Jenney, Mike (Otis), Shayne, and Em post-dip; Ocean Beach, San Francisco, September 1999

Late summer 1999 was a rough season. Jos had died (unexpectedly, tragically, heart-wrenchingly) in August, the bloom was long off the rose as far as work was concerned, and I had stumbled through one too many impossible romantic relationship-type-things over the course of a few months.

Then we found out that DaveG was moving back to Baltimore, and whatever torn seams may have started to mend in my little world threatened to tear again. I didn't know at the time that his departure would be the first of many in the years to come; I only knew that it meant a quiet end to the particular flavor and feel and flow of the everyday that I'd grown used to.

His leaving meant no more Em-DaveG-Otis show at work and on weekends (not the SF version, at least), no more late-night donut football, no more marathon sessions at Mario's, no more of so much that we had come to take as a given. It was a crappy thing to contemplate.

There were a number of send-offs, including a particularly besotted evening at Dalva and Ti Couz, but the most memorable by far was the cable car on wheels party. Credit (or blame) for the idea goes to Dave's friend Will, who made sure we were all sufficiently plied with drinks both beforehand and onboard so we wouldn't protest too loudly about how riding on a cable car on wheels was such a touristy thing to do, and so far beneath the overeducated and erudite 20-somethings we were at the time.

Will's plan worked: we didn't protest. In fact, we had a great time. The sequence of the evening blurred somewhat between the Golden Gate Bridge and Twin Peaks, but at some point we stopped at both the Cliff House and the Beach Chalet (which, for the non-San Franciscans, are about a quarter of a mile apart overlooking Ocean Beach). At the former site, a spilled drink (whose? how?) led to sticky hands, which I then insisted we wash off not in the restrooms at the Beach Chalet but instead in the ocean.

How it happened that I convinced Jenney, Mike, Shayne, and Daryl to join me in this ridiculous plan, I can't say. Nor do I know anymore what possessed us to decide that a swim would be a fine idea--but we decided precisely that, and as it was still nominally summer and we were in San Francisco, we were dressed in warm and copious layers. The only option, of course, would be to take them all off.

So we did, and went running into the surf, shouting to each other across the waves and straining to see fellow bobbing heads in the (mercifully dim) moonlight. The water was, unsurprisingly, freezing, but I coaxed myself through the cold, thinking, This is for Jos, who did so much in so little time. Thinking, Let this be my new mantra: the more you live, the less you die. Thinking, Your mantra is from an ad for snowboards. Thinking, Well, what the hell.

Thinking thoughts I couldn't even fully form: What I know is changing, always. Something about endings, beginnings, letting go, dammit this water is cold, time for another beer.

We shivered ourselves back onto the beach, back into our clothes (pausing for a photo, of course), back onto the cable car on wheels, where our fellow passengers looked at us in disbelief. Snapshots from the rest of the evening show us grinning hugely, as if we had been snapped into pure happiness for a while by our bare, icy dip.

That swim, of course, didn't change the fact that Dave soon left--or that Shayne, Daryl, Jenney, Jed, Otis, and so many others would eventually follow. Nor did it kick my life in another direction, or bring me astounding clarity about things that seemed murky, or stitch up seams that were splitting.

All it did was net me a funny photo, a good party story, and the realization that sometimes there's nothing more worth doing than streaking boisterously into the unknown.


Walking in LA

Val and I went down to LA last weekend for a posh hotel evaluation, and when we weren't running through various tasks designed to test the reaction impulses of the hotel staff, we spent some time exploring the city.

We drove out to Santa Monica and Venice on Wednesday morning, strolled along Abbot Kinney Boulevard and sat in the sun in the courtyard of a sweet little cafe, drinking iced latte and tea and making a breakfast of tiny little French macaroons. Venice may be a hotbed of freaks, but we saw precisely none. Perhaps they're confined to the beach and the boardwalk, blocks and blocks away from the sleekly designed shops, offices, and restaurants that line Abbot Kinney and Main. Which was fine with us, as the Haight is always at our disposal should we feel the need for some hippie time; on the day in question, we did not.

The afternoon unfurled poolside (really, a hell of a way to while away the hours, and one I recommend, especially if a fancy lunch and a glass of rose are involved), and in the early evening (before the required visit to the lounge for the required two rounds of drinks), we turned ourselves out onto the streets of West Hollywood to forage for dinner.

We walked. We walked as briefly as possible down Sunset, then broke off onto a side street, which was impossibly, unexpectedly tree-lined, quiet, warm, sweet-smelling, and generally pleasant. We went quite a way, picking up La Cienega partway, which meant an end to the tree-lined-ness and all, but made up for it on the way back by avoiding major roads altogether.

On Orlando, I turned to Val and said, "You know, this lulls me into thinking that LA wouldn't be such a bad place to live." She concurred, and we went on to discuss the odd realization that we had yet to see or smell the grimy streets we're so used to at home. How could LA be so clean, so pleasant, so free of urine-stained sidewalks?

We went downtown the next day and found our answer: it isn't. As soon as we stepped out of the parking garage where we'd left our behemoth rental car and into the sunlight, we felt right at home. The sidewalks had that familiar patina of you-don't-want-to-know. We discovered that LA does indeed have a homeless population. The trees and explosively beautiful flowers and general sense of sweet SoCal charm we'd seen the night before were gone, replaced by concrete and shabby storefronts and odd smells. We could only smile and say jokingly, Ah, at last.

So we drove (of course, though it was a distance of a few blocks) to Little Tokyo, then got back in the car and headed once more for Santa Monica, passing what certainly seemed like the dirtiest and most run-down of the dirty and run-down on our way out of downtown. We had lunch in a cute, tiny cafe we'd seen the day before, then oozed into traffic to get to the airport and left all of LA behind.