I Lost My Way in San Francisco


It was late afternoon as I trudged up and down the hills of San Francisco yesterday, testing out the route from the Hotel Tomo to Kaiser Hospital, where my father is having heart surgery today. I thought it was just up the road, but somehow . . . it wasn’t. My heart pounded as I climbed uphill and down. I passed drunks, crazy people, and homeless guys picking stuff out of the garbage. A pretty blonde girl walking with her friend lit up a marijuana cigarette behind me. I Inhaled the smoke in happy amazement. I saw 50 sushi shops, a dozen liquor stores, four giant churches, and a lot of street signs, but I did not see Kaiser hospital.  Feeling like a stupid tourist, I kept checking the map I’d gotten at the hotel, but it didn’t help much. It was getting dark. I was not about to walk back in the dark in my cute purple hat and big old steal-able purse.
I had to face the fact: Kaiser Hospital was not here. It must have moved. Or something. Nervously clutching my purse against my side, I decided I couldn’t walk any farther. I crossed the street and took a bus back to Japantown and my hotel. Luckily, a gigantic Japanese sculpture marked my way. Back in my room, I looked at the more detailed map I had brought from home. Oh Lord. I was walking in the wrong direction. Kaiser was the other way!
This is not the first—or the 20th time this has happened to me. If I added up all the hours I have spent trying to find something that wasn’t where I thought it was, it would probably equal several years. I’m good at some things, but finding my way around isn’t one of them. It’s a good thing I now live in a town where it’s almost impossible to get lost. Everything is off of Highway 101 with ocean on one side and forest on the other. And yes, I have a GPS, but I didn’t think I needed it. Silly me.
One guy who didn’t get lost was the driver of the ride-share shuttle I took from the airport. The driver spoke minimal English and drove like a maniac. He raced all over San Francisco so fast I can’t believe he didn’t mow down a couple dozen pedestrians. At one point, he stopped on the street where I knew my hotel was, so I prepared to get out. This guy in Victorian costume welcomed us to the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, and then this guy in the back seat got out. I pretended I wasn’t halfway out the door. A half hour and a hundred streets later, we were back on Sutter and landed at the Hotel Tomo.
I still don’t have my bearings. The view outside my hotel room window is fabulous. Don’t know what I’m seeing but it’s the big city, and the lights are like one big Christmas display to me. I took a taxi to the hospital this morning. The talkative Iranian driver gabbed about divorce customs in his country and how his wife rags on him to eat healthy, and he wished my father well. $6.50 and worth every penny. I arrived one minute before the rest of the family got here from San Jose.
Somehow they didn’t get lost. Maybe my brother’s right. Maybe I am adopted. Nah.
My father is in surgery right now. I’m waiting with my brother. Please send up a prayer that Dad comes out of this all right.

Tempted by all that Darned Sunshine

I just returned to Oregon after nearly a month in San Jose with my father. Dad is suffering from heart problems and will be having surgery in early December. Meanwhile he needed help, so I ditched everything here and hurried down I-5 to the place where I grew up.

Once I was there, I experienced this weird Dorothy-waking-up-from-the-dream-of-Oz feeling. I was home. The sun was shining. Every day. Every day for 28 days. Here, if the sun comes out, we rush outside to look at it because it’s such a fickle visitor. There, it’s the rain that’s a rare guest. It clouded over briefly a couple times, but cleared up without dropping any moisture.

I love the sun. I spent a lot of time sprawled on the old chairs in the patio soaking it up. Dad’s yard is like a nature preserve, full of shrubs and fruit trees, with three resident squirrels as big as your average cat, blue jays, mockingbirds, sparrows, crows, hummingbirds, and the biggest bumblebees I’ve ever seen. It’s nice back there, and it’s nice being warm. I barely noticed the constant roar of the nearby 280 freeway.

I slept soundly in my childhood room, and I enjoyed being close to the scenes of so many memories. It was also great being near my family, especially my father. I liked the fact that every store or business a body could think of was within a few miles, and I always had four reception bars on my cell phone. That first week, I thought: This is crazy. I should move back home. Now that Fred is gone, why am I staying in Oregon? I can’t afford to live in the Bay Area, where everything costs about three times what it costs here, but I’d have a lot more chance of finding a job there than I would here. I could rejoin my old writing and music groups. It would be great.

Over the weeks that followed, the feeling faded. Even perpetual sunshine gets old. Folks there are always worried about not having enough water because it rarely rains. Everything is crowded, and the traffic is unbearable. A week ago today, I took Dad to San Francisco to meet the surgeons who will be doing his procedure. I don’t like to drive in big cities, and I definitely don’t like to drive in the dark. The directions were good, and I made it successfully to the parking garage next to the hospital. But we got out at 5:30, the height of the evening commute. Stop and go all the way. Red brake lights in front of me, white headlights to the left, eight to ten lanes across. Gripping the steering wheel, afraid every minute of crashing and dying. After a couple hours of that, I told my father, “If anybody asks why your daughter moved to Oregon, this is why.” We agreed that no job is worth fighting that kind of traffic every day.

No, I live here. Right now, it’s raining. Out my window, the big Sitka spruce waves in a gentle wind. My dog Annie is asleep on her chair. And I’m writing in my bathrobe. This is home.

They say you can’t go home again. Well, you can, but it’s never the same, and you might not want to stay there.