Thursday, January 13, 2011
Another Hundred People
In light of the heart-rending events that occurred last Saturday, I have been reluctant to prattle on here about the places I go, the people I see and the things I do in my new city.
Today, though, I started thinking that the many experiences we have on a day-to-day basis are life affirming, and give our lives a richer texture, and that is always worth celebrating. So with no disrespect intended to the families in Tucson who are hurting so deeply, I’ll get back to filling space in “Late to the Haight.”
Did you see Stephen Sondheim’s “Company?” In the course of my explorations, I often find myself humming “Another Hundred People” from that show, especially when I am getting off of the bus or off of the train. This “city of strangers” fascinates me. Read on!
Last Sunday, riding the bus to Susan’s, something happened that was like a small flash mob, only it was spontaneous. Four people were sitting in the front of the bus: Two older men, a college student and me. The student, a young man, was on his cell phone telling a friend that he might go see “True Grit” or “Country Strong” -- he couldn’t decide.
One of the older men, who had a serious case of bed head, looked at the young man and said, “True Grit.” The other older man, with white hair and beard, a ruddy complexion and green tennis shoes, said, “That’s right” and nodded in agreement. I chimed in too. “Yep – go see ‘True Grit.’”
The younger man looked at each of us in turn and reported to the person he was speaking to on the phone that the decision had been made for him by people on the bus, and then ended his call. Looking our way, he said, “Tell me why.” So we did.
Once that was settled, we started telling each other about ourselves. The young man, a student at Stanford, said he was the product of six generations in Hiroshima but was “mixed,” with some Italian, French, and Spanish ancestry as well. He grew up in Whitehorse, in the Yukon Territory of Canada. I have been to Whitehorse and said so. The man with unruly hair said that he was from Canada but had lived in Japan for several years. The other man revealed that he grew up in a town in rural Northern Ireland.
In the middle of this lively conversation, a well-dressed woman boarded the bus and sat down near us. When she heard the young man say that he attends Stanford, she asked the lot of us whether she should get her Ph.D. in anthropology at Stanford or the University of California at San Francisco. We all stopped talking and stared at her. Somehow, she did not fit in. I missed what happened next, because the bus came to my stop.
On a clear, sunny day last week I went to the beach to sit and stare at water. The wind was up and every breaking wave was topped with a frothy lace. Walking along, I came upon a tangle of 10 or more thick strands of bull kelp snarled in rope. I stared at it for a long time, half expecting the bull kelp to start wriggling. It didn’t.
On the N train heading out to the beach, I started a conversation with a dog named Pumpkin who spent part of the trip under the seat and part of the trip soliciting ear scratches from passengers. Pumpkin was quite engaging, as was her owner, a pretty red-haired woman who has lived in San Francisco all her life. In the course of our conversation, I learned that she is 38, plays in a band, and is thinking of moving to Austin. When she got off the train, she called out, “I’m also an astrologer!”
Riding home from the beach, I saw a man wearing those shoes that have toes and look like feet (http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/index.htm). He also wore silver nail polish -- an odd choice considering he had on a three-piece suit. He topped off his ensemble with a baseball cap with a great drawing of a merman on it.
Two weeks ago, while waiting for a bus back home after seeing “True Grit,” I met a woman from Peoria whose dad is a cousin of Ken Boyer, the former Cardinals player. I can’t remember how we went from talking about movies – she saw 100 in 2010 and now writes a blog about movies -- to Cardinals baseball, but when she mentioned Boyer I jumped off the bench and squealed, “I have a baseball with Kenny Boyer’s autograph on it.” Of course, I didn’t have it with me – that would’ve been too weird. Daddy got the baseball for my brother in the early ‘60s. Stan “The Man” Musial, Joe Cunningham and Lindy McDaniel also signed it.
So you don’t think I’m spending all my time with complete strangers, I need to mention that I had lunch twice recently with a woman who read my letter in Oprah's magazine last summer about picking up and moving to a new life. She's 52, from Atlanta, and thinking of doing the same thing. She spent three weeks here exploring San Francisco. If she decides to move here, this particular stranger will quickly become a friend.