San Francisco builds them crazier

After living in NYC for over 10 years, I was under the impression that New York had some of the craziest people in the country. I’m not talking crazy in the let’s build a bidet out of gold in our guest penthouse or let’s do 20 grams of coke and stay out till tuesday type of crazy. Because New York definitely leads the country in those type of crazies, IMO. I’m talking about the more traditional, make a track suit out garbage bags and fishing twine and urinate in a subway car type of crazies. New York has a lot of those, don’t get me wrong. But comparing dollars for donuts, San Francisco builds them crazier.

When I first visited the fair city of San Francisco in the late nineties – a fresh faced teenager – I took the BART from the airport down to 24th and Mission where my sister was living. Walking out of the subway on to 24th street I believe was the 1st time I ever actually had to step OVER a person on the street.  In the past I’d had to navigate AROUND a bum or two, or maybe avoid the general direction of some unsavory characters, but this was definitely the first time I had to pass directly above one.  In San Francisco there seems to be a definite trend in the bumming community to choose highly trafficked areas to pass out – frequently right on their faces or lying straight on their back staring at the sky (the creepiest!).

Like water flowing through a brook, pedestrians in SF find a way to navigate around these human obstructions and on their dutiful way. Once there was a man passed out right in front of our doorstep and I found myself having to stop and see if he was OK. I was able to elicit a groan from him and could move on in good conscience. Later when the story was recounted to my sister, she replied, “You stopped and checked on him? Don’t you understand that bums just do that here!?” Now that I have lived here for a little while, I see that she is right – they do. I’ve tried to theorize why people here are prone to passing out in the middle of the sidewalk and I’ve decided that it might have something to do with all the hills. Possibly they get really fucked up, set out in some general direction and then, upon encountering the difficulty of trudging up one of the many large hills, find it easier to just plop themselves down right there on the sidewalk. Ahhh…sleepy time. It may also have something to do with the super high rents in the city. But that is all mere conjecture…

Just passing out in the street does not mean you are really crazy, though, just really tired or extremely intoxicated. So how do I justify my belief that SF builds them crazier? Well, I invite anyone interested to take the 14 bus down Mission street on a sunny saturday afternoon to get a true sampling of the crazy flavour. Why just the other day I did it and it went  kind of like this: At the outset of our trip an enormous African-American lady hobbled on to the bus and took an instant disliking to the bus driver. I missed their initial encounter, but apparently the Asian bus driver had done something to set her off (or dare I say she was just crazy). She chose to sit within the vicinity of the driver and proceeded to hurl expletives at him for 6 or 7 stops. Something along the lines of: “Uh huh… you can’t treat me like that. Nope. I live in this city! I’m from San Francisco! You can’t talk to me like that, you fucking asshole. You think just because you driving the bus you can treat me like that you dick. Uh huh, that’s what I said. I live here…” And so on and so on.

I’ve gained a lot of respect for MUNI drivers since living in San Francisco. They seem to have become sort of the general focal point for the common people’s mistrust and agression towards “The Man”. I try to imagine what it must be like to show up to work everyday and chauffeur around a bunch of loonies – some of them who just yell insults at you the entire time. I mean, come on lady! Don’t you realize he is driving your bus!? He could blow a gasket at any moment and take the bus and everyone in it straight off a bridge. Shut the fuck up!! All bus drivers deserve medals in my opinion.

Later on a group of three Nicaraguan guys got on board and sat towards the back. They were sipping on tall boys while pounding those single serve gin bottles you get at the counter of liquor stores. They actually seemed pretty normal except that they were wearing surgical gloves. So while their fiesta was heating up in the back, a group of skater punks got on a few seats in front of them. Just when it seemed like the scene couldn’t be any riper for confrontation, this relic from the heyday of 60s San Francisco psychedelia hopped on board. He was extremely white and gaunt with long grey hair and a long grey beard. He chose to sit next to the skater punks.

This is where the trip started to get a little surreal. In any normal circumstances the skater punks, with their piercings, tattoos and general menacing appearance, would be the instigators in this situation but introduce a crazy white acid-casualty in to the mix and everything goes out of whack. He starts barking gibberish at one of the punks in an extremely loud and earnest fashion. Everyone is trying to make out what this creepy dude is saying because it sounds ALMOST like words and the skater punk is looking visibly uncomfortable. He just keeps shaking his head and saying “I don’t understand what you are saying to me”. This just made the hairy skeleton angrier and angrier and he began barking even louder and more incoherently. At this point the Nicaraguans in the back chime in and start yelling at the skeleton, “Yo man! We want some of what you got. Whatever your on – we want some of that! Come on man, I’ll give you a 100 bucks right now.” They start cracking up and the hairy guy for the first time becomes quiet, almost self conscious. He responds somewhat defensively (and even coherently), “What!? What are you talking about!?” – like a high school kid accused of drinking his dads beer.

Well that troop of characters all clears out around 16th and Mission and we start getting closer to our destination. We couldn’t expect to get home, though, without getting at least one more touch of the crazies. This time it came in the form of an unassuming older north-african gentleman with a slightly glazed look and no bottom teeth. Did I forget to mention that during all this my 18 month year old son managed to fall asleep in my lap? The gentleman across the aisle remarks on how peaceful my son looks sleeping. I remark back that I’m surprised he was able to fall asleep in all the commotion. The gentleman nods weakly and responds, “I know. I know. I haven’t slept in 138 days.” Hmmmmm… I see.

Just in case you were wondering if the crazies tend just to congregate on buses in SF, let me assure you that it is not the case. As we alighted from the bus at our stop there happened to be someone kneeling in the middle of the sidewalk. They appeared to be trying to push their nose into a crack in the pavement. We chose to leave that mystery unsolved and returned home after an exciting day on public transportation. Safely back to our apartment, I began to muse on why it is that San Francisco attracts such a large number of colorful vagrants.  The weather is certainly hospitable and conducive to passing out on the sidewalk most of the year round. That is pretty much the west coast in general, though, so that wouldn’t explain it entirely. It might also have something to do with how America was settled. With the expansion westward, cities and towns were continually rounding up their loonies and shipping them further and further west until they ultimately couldn’t go any further and voila: San Francisco. Or possibly San Francisco has just always been known as a place of extreme tolerance. Hard to say, but after living in a city with an almost militant police presence for many years, this acceptance of idiosyncrasy is almost a breath of fresh air (with hints of urine and beer thrown in).

0 miles to go…

Ah yes… 8 weeks later and I finally arrived in San Francisco. Unfortunately 3 members of my crew perished along the way of typhoid, dysentery and other pioneer-era ailments.  Ok, not really – I ‘ve just been super busy and maybe *cough* a bit too lazy to get this travel blog done. Really, its one thing to cart all your crap in a truck cross country. It’s entirely another thing to unpack that crap and find places to shove it. This past weekend was the first time there wasn’t a  pile of random stuff in at least one corner of the whole apartment. That’s progress! But let’s back track a bit.


So when we last left off, our intrepid caravan had made it to the mountain metropolis of Salt Lake City. It looks like this:

Salt Lake City
This is not a model.


The journey in to Salt Lake City was probably the most terrified I had been on the entire trip. It is essentially one steady descent from quite high up for at least 15 to 20 minutes. That would be fine if Mr. Penske hadn’t decided to disable down-shifting in his fleet of moving trucks. I was forced to ride the breaks for the entire trip down. Do you know what happens when you try to apply the breaks for more then a few seconds on a truck that is hurtling down hill with an SUV trailing behind it? It felt like I was sitting in one of those machines that mixes paint cans. That was the only time on the entire trip that the truck got above 70 mph (the speedometer read 80) and I was applying the breaks the whole time! Meanwhile normal cars and trucks were zooming past me left and right. Thank Joseph Smith I arrived in SLC in one piece!


With my travel agent back on duty (love ya ma), I was booked in the lavish Shilo Inn downtown for a fraction of the price due to some internet blowout deal. I believe this caused the young man at the counter to take an instant disliking to me which was only exacerbated by the fact that I pulled my truck up under the awning that clearly said “No Trucks over 20 feet” or something. I fit… but just barely. As a punishment he made me park on the top of the back parking garage which could only be reached by a maze of small alleys. It took nearly 40 minutes and the help of a professional truck driver/innocent bystander to get ‘er done.

Rooftop Parking
It was harder then it looks!


Salt Lake City is actually quite pleasant and, much to my surprise, the bars and restaurants were open pretty late for a Sunday night. Mormons are very polite and certainly very clean but I always get the sense that they are judging me. They just have a way of looking at you that always seems tinged with pity. I’m perfectly capable of feeling sorry for myself, Thank You!


The next morning I headed out pretty early with the hopes of possibly getting to Sacremento by that evening. The goal was to get very close to San Francisco so that I could roll in to the city shortly after morning rush hour traffic, unpack and return the truck before the post-work traffic started. Unfortunately, while all this scheming was taking place the gas tank on the truck was getting closer and closer to the half-way mark. There was a moment, as I was pulling out of Salt Lake,  that I thought – I really SHOULD tank up – but I decided that I would just find somewhere on the road. Bad decision. In this part of America distances take on a whole new meaning.


Oh please let there be gas in Elko!


So the reason that Salt Lake City is named that is because the city is situated next to a giant Salt Lake. No shite, right?!! I’ve often thought of what a burn it must have been for those initial exploring pioneers. They finally made it over this giant mountain range and discover this beautiful oasis in the distance. I imagine them running down the hill toward the lake, thirsty as all hell, thinking they found the promise land. They fall to their knees in front of this giant body of water to slake their thirst and… “Wait a minute!? It’s filled with salt!! Can we get a fucking break, puh-leeeze?!?”


Possibly a lesser known fact, though, is that the lake was once actually much larger then it is today – a veritable salt ocean – and what is left of that ancient body of water is a Great Salt Flat. Driving through this Salt Flat feels a bit like you are driving on the surface of the moon. It is several inches of hard salt for as far as the eye can see, surrounded by majestic mountains. But what is even better is that their isn’t a gas station for at least 60 miles once you enter the Salt Flat! There isn’t even a way to u-turn!! Right after passing the last road sign for many many miles was when my gas tank reserve light decided to suddenly flash on. It was the perfect storm!!

This is what we call foreshadowing


At this point, things became very tense. I had no idea how much gas was in the reserve tank but I imagined it couldn’t be a lot. I had 60 miles to go till the next town and all I could think was that a stupid bumper sticker I read once said something about how driving too fast burns more fuel. Well who’s stupid now!? So I planted the speedometer at a blazing 45mph and time began to stand still on this desolate patch of earth (except for the other cars and trucks zooming past me, of course). It felt like I was in Mad Max. I kept waiting for a legion of motorcycle riding bandits to appear on the horizon, making their way to pillage my caravan and scalp me in the process.


I managed to make it almost 50 miles when I finally saw another road sign that indicated a town in 12 miles. I was almost there. I made it one more mile and then *cough* *splurt* *cough*… dead. I could even see the town in the distance! I forgot to mention that there isn’t any cell phone reception in this part of the world either. So what did I do?! Well, I had the brilliant revelation that I’d been trailing a car behind me for 2000 miles, maybe I could use it to go get some gas. So that is what I did. I unhitched my 4-runner from the trailer and drove to the town I saw on the horizon, bought a gallon of gas and a tub to carry it in and drove back. It involved a bit of  off-roading (probably illegal), but I managed to get the truck started again and tanked up at the gas station in under an hour. It was then that I decided that I would never travel long distances by vehicle again unless I’m towing another emergency vehicle behind me 😉


It has been said that at some point in your voyage through life you will ultimately run in to yourself somewhere along the road. Well that happened at the gas station just outside the Great Salt Flats.  There was some guy on the other side of the gas pump who was filling up a similar big yellow Penske moving truck and he was also trailing a 4-runner behind him. He was leaving California for the East Coast. An inverted doppelganger essentially. We exchanged pleasantries about our similar circumstances and how it’s funny that we both arrived at the same gas pump. He said something like, “Well when I get to this part of the States, I’m sure to tank up every time I get near a half a tank.” Now you tell me, ya douche!?


My Inverted Doppelgagner
My Inverted Doppelganger


With that valuable lesson under my belt (along with an Arby’s turkey sandwich which is surprisingly good actually), I made my now slightly hastened journey across Nevada. Nevada can be summed up in four words: Gambling at gas stations. There was this rather lovely sunset, though:


The Sun Also Sets
The Sun Also Sets


And just when it seemed like Nevada couldn’t go on for any longer, I came upon this small sign on the side of the road:

Welcome to California
The end is in sight


It seemed like I was finally home free! Unfortunately I was forced to stop at a roadside check point first where they make sure you’re not smuggling foreigners in to the state. By foreigners I mean non-native insects and other assorted pests, of course. I happened to have a few plants from back east and the socially-awkward, but very nice, lady at the booth proceeded to up-end them all in search of the dreaded Japanese Beatle (that’s just how I spell it now thanks to Sir Paul). It’s actually no joke – those beatles are everywhere in the North East. The whole time she was digging through my plants I kept thinking, “Imagine if thousands of people died of starvation because my crappy bonsai tree unleashed a plague of beatles on the California plant life. That would suck.” I had two big bags of delicious Riiska Farm Massachusett’s apples with me that I had carted all this way and the officious lady went through each and every apple VERY closely.  After, like, the 40th apple I said something like, “You could have one if you like, you know? There quite delicious.” She just looked at me stone-faced and said “I would just bring it inside, dissect it and inspect it under the microscope”. Ok, byeee!

Sorry Mr. Appleseed but were going to have ask you to bend over (rubber glove snapping)


So after 6 days, 3,220 miles, $1326 in gas, countless cups of coffee and this last hurdle passed, I finally manged to roll in to San Francisco.

San Francisco
Rice-a-roni here we come!


With the help of my lovely sister and her boyfriend, we managed to unpack the truck relatively quickly. Everything was stacked  in a nice orderly maze of boxes and thus began the next exciting chapter in the great American Moving Novel entitled,  “Where is the damn can opener!?”


I think it’s somewhere in the box on the bottom of that stack.


The View from our new place
Our new view


And the final tally is...
And the final tally is…