11:40 AM We arrive 20 minutes early. Had my mother ushered me out the door and not my father, we would have rushed to be 5 minutes late. I am a bundle of conflicting emotions, as I always am when I leave San Francisco, and waiting on the street in front of Carl’s Junior is not helping. I bought my bus ticket online, and though reviews on Yelp had been positive, part of me is terrified I’ve been scammed. I’ll stand in front of the sad fast food establishment, as the website instructed, waiting for a bus that is never coming. My one woman production of “Waiting for Godot”, sure to land me on the shit-list of the Beckett estate.
11: 45 AM Two European-looking guys with large suitcases also waiting (or loitering) give me hope. “Looks like their waiting for the bus too,” says my father. I see the same trepidation in their eyes, confirmed when one approaches me, “You waiting for the bus to LA?” he asks, in an Italian accent. “Yep.” I reply. “Where is it? It should be here, no?” “I don’t know any more than you, sorry. We still have 15 minutes before it’s scheduled to arrive.” He retreats impatiently. Still, I am comforted by his presence. At the very least, I’m not the only idiot who buys cheap bus tickets online.
11:50 AM “I keep them at bay,” my father says, gesturing
wildly freely with his cane. “Dad! You’re going to hit someone with that thing!” I admonish. My father had not planned on waiting with me. Yet I’m glad he is. His cane only adds to the eccentric-crotchety-old-man look he’s been rocking since about the time I left for college. A street corner in downtown San Francisco, it goes without saying that it is crawling with characters: drifters, possible junkies, bums. Honestly, I’m scarred for life: when I was 15 I had a homeless man grab my face and kiss my forehead. Nobody tries that when your daddy’s standing next to you.
11:55 AM A small crowd of people with suitcases has gathered in front of Carl’s Junior. Some of them look bored, and seeing no hint of worry as I glance at their faces, I deduce they’ve done this before. So the bus must be coming, but where is it? My phone buzzes. It’s my mother telling me she has an errand to run for work in the neighborhood I am in! Coincidence? I think not. Someone misses me already. She’s biking over (my family doesn’t own a car), should be 10 minutes. That’s five minutes after my bus’ ETA. It’s a race between bike and bus.
12 PM On the dot, Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” blasts through the air, music carrying to all corners of the intersection. In the plaza across the street, a group of 25 people dressed all in black begin a choreographed dance routine. It’s a flash mob. A homeless man routing through the trashcan next to me tries to sing along. The sun peaks through the morning fog, completing the scene. I grin. This is San Francisco. What a perfect way to spend my last moments in my beloved hometown.
12:05 PM My mother pulls up on her bicycle. She beats the bus, but only by about 90 seconds. This five minutes is a blur. Hugs, worrying about my mother leaving her bike unattended, kisses, getting my suitcase on the bus, good-byes.
12:10 PM I’m on the bus. It pulls away from Carl’s Junior and I’m speeding away from my family, away from the city that will always have part of my heart.
I just spent several weeks in the city by the bay, the city of my youth. I don’t see myself moving back there anytime soon, but San Francisco is my first love. Before New York, there was San Francisco.
This is the start of the new series: “New York Cliché as San Francisco Cliché”. Stay tuned!