We’d arrived in the land of sunshine and cloudless skies, wildfires and earthquakes, unending drought and eternal debt …
Hello, San Francisco!
As I entered the terminal I put “Plan A” into action: Watch all the suckers head to baggage claim while I tug the straps of my backpack and head for the nearest exit.
The smell of smog and exhaust fumes, while not intoxicating, had more of a lure than the stale odor of a flying coffin. Nonetheless, I limited my enjoyment and hailed a yellow cab. The driver stomped the breaks, a reaction that warranted several menacing honks from behind and, frantically, waived me on. I entered in a mad dash, slinging my bag and slapping the driver on the shoulder with a twenty.
“To the Wharf, my friend. For old times sake.”
The Wharf was teeming with life. I got out, thanked the cabbie and enjoyed sensory overload of all the freaks, artists, tourists, locals, immigrants and scam artists. It had been a decade that was only yesterday; yet, it seemed that little changed, I felt more at home on this side of the country, among my people. I was electric—and suddenly ravenous! I scanned the scene and saw a shack that called to me. It was a dive—crumbly and probably mildewed.
Festering with wharf rats too, I bet. No doubt, the right place for a good bite.
I sat at the corner of Beach and Mason, outside a little shack called Stu’s, salivating over the best clam chowder of my life and watching the sun slowly crawl its way to the burrows of night. For a few moments, it seemed balanced on the antennas of the USS Pampanito. In the distance, Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge basked in sunset hues—a portrait painted by the gods themselves. Beyond this picturesque scene, the fear was setting in. Matthew’s words echoed heavy in my thoughts: “While you might not know what it is you’re after, you do know what it’s not.”
While I was no closer to understanding the yearning that compels me, I did know that early spring in the Bay was no place to be caught sleeping outdoors. I thought briefly about asking one of the vagabonds to share a tent, until imagining waking with all my worldly possessions gone, eyes gouged out and no sense of direction—an Oedipus to this cruel foreign land. The world of social networking made life more manageable.
Enter Mongo—whose real name is Bartlett. He was my college roommate. Back in the day, Mongo was a badass who downed a sixer of PBR a night, banged three chicks a week, minimum, and was mostly known for wearing a Fu Manchu mustache. OK, maybe that’s a little bit of bullshit, but memories make legends of our pasts. Mongo certainly was a legend. He’d been beggin’ me to head out West for years.
“Follow your dreams. I did!” he’d say.
Sure. But not all of us are fortunate enough to have a start-up business, get franchised and be earning seven figures by this point in life.
We’d been in touch about a year ago on Facebook. He said he a surprise—even was willing to fly me out. But the redundancy of life had bogged us both down.
But I’m here now, damn ready to cash in that surprise, maybe even up the ante, eh? A big favor for an old friend to help ease the fear.
I pulled out my cell and speed-dialed eight, not because he’s my eighth best friend, mind you, but because he’s one of only eight people that I stay in contact with.
Isn’t it amazing how sometimes one can shrink life down to numbers instead of names? But no time for that…
Expecting nothing but voice mail, the fear began to tighten its grip, throttling my esophagus, chest tightening, sweat beading until, low and behold, a voice.
“Hey buddy! It’s me. Yeah. Yeah. You’ll never guess. No. No. No. No, I’m here. Yeah, for real! Wha–? As a matter of fact I don’t. Are you sure? Alright, tell me how to get there.”
I was stoked. However, finding transportation was of the essence—else elapsed time could wipe my memory clean of his address. In mere minutes, another yellow cab whisked me toward an old friend.
Father Time changes all things. While Mongo and I were still friendly, I couldn’t help but wonder what this encounter would be like. Ten years have passed since we were last in one another’s presence. Then, we were younger; it was a time of keg stands and all-nighters, liberation and expectation, and still the idea that we could own the world.
Well, at least one of us still does—better Mongo than most anyone else I know. After all these years would the warrior-rebel be felled or emboldened? Does the west coast breed a different beast? More so, has fortune warped his soul or character?
So many questions swirled around my head, but as the cab rolled through undulations, and neighborhoods became more palatial, questions subsided and excitement brimmed.
Ohhhhhh, this could only be good things. I mean, Mongo, in this environment? It’s fit to be pure decadence.
As the cab slowed to a stop, I marveld at the well-lit behemoth Mongo called home. Nestled atop a hill, there was a traditional tutor appearance to the upper levels, with a first-story stone siding that gave it the look of being imported directly from the Old Country. It was just too damn much.
With patience at an end, I threw the fare and bounced toward the steps, our moment finally upon us, a reunion of kings.
Let the debauchery begin.