San Francisco Trip

It’s always an interesting day, for better or worse, when you go up to San Francisco. We arrived in San Francisco right around noon on Saturday (today as of the start of this blog) and just got back some ten minutes ago. Our buddy, Benn, took us out to eat at John’s Ocean Beach Cafe, across from the SF Zoo on Sloat Avenue. The food was good – better than your standard greasy spoon, if you could call it a greasy spoon – and it was a pleasant experience. Without this turning into a Yelp entry, I just wanted to comment upon the little things that you notice about a place, especially when you’re given such a long wait for your meal. Restaurants are good places for people watching. As I’ve already found, they’re also particularly good places for creating images and intros in a story. Some of the characters that populated John’s Ocean Beach Cafe were worth checking