Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I Asked For a Story . . .

So, last night, I put up a request on my FB page for a story, "just tell the story -- any story -- tell me a story about walking down the hall" and THIS is the story my longtime friend Bill sent me -- thank you Bill, you rose to the occasion!

And one of the neatest things about Bill's story is that I remember him packing up that VW Bug -- I vividly remember him leaving Greensboro. Py and I bought Bill's dark room equipment and his leather sofa. And just weeks before he left another friend of ours had attempted to move to SF and didn't make it. He made it half way across the country and then he came back. It wasn' t his destiny, but it was Bill's destiny for sure.

Here is Bill's story about walking down the hall:

Well Shannon, you might recall that 1989 was the year that I moved from North Carolina to California with my sights set on San Francisco.

It’s amazing that I even made it. Remember my old Beetle? It wouldn’t start and I was dumb enough, at... the time, to drive the damn thing across the USA without having it, first, repaired. This was OK when a hill was handy; I’d just let her coast to enough speed then kick it into gear. Worked like a charm in NC but became a much greater issue around the time I reached Kansas. I remember running alongside, car packed to the gills and getting JUST enough speed… if I timed it right, I could jump in and hit the clutch before it slowed down…

Anyway, I made it, arriving at the Berkeley Marina around 3 am one morning not really knowing where I was but aware that San Francisco was just across the Bay. Looking back, I must have been EXTREMELY naïve thinking that the $400.00 in my wallet would be enough to begin a new life.

I didn’t know anyone but had a phone number; a friend of a friend. She was very sweet and kind to me and allowed me to crash at her flat for a month while I got my act together. Something that she said that I will always remember… “You can always find a way to live in San Francisco as long as you love it and want to be here.”

I really did want to be in San Francisco, REALLY REALLY REALLY badly. I was in love with the city before I ever saw it and being there that first year felt like being at the center of the universe.

So I made it work. I actually was hired at my first job on the telephone, just two days after my arrival. It was a restaurant (of course) and it’s still there today. I knew that I wanted to live in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood (lovingly known simply as “The Haight), and moved into an old Victorian right on the panhandle of Golden Gate Park, just a few short blocks from the corner of Haight and Ashbury.

It was a bit whacky during this time. Well, honestly, more than just a little.

I ended up sharing this wonderful place that was built in 1876, I think… it was. is, CLASSIC SF. The whacky part was that I shared this flat with a somewhat notorious California Punk Band known as RKL (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rich_Kids_on_LSD). It was all great fun in a weird sort of way and I really loved them but they were a bit over the top. I’m lucky that I got out of there alive (seriously, most of these guys are long dead now from drug or other horrendous abuse.

I, myself was never inclined to be so completely disrespectful of my body as they were, but being the pot-head that I was at the time I have to admit that I stayed pretty stoned off of the green stuff of about 8 or 9 months. There was a guy who drove down from Humbolt Co for his weekly pilgrimage to sell the product of his labor on the strip. As a friendly gesture for allowing him to take breaks during the day at our flat, he would dump a grocery bag full of Humbolts finest on our coffee table and this would last almost until the following weekend.

So far, I’m into my second month on the west coast. I was 29 and by 30th was a few short weeks away. I guess that I should pause and make a disclaimer: That was 21 years ago.

For my 30th birthday, in October, my housemates threw a party for me. One of my housemates was Stephanie, here BF was Chris, RKL’s guitarist. Anyway, she was (and still is I think) pretty well connected with the Haight St crowd. Come to think of it, most of the people that I met during this time were well connected and were friends with several people who are now fairly famous (or fairly dead). We were sort of pals, in a platonic way and she made a point to introduce me to a variety of people and none of these fit any stereotype.

So for my birthday, she buys me this HUGE glass bong. It was the sort of bong that would impress any well-respected pot head and was the perfect centerpiece to accompany the trimmings on the coffee table.

One morning, a week or so later, Stephanie decides that she wants to show me some of the cool hidden spots in the area (well, honestly, they aren’t that hidden, but I didn’t know that). The rest of the household is in Santa Barbara and I don’t remember why other than that’s where most of them came from.

So, it’s October. We started our day with the usual morning ritual around the coffee table doing the wake and bake with my nice shiny new bong. The plan is to first roll a fatty and drive up to Twin Peaks for a bit of celebration before heading off into the mysterious territories of hidden San Francisco in my still crippled VW; much easier to locate a hill though ; )

(I suppose I should add this disclaimer: morning ritual AT THE TIME, which was looong ago and almost forgotten by me until you asked me for a story).

So FINALLY we are leaving. I remember walking down the hall and Stephanie was first out the door, myself following; she was rather bossy and always the first one out the door. Just as I am crossing the threshold, I pause…

“Wait,” I said.

“What?” She said.

“I’ve gotta do something.”

