I wrote this story some time ago. I did not know it then but Anthony Bourdain must have been my inspiration. He brought out the voyeur in all of us, in a good way. He taught us about food, life, and humanity. Anyone who knows his work will have a piece of Anthony in their brain for life. I know I will.
They got onto the bus at Chestnut and Fillmore. Black jacket, Diadora logo. Pink, blue, green and yellow pastel flowers on a black and white background. I knew immediately they were the ones I would follow today. The oriental couple yesterday was a huge disappointment. I was spoiled by that young couple I followed earlier in the week. It would take quite something to top that. Dark skinned, silver nose stud and lip ring, shiny black hair, great smile. Caucasian, soft features, attentive, drinking a green tea frappe and listening to her every word. Turns out she was an aspiring writer and they were off to the book fair at Fort Mason. Probably the best day I’ve had in months but that’s another story.
He was talking about a training session he’d attended during the morning. She said something about tapping their credit card at Cost Plus that made him frown. They shared their experiences like old couples do when they’ve been separated for a few hours. They got off at Green and Stockton.
He wanted to walk down to City Lights bookstore. She was clearly not interested. They went a block in that direction. Then they crossed over to the other side of Columbus and went back to Green. I guess he felt guilty and changed his mind. On Green Street they walked along looking for a pizza place where they had a voucher for a few glasses of wine and a pizza.
They were enjoying the neighborhood. Lots of Orientals, Blacks, and Bohemian types. They laughed and carried on a conversation about the people they saw. They commented on the outfits, the hair styles, even the body shapes. The pizza place turned out to be a disappointment. It was supposed to open at noon when they arrived, but the chairs were still stacked on the tables and on the bar. The whole scene looked hungover. It was still waking up from last night’s drunk.
They walked on past. I heard them argue about whether to go or not. He wanted the free wine and pizza. She said they’d get sick or worse. They went down a side street where there were several eclectic shops. She found a place with kids books and cards and the happy crappy stuff she liked and he didn’t. This made her happy. He played along. He hoped to change her mind about the pizza place.
He looked at silly birthday cards. He showed a few to her, but she was interested in the books. A grandchild’s birthday was fast approaching. They killed twenty minutes this way. They finally bought a few things. She let him drag her back to the the pizza place. It was still closed. He took her for a glass of wine at Rosa Pistola. He knew she liked that place. It was around the block.
Before they entered through the back entrance, a classic Thunderbird convertible skidded to a stop right in front of them. The car was burgundy, the driver black. He wore a tan Superfly hat. Loud music from the era when they grew up blared out of the speakers. The driver smiled. They waved.
Inside Rosa Pistola two old Italian men sat at the kitchen counter drinking Limoncello and red wine. He told her they looked like they’d just come in from the vineyards. She laughed.
They sat at the end of the bar in the power position. There were a couple of tables by the large open windows. The restaurant was otherwise empty. The bartender poured her a Sauvignon Blanc. He had a Chianti. It was early. The staff milled around and laughed and carried on with not much to do. The two of them had a couple of breadsticks. He missed breakfast at his training class. The wine went right to his head. She knew she was in control. I could tell from the way she relished in it.
She suggested going across to L’Osteria for lunch. She said there was no way she was going to the pizza place. It looked run down. She said it would probably make them sick. He insisted on going for the free stuff. He didn’t want to pay for lunch when they had the voucher. An argument ensued, but not a real one. She checked her wallet and offered to pay for lunch. He wouldn’t hear of it. He said if she tried the pizza place one more time and it didn’t work out he would pay for lunch at L’Osteria. She seemed happy with this compromise.
On the way to the pizza place they went back to the shop and bought one more birthday card they had hesitated over earlier. It was a card meant to be funny but might be taken the wrong way.
As they left, the sun was coming out even though rain had been predicted. He said that was a promising sign. She said she didn’t think he believed in signs. He said this was true but he could make an exception this afternoon.
The restaurant looked ready for customers, but there weren’t any. She said the place looked very suspicious. He grabbed her hand and pulled her in. The bartender was friendly. They showed him the voucher.
“Cool,” he said. “No problem. Sit anywhere you like.”
It was a small place. It looked like a bar where young people hung out at night. There was no sign of a kitchen.
They chose a small table by the window. The stools were made of wood, lacquered with a glossy finish. They looked like what you put your feet on when you were sitting in a real chair. The table was an old wine barrel. It had a glass top with lots of wine corks under the glass. The bartender brought them a wine list and a menu.
“Look,” he said. “They’ve got your favorite, Sancerre.”
She was pleased.
They ordered a four cheese pizza and had mushrooms added.
He had a Nebbiolo.
They watched people go by outside the window and sipped their wine.
The pizza came.
“What do you think?”
He could tell she liked it.
They had another glass of wine. The bartender asked if they were driving. They laughed.
“Do you think at our age two glasses of wine might cause us to be reckless? No, we’re taking the bus.”
They had consumed the limit of the voucher but he ordered two extra glasses of wine. He left a big tip. On the way out he held her hand. The sun was bright. They were on top of the world.
“What a day!”
I left them when they got on the bus to head back. A young black man and woman got off the bus when the old folks got on. The young man was handsome. He carried an iPAD. The girl had a broad nose and wide features and lovely white teeth. They seemed so happy.
“These are the ones,” I said to myself. I stayed back a few steps and followed them. We walked directly into the sunlight.
If only more voyeurs would write about the clueless people they follow. You captured the drab, soulless essence of today’s Frisco very well. Nothing to do but wander from shop window to shop window, buy useless tourist crap, and eat overpriced fast food. The only option is to follow the people who do this.
Oh yeah, and then there’s the homeless: a totally different (and often more vibrant) reality…though with such a dark, tragic side that is frequently out in the open for all to witness, it kinda kicks the wind outta your sales re. the wonders of San Fran.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
You’re a dude, Zeke. I’ve known lots of homeless folks, walked with them, talked with them, hung with them but I can’t get into their heads. I’m not one of them. It’s not just SF, it’s Amerika. It was Charles Peguy who I wrote about in this blog who said “short of genius, a rich man cannot imagine poverty.” That said, if a voyeur like Anthony Bourdain or the narrator in this little story can accomplish something by making folks aware of others whoever they are that’s probably better than not.