SF DAY 2 – That’s a lot of walking on an empty stomach

So now that I’m in love with the city, I take a walk suggested by my guide across Nob and Russian Hill. I am nearly delirious with joy, walking slash hopping across the streets, taking a million pictures. This is San Francisco like I imagined it:  the nearly vertical streets and pastel houses and neary a person in sight. These are the upper-class neighborhoods you see in the movies, with the families and the middle-class white people.

Jack Kerouac’s house, a small dark wooden house in the middle of a nondescript street. Big Sur is tucked safely in my bag, the one that is still stranded somewhere in Heathrow. This will be the one Kerouac book I finish, I swear it. Though it might take me ten years.

Macondray Lane is a place taken directly out of my dreams, or an Alice in Wonderland mini-series. Between the flora and “don’t feed the coyote” signs, Christmas ornaments adorn forgotten pumpkins. On top of the wooden stairs, I shake da booty a little bit.

Used to play pretend, give each other different names we would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly far away. Used to dream about this place but now they’re laughing at our face saying ‘wake up you need to make money’, yo.

I climb yet another hill to the Vallejo St steps and the Ina Coolbrith Park and its amazing vistas. The Bay Bridge dominates the hills of the city, white over blue. Oh man, so much happy crying in one day. I get lost in there for a while, watching the city below me, the giant cacti and the blue birds. The sky is a canvas for my thoughts or some other poetic bullshit.

Blue skies smiling at me, nothing but blue skies do I see. Blue birds singing a song, nothing but blue skies from now on.

Okay, I never truly believed I would make it here. San Francisco was a pipe dream. I am in shock that it happened. What other pipe dream of mine can I make happen? The city is right there at the tips of my fingers, and it smells like weed. Are people here high all the time? I love these streets in a straight line, like an expressway to the ocean close-by. I just want to run the whole way there.

So, I more or less do.

I walk around Chinatown, trying to find the path of the Beats. Little produce shops, Chinese banks and fifty people to the square meter: this is very, very familiar. No Christmas bullshit here, the stores are already preparing for Chinese New Year. Columbus Avenue cuts across the neighborhood and leaves a strange taste in my mouth. I don’t like reading or hearing that name. America is still celebrating its genocidal, bloody heritage, apparently.

Jack Kerouac Alley is a mix of monumental paintings and inspiring, bite-sized quotes. City Lights Books is right there, a legendary institution for book nerds of every horizon. I enter the sanctuary and go on the hunt for treasures that I will buy, look at adoringly, and probably never read. Nevertheless, between the poetry section, the activism section, the women studies and the LGBTQI section, I find happiness. A dude walks by me, asking out loud “what does the I even stand for?” Fuck you dude. May your children educate themselves and shame you for your ignorance and bigotry. Fuck. You.

Here is the thing about the Beats: I do not give one fuck about them. I made it through twenty pages of On the Road and I have read and loved some Ginsberg. I get that they had a salutary influence on culture (or rather, counter-culture) in the McCarthian America of the 50’s and practically birthed the hippie movement. But nowadays the Beats come with an army of pretentious, mansplaining, large glasses-wearing, Dylan-loving white douches. I have very, very little patience for the sexist new-liberal man of today.

Anyway. Um. Books. I love books! So I buy books. Poetry by women. Fiction by women. Books about consent by women. Women! I love women.

I try to get lunch and get coffee instead. Lattes are a food group, right?

Somehow I end up in North Beach and Little Italy, walking from little quirky shop to little quirky shop. I buy stuff. Cool stuff. Too cool from my lame friends. Yeah, it’s better I keep it all for myself. Definitely.

I end up walking to Coit Tower, a tall building on a hill where you can see all of the city. The building is an homage to San Francisco’s firemen, and has a bunch of marxist art in it. From the outside, it’s all white Art Deco and pretty scenery. I don’t go all the way to the top because it’s full of tourists: ain’t nobody got time for that. I take the famous Fillbert steps down, miss Bob Kaufman Alley by a hair. At Washington square, I take Powel St all the way from North Beach to Union Square. Oh, how I love these streets in a square grid. From one end to another, I visit three different cities. Just follow the grey concrete road.

At Market St, I bump into Super Duper Burger, boasting its best burger status for two years in a row. I get a veggie burger with everything (hummus, cucumber, cheese, avocado, onion, lettuce and tomato). Yes, it is amazing. But no, not the best. The best veggie burger I ever ate was in a Swedish-French restaurant in Kampot a year ago. It was pirate-themed.

My belly full and my eyelids drooping, I walk back to the hostel. My entire body is in pain, my back is spasming like crazy. I am a thousand years old.

What a day.

SONG CREDITS: Stressed out – twenty one pilots – Blurryface + Blue Skies – Maxine Sullivan

Other important tracks of that afternoon: Everybody does – Julien Baker + pretty much all of Queen

SF DAY 2 – Finally.

Demain, dimanche. Un autre jour, j’m’en fous. J’irai j’irai dans la ruelle, j’irai là où mon coeur m’appelle. L’est pas question que j’passe ma vie emprisonné dans ma p’tite tête, je suis un félin insoumis, j’tiens mordicus à bien paraître.

I was like, let’s go up the hill. And I went because this is my time, I am free, and there’s nothing to be afraid of. So up I went. And up and up and up. At the top of Nob Hill, taking in the sights of the sprawling, downward streets and cable cars, the ocean (the fucking ocean!!! I had never seen that one before!) far away, it hit me. Finally. Finally finally finally. I AM HERE!!

This is what I wished for. This is what I’ve been waiting for. I made it. I am in San Francisco. Let me be corny for just a second: dreams do come true. This was my dream, and I am here. And it’s nothing like I imagined it would be. I am nothing like a imagined I would be. But it’s real.

I put on Sitting on the dock of the bay and cried a little bit. I am allowed, okay, it was a very emotional moment.

I sit in a square to write, next to Grace Cathedral, in front of a fountain. The sun is out there, but it’s still pretty cold up here. It smells like dog shit. All of Tenderloin smells like piss, Vietnamese food and weed. An old lady is doing her morning aerobics alone. A tiny dog is wearing a Santa outfit.

En attendant, ça peut attendre, j’goûte au bonheur, c’est pas pressé.

SONG CREDITS: Belzebuth – Les Colocs – Dehors Novembre

SF DAY 2 – Breakfast at Starbucks

This morning in bed, I thought a lot about being brave. I struggle with bravery.

Questions in my head: will I be brave enough to explore San Francisco, to let go of the fear, to truly let myself experience this place? Will I be brave enough to meet people? Will I be brave enough to eat breakfast at the hostel?

The point of this trip, too, is to enjoy it and not put too much pressure on myself. I need to find balance. Between fear and strength. So this morning is cream cheese bagel and latte at Starbucks. American enough, I guess. I tried to take Ellis, but I’m not brave enough yet for Ellis in the early morning.

Tenderloin is so weird. So close to these big hotels and gigantic stores and filthy rich temples of consumerism, and there are homeless people of every age, race and gender. Sleeping, lurking, living. Scattered between upscale hipster shops and Vietnamese hairdressers. That’s a lot of blunt misery, a lot of America showing its true colors and hurling them right in your face. This neighborhood scares me, and at the same time, I feel like it is really important for me to be here, to see this.

A great thing about this place: nobody is from here. We are all imported pieces of a giant, mismatched puzzle that makes no sense. You can walk around for blocks and not hear a word of nasal, drawn out Californian English. A third of the population is Asian here. I can get lost in Little Saigon and feel right at home. Except I gotta remember to tip.

SF DAY 1 – Let’s go to the mall (the mall!) today

Tenderloin is so depressing. Giant, square avenues. Deserted, horror-movie Walgreens where fucking toothbrushes are under lock. The bright winter sun reaches me, but not the heat.

I’m back in BART, going to the airport to sort this baggage thing out. The guy at the United desk is apologetic but unhelpful. Brussels Airlines is useless. Thank fuck, there are free phones everywhere in the airport, so I can weather 15 minutes of waiting to be put in line with someone from British Airways. Once again, the Brits save the day. Once it’s all set up for my bag to be delivered some day maybe, I head downtown to do some shopping. Let’s BART this morthefucker, I say to no one.

Union Square is a shopping hub. It looks like a shopping hub. Nuff said. I get to the mall and rob an H&M. I would love to say my afternoon at the mall includes an amazing 80s-themed musical number around a fountain with a robot and my homegirls Jessica and Tory, but no, it doesn’t.

I head back to the hostel, put on shiny boots and ripped black jeans and it’s like I’m human again. I leveled the fuck up. I feel like a million bucks strutting down O’Farrell. Back at Westfield, I experience the food court without great success. It’s 6pm, I am exhausted and slightly disgusted with myself.

So I go to the movies. Pitch Perfect 3. Oh yeah, it’s bad. But the seats in the theater, man, they’re amazing. If we were in Vegas, I’d marry one in front of God, a bunch of drunk people and Elvis.

Getting back to the hotel, I detour by the Disney store. They’re selling R2D2 dresses. I might have shed a tear.

I’m not realizing yet, what’s happening, where I am. It will come.

SF DAY 0 – Brussels – London – San Francisco

I’m gonna give you the short version, because this shit is BORING.

Girl wakes up at 5am to take plane to the city of her dreams. Plane is delayed. 30 minutes. 40 minutes. One hour and forty minutes. A forty minute flight feels hours-long. When girl gets to London to catch her connecting flight, the plane already took off.

Then it’s a labyrinth of desks, lifts, shuttles, border controls and boarding passes. A chatty, amazing guy finds me a flight out in the next hour. Gorgeous, well-endowed, smart, amazing guy. Probably married to a supermodel. I will name all of my children after him: airport dude.

Some more running. Everyone in this airport is so polite and helpful. I love the Brits, they saved my trip. The flight is like any long-distance flight: excruciating. But the entertainment ain’t half bad. Handmaid’s Tale, Spiderman: Homecoming, Baby Driver, yes, thank you.

A wonderful thing about the Brits: they sell electric kettles with travel items in airports.

In the plane, three glasses of wine in:

I am scared. I’ve been scared.

1 – Because I’m doing this alone. I am on my own, I have to be careful. And restrained. What if something happens?

2 – Because I’m bringing myself on this trip. My fucked-up, shy self who’s afraid to talk to people and can’t even stand up for anything. How is that girl gonna fare in the US of A? I can’t escape who I am.

The guy at border control was rude as hell. What’s it to you if I have a lot of Thai and Cambodian visas? Why do you care what I do for a living? Why wouldn’t I want to stay 13 days in the same fucking city? So what if I just wanna walk around? I know he was supposed to ask these questions, but seriously, bro. It is 5am in my country. I’ve been queuing for 45 minutes. Give me a fucking break.

My bag didn’t make it. So, that’s an adjustment.

I had planned to take a cab, seen as I got here much later than I anticipated, but since I’m going to have to buy stuff like a toothbrush and shit, I’ll save some money and take the BART train… I utterly ridicule myself failing to locate the thing to slip the ticket into. The city is a dark mass around the train, suggested by feeble road lights. City of stars, are you shining just for me?

I get off at Civic Center. It’s not too cold, which is great because I’ve only got the clothes on my back. Instead of doing the sensible thing and taking what the guide deems “safer” streets, I forge on through Larkin, smack dab in the middle of Tenderloin. In a city I don’t know, in the dark, alone, with all my possessions and 300$ in a nylon backpack. Hey mom and dad, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry? Clumps of homeless people at every street corner… and not one of them is anything other than polite, asking for a bit of cash. Take that, classist guide.

At the hostel, finally, I sink into my bed like it’s made of quicksand.

So, this is it. Here I am. Signed, sealed, delivered. Without clothes or a toothbrush or my glasses. It’s fine. Listen, it’s fine. This is what I wanted, right?

Adventure. Danger. Cojones.

Me against the city.