This was a much bigger deal than it sounds, Shannon, because Stephanie was impatient at times and I could tell that she wanted to leave that very moment. I was too stoned to really care and was more concerned with the issue at hand.

“I think we’re going to have an earthquake today. No, seriously, for all I know we are going to have an earthquake today and my bong is going to shatter to pieces”

So I go back into the living room and grab my bong which is still on the coffee table. Gently I pick it up, take it to my bedroom look for a safe place to stash it.

I ended up placing it inside of my dad’s army duffle and hung it on a hook ...just inside my closet. I could tell Stephanie was getting a bit irritated but this is something that I was convinced was necessary or I would not enjoy the day.

OK, so we left, pushed my Bug to a start and headed in a roundabout way towards Twin Peaks. I remember having a laugh at the tourists up there. It was foggy that day (or that hour of that day at that particular location… SF microclimates) and several people wearing Bermuda shorts were gathered around the guy selling sweat shitrs. We hung out for a while and got even more stoned. I looked out towards the Ocean and Golden Gate Park. It was really a typical San Francisco sort of day in many ways but it also felt a bit surreal (or maybe that was just the altered state of illusion distilled from the Humbolt County KGB).

Next we drove all around the Park and stopped to watch the Bison range, which I thought was unusual but everything was unusual to me that day. There are two windmills just where the park turns into Ocean Beach. We roamed around there for a short while before figuring out that neither of us had eaten that day. It seemed to be early in the day but I found out later that it was closer to dinner time. After taking a hard look at the waves from the Pacific, we decided to grab a bite at the Cliff House, just north towards lands end. This is an are that was once Majestic but presently mostly ruins of the old Sutro Bath House and Original Cliff House.

What they call Ciff House today is really just a tourist trap in a simple building with a restaurant. So, anyway, you have to imagine driving along the coast there. The drive begins flat, by the beach and rises as the straightness of the road begins to give way to curves as elevation rises.

We were just dead middle of the first curve when a really strange sensation was felt by both of us. It’s hard to describe because I was completely stoned off of the green stuff.
What I felt though, as I was veering left into the curve, was that I was actually moving towards the right. Then, I felt as though I was driving on Jello. It was one of the strangest sensations that I have ever felt and I do not honestly know how to describe it better; I guess you had to be there.

So I’m in this scratch my head feeling of confusion and stopped my car completely thinking that something might be seriously wrong with the old bug. I remember trying to calculate the odds of having 4 tires go flat simultaneously as that was the only logic that I could muster. I got out and walked all around, under, over the car to try to figure it out.

(Weeks later I had a memory of several other people doing the same thing with their own cars).

Well, I just came to the conclusion that I was not only stoned but in San Francisco and that strange things just seem to happen in this city. It got much stranger for me as the day progressed. I couldn’t help but notice that it appeared a bit chaotic outside of the Cliff House, but by then I was beginning to accept the unexpected.

We never did notice a host or hostess to seat us, so we just seated ourselves. Having a fairly long history in the restaurant industry (even then), I did begin to feel a bit bothered that no one seemed to notice, or even care, that we were waiting for someone to take our order. Just about the time I was ready to hunt someone down for service, both myself and Stephanie began to become aware of what might have happened. Honestly, we were both a bit slow and in a daze but in our own silence we simply began to overhear the conversations going on around us.

I guess probably figured out, Shannon, that we were in an earthquake. I felt a bit stupid, I admit, and even laughed at my own stupidity for not realizing what had happened. I laughed a bit more at Stephanie though because she grew up in SF and “should have known.”

On the drive back to the flat, it became apparent that this was not your average earthquake. There were sirens blaring all around us and bricks and other housing material scattered about; more so as we got closer to the Haight, even though this area was somewhat protected by bedrock.

I’ll never forget walking up the front steps. There was this small cloud of what dust leaching out under the cracks in the door. I found out later that this was from the original 1876 plaster that covered the walls. All of the plaster inside vaporized and it was several hours before anyone could enter.

You can imagine the mess inside Shannon. It looked like the entire house was in shambles, and it was but not nearly as much as many others. It was still a bit cloudy inside when I finally was able to enter. Everything was overturned and covered with white. It looked like it survived a direct hit from a drone bomber. After glancing around in amazement, I went into my bedroom and opened my closet door. Inside was a continuation of the same insane mess that was everywhere else but the army duffle remained fixed on the hook, exactly where I left it. Inside was my birthday present, as nice and shiny as ever.

I broke it 2 days later, while washing it in the kitchen sink and decided to go camping for a few days.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1989_Loma_Prieta_earthquake

PS: I guess I should add that this is just the beginning of this story. ; )

Well, it's now after 3 am. Please forgive the typos (here = her, etc.) I suppose that I should have, at least, hit the "check spelling" button on my 'puter, but this... is the only story I could think of about walking down the hallway and I wanted to share it while it was on my mind. Warm Wishes, Shannon! Please wish Pyro a Happy Birthday for me!