I am my favorite version of me when I’m out in the world seeing a place I’ve never seen before. I enjoy the company of that guy. He’s open, friendly, and accepting of the unknown. I like him because he eats weird things, feels comfortable talking to people, and finds himself kicked out of places with surprising regularity. He talks to, and splits a bowl of green chili guisado with a guy who lives in a tent on the sidewalk. I like him because he wanders into places he has no idea he’s not allowed to go and is unabashed when he’s escorted out. He took snowboard lessons and ate olives once a year until he liked them. He learns shit the hard way, and with a smile on his face.
I’m not usually him. And that’s ok. It’s enough to know that his existence is reflected in my inability to act my age, in my hyperbole and eagerness to be amazed. He’s aspirational, and when I’m at my best, his is the face others’ see.
It’s through his eyes I’m looking when I travel. I love the anonymity of the New Place. I’m a happy observer, an eager chronicler of a small slice in the life of a place that’s new to me. I’m fascinated by the notion that what some find normal and invisible is wonderful to others. I grew up surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, but was desensitized to the grand and audacious reality of them. I sat under the Bay Bridge today and watched the shipping go by while people buzzed around me, decidedly unimpressed by it.
I wandered into a fenced-off area at the harbor, headphones on, listening to Junip. There was a huge ship tied up at the pier, off the beaten path and on the other side of a parking lot where two dozen guys were putting up a Christmas Tree lot with shocking rapidity. I’ve seen a lot of giant shipping in Duluth, Minnesota where my oldest attends school but this one, near the ferry pier in San Francisco, was not only huge, but shaped differently and obviously new. So of course I had to get a closer look. I walked right up to it, no one else around. I read it’s depth markings, swung it’s mooring ropes back and forth, threw a pebble at it to hear what it sounded like. I looked up, saw a sailor waving at me and waved back. I’d thrown a rock at the USNS John Glenn. A new concept, the USNS John Glenn is part of the new Expeditionary Fleet, or new designation E-class, made to be a mobile pier for a combat fleet and launch platform for high-tech amphibious hovercraft. It was impressive. I threw a rock at it. Yep.
I left the waterfront to avoid some construction and then skirted Union Square. I’m disappointed when I wander into an area chock full of chain stores. I try to stay away from anything I can get at home. Why buy a pair of Chuck Taylor’s at DSW in Union Square when I can buy them from the DSW two miles from my house? So I wander into places that don’t look familiar to me. Today I wandered into the Tenderloin and Mission neighborhoods of San Francisco. I met a homeless guy named Dave. I think he said Dave because he was tough to understand. I know he lives in a tent on the sidewalk near the Mission District in San Francisco. I know he likes green chili guisado. I’m pretty sure he suffers from some serious mental illness. And it sure looked like he was trying to create a home in the midst of some really scary chaos. The main room of his house was made out of a shredded REI dome tent covered in packing blankets. He’d built a little room off the back of it using cardboard and duct tape. It looked like he kept stacks of magazines or catalogs in there. There was also a third room made out of a tarp that had a pile of clothes in it. The main room held a sleeping bag, a couple of plastic tubs, a battery powered lantern and a suitcase all resting on a floor of collapsed and folded cardboard boxes stacked about four inches thick. The whole thing was about ten by eight feet or so. He seemed like a nice man and though I suspect he won’t remember me tomorrow I think I’ll remember him for awhile.
I don’t know what tomorrow will look like. Will I meet a homeless guy again? Will I try Tai Chi with the old Chinese ladies across the street? Eat deep fried chicken feet? I don’t know, but I do know I’m not NOT going to do that. I’ll get back home in a few days, and that other guy will ride shotgun for awhile. I don’t want him getting tired. I’m hoping he’ll take the wheel later.