Friday, March 27, 2009

Epic Road Trip - Reno, NV to San Francisco, CA

We took off from Reno late in the morning. We had slept in and still wanted to get some coffee and check the internet before we got on the road. Finally, a Starbucks! We had great coffee and terrible bagels, then headed over Donner Pass. For all of the hooplah of the terrible weather and signs posted about how bad the pass was, the drive was actually quite nice.

We stopped in Sacramento for dinner and a short walk through State Capitol Park. The sun was setting and the flowers were beautiful. It was a very nice walk back to our car and we marveled about the beauty of the sun and about California in general. Mike got his Android going again and got me directions back to the freeway. Mike was ever so useful on this trip. I started calling him Tom Tom, because it was very much like having an in car GPS system that not only helped me get where I was going, but also made rude comments and questionable jokes when the mood grew stale.

That night, we ended up in San Francisco. The weather felt great to us, even though it was chilly for the area. We found a place to park along the famously steep streets and hiked a couple of blocks to Jake's place.

Looking up at the row of houses, I was reminded of the opening credits of the tv show Full House and I wondered if I would find Danny Tanner inside. Mr Tanner wasn't there. Instead, we met a family full of incredibly nice people and one rabbit. The rule of the house? “You can keep all the beer in our fridge that you want, just don't eat the bunny.” Fair enough.

The goal of the evening was to head down to the local bar, called the Rip Tide, and watch Jake & Mike make fool's of themselves at Open Mic Night. We had escaped into the bedroom for a while to try to come up with an original ditty for the event, but our playing was distracting Jake's sister who was studying for law school, so we decided just to head out immediately and spend the evening spectating instead of participating.

Getting to the bar entailed a 20 minute bus ride followed by a 10 block walk. On our way, we could hear the ocean and we made a mental note to say hello to it on our way back.

Walking into the Rip Tide, Mike made a comment that it reminded him of Max's Tavern. It did have that same sort of “Sweet Caroline” charm, but I've never seen a dog sauntering non-nonchalantly around Max's. The boys ordered some beers, but I declined a drink. I could hear a gentleman singing at the piano and I really wanted to watch him play. I made my way through the crowd and stood at a clearing where I watched him finish his song. He was a very handsome man, probably in his mid thirties. He looked like the quiet type, but had a very kind face. After his set, I congratulated him on a good job, then walked back over to Mike and Jake.

Mike tried to convince me that I should go talk to the guy, but I told him that it wasn't my style. Besides, there was a tall blonde girl chatting him up and they looked like they knew each other pretty well. After the next musician played, that blonde girl hit the stage and introduced the next act. It turns out that she was Annie, the organizer of Monday Open Mic night. It was, in fact, her one year anniversary of planning them. They even had cupcakes.

With the new knowledge that the mystery woman was actually just the event planner, the guys started in on trying to get me to talk to the handsome singer. At first, I just smiled and told them that I wasn't comfortable, but they persisted and eventually Mike told me that I was no longer allowed to sit with them. Defeated, I went over to HS's side of the bar. There was an open stool next to him, so I sat down and ordered a Diet Coke. After a few minutes of watching the guitar player on stage, I turned to HS and asked him if he was going to sing again tonight. He told me that he'd like to, but that he didn't think that they'd get through another rotation of the list. That's all it took. One comment and we entered a conversation full of get-to-know-you's and laughs and flirtatious smiles. Somewhere during that time, Mike texted me, but I chose to ignore it.

The bartender offered a free round of Jameson's to everyone to celebrate Annie's anniversary. HS and I raised a toast and drank. We kept talking about everything from school to work to the weather. He had mentioned that he did this every week and lived far away, so I asked him if he planned to drive home that night. HS looked at the stage, then back at me and told me that he'd be staying with Annie. She *was* his girlfriend.

After a few minutes, I took my phone out and read Mike's message, pretending it was a call to come back over. As it turns out, admitting that he had a girlfriend did not mean that he wasn't interested – a fact that he illustrated by giving me his phone number before I took off. Charming.

Eager to head to the beach, we left before last call. It was a very short walk through very cold air. The shore was dark, we couldn't see much. The wind whipped at our faces and we realized that the beach was meant to wait until the morning.

We were all hungry, so we decided to stop at the 7-11 before we caught the bus. A homeless man was standing at the entrance, eager to chat. He engaged Jake in conversation, looking up as I passed by and wheezing “Hi Lady.” The man had quite a story to tell, so Jake bought him a beer, I bought him a hot dog and we all sat down outside and let him vent.

Turns out the man was a Vietnam Vet, named Maxwell Stevenson. He was harboring a lot of terrible memories, which he didn't hesitate to share with us. He presented us with a 30 minute monologue about watching his “bestest buddy” get his head blown off. He talked about Jesus and the Devil and surviving torture. He went into some sort of war trance, emerging only momentarily to comment on my hair. “You know what they say about red heads? Red heads are one of two things, they're either horribly ugly or terribly cute. You ain't ugly.”

I smiled at the man then, happy for a reprieve from the horrible stories he had been telling. He instantly went back into his tales of torture, saying “Now listen, Sister Bear, our plumbing is different from yours.” He then illustrated his point with a story about fish hooks and a 4-wheel drive truck. Another one about a fire hose enema. I'm not sure I'll ever be the same.

Dalby looked at his watch. It was almost time for the bus, so we excused ourself and told the old vet good bye. We walked, stunned, toward the bus stop. We began to talk a little about torture amongst ourselves, when a car alarm started blaring. A tall man stood up and dashed away, fleeing around the corner. At first, it looked like it could have been accidental, but then we noticed the man down another block, testing doorhandles. Dalby puffed up and started acting all protective, heading toward the alleged perpetrator. Jake and I called him back, warning him that approaching a big man in downtown San Francisco at 2 in the morning was probably not the best idea.

After that, the conversation turned to disgust about lawbreakers and the flaws in our legal system. All communication fizzled as we boarded the bus and headed back to Jake's place to sleep.

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