist attacks against the US right around the time we wanted to travel. So it happened, we were appropriately horrified and sad and scared, and it was me that first put forth the notion of either putting off the trip or cancelling it altogether. This would have been a mistake in hindsight, but at the time I wanted no part of air travel. Having other friends and family in my ear about the risks of traveling at such a delicate time only served to increase my panic. To their credit, it was my two friends that convinced me to reconsider, saying that there was probably no safer time to travel than at that moment, considering the heightened security and alert level at every stop.
Our first port of call was San Francisco. I recall getting a shuttle bus from the airport to the city and on the way in seeing a lowrider with Latino Homeboys riding in it. The gentlemen in the car we wearing white tank-tops, had shaved heads and dark mustaches. Up until that moment I thought that these types of people only existed in movies.
We spent out first night in an area known as The Tenderloin. We were up on the sixth floor in our hotel and I was still scared of what lurked at ground level. I heard several gunshots over the course of those first 24 hours. Or maybe it was just backfire from a car exhaust and I was racially profiling an entire city as I wrestled with my burgeoning jet lag.
The next day we headed over to Fort Mason, where we were to spend the rest of our time in San Francisco. Turns out that the change of scenery was exactly what we needed. It was there that we fell in love with the beauty that the Bay Area had to offer. On our first full day we walked to the Golden Gate Bridge. It took longer than we initially expected. It looked so close when we left the hostel, we figured it would take maybe twenty minutes to get there by foot. We were quite wrong. But we had nothing else going on that day so we didn’t mind much. A lot of people walk and ride their bikes in Frisco. We thought that was cool. Everyone drives in Los Angeles, walking is frowned upon and you’re shunned from society if you try to pull that crap down in LA.
Later, in the afternoon, we went into Chinatown and got some delicious MSG-laden food, then we went to a store (Tower Records if I’m not mistaken) and I bought a copy of Fletch on VHS for $5.99. I still have it, though I don’t have a VCR anymore so I may as well get rid of the tape.
That night, we went to a few bars in the city. We ended up at some dive bar in the Mission. A Latino man wanted me to punch him in the face. Thoughts ran through my head. I wondered if he was the same guy in the lowrider from the day before. I asked him why he wanted me to punch him, as I felt that there was no reason to do so. We weren’t in a conflict. He had the look of a man under the influence of something powerful. His eyes rolled around in his head and he was having trouble keeping his balance. Maybe he wanted me to hit him to knock some sense into him? More likely, he needed an excuse to unload some punches onto me. I have to admit, I was impressed. Where I come from, there is no warning if someone decides to attack. They just do it. They prefer if you’re not facing them, and they like to use glass instead of their fist. I respected this Californian Hispanic gentleman for at least giving me a fighter’s chance. Nothing happened between the two of us, though at one point I gave him a twenty to get each of us another beer and he didn’t give me any change back. I chose not to complain as a means of self-preservation.
We hit a couple of other bars before we stumbled back to the hostel. When we got back, my friend Rufus and I were feeling slightly peckish, so we headed down to the local Safeway supermarket. We each purchased a frozen burrito and a Corona (we can’t buy liquor in supermarkets in our country, so this was a novelty) and headed back to the hostel to zap our late-night snack. Being inebriated, we mis-timed the microwave prep time and wound up biting into frozen burritos. We dumped our food into a receptacle and stumbled back to our room. If the burritos contained chicken, we may very well have given ourselves salmonella poisoning and wound up on IV drips in one of the many fine medical establishments that Frisco offers. Food for thought. Our other friend was sawing logs and it seemed that another traveler had made his way into our friendly confines. Apparently Rufus and I were making too much noise as we clumsily lumbered around the room in the dead of this Frisco night, as he woke abruptly and complained, “it’s night!”, which made us explode into rapturous laughter. He was clearly of European descent and seemed nonplussed at our loud and clumsy stumbling, which had obviously woken him from his peaceful slumber. We apologized the following day, and proceeded to use his catchphrase over and over at random intervals when the mood struck, to our amusement only.
The second day in San Fran was set aside to explore Fisherman’s Wharf and downtown. The wharf was your fairly typical tourist trap, so it stood to reason as to why three out-of-towners were milling about down there. We couldn’t get over the amount of homeless people. I saw more in 24 hours than I had in my entire life back home. It was the thing that stood out the most, to me at least. Anyway, the wharf. It was okay I guess. We saw seals lounging about on barges and that was cool.
I think the biggest male was horny, as he made a bunch of noise trying to get the attention of the females in his vicinity. That method has never worked for me. Speaking of which, I went to a Starbucks that morning and enjoyed my virgin cup of ‘Bucks brew from what was known to the locals as “the McDonalds of the coffee world”. I ignored their colloquial snobbery and savored the tasty (if slightly sugary) brew when I struck up a conversation with an attractive local. My accent alone was a decent icebreaker it would seem and we talked of many things: things to do in the city, things to do in other cities, movies, books and music. She asked where I was from. “Australia,” I told her. She shot me a look that confused me, then proceeded to inform me that she was really impressed that I knew English so well. When I told her that Australia was colonized by the British and therefore we have spoken the language for as long as we’ve existed as a nation, she became red-faced with embarrassment and mentioned something about needing to return some videotapes. I was hoping that she would be my introduction to the legend known as the Californian Female, but alas it wasn’t to be. My Australianism proved a barrier and no interjection by either of our consulates could repair this chasm. And really and truly, would you want to bed with someone who doesn’t even have the most basic grasp of your national heritage? Did she honestly believe that Australian’s have their own language? Granted, there are certain parts of Oz where this could absolutely ring true. I have a tough time understanding rural Queenslanders for example, but then we all do really.
Hopped up on caffeine and a sudden loneliness, I met up with my friends and we decided to watch a movie. Serendipity, a fairly paint-by-numbers rom-com starring the underrated John Cusack and the absolutely gorgeous Kate Beckinsale. I’m not sure what compelled us to watch a film when there was a city to explore. Maybe we wanted to rest our weary feet for a few hours. SPOILER ALERT: the two attractive leads end up together in the end.
Coming up in Part 2: our three heroes try to go to Berkeley but are cut short by a desperate homeless fellow clearly in need of $57.25, and one of our heroes has a pre-flight emotional meltdown…stay tuned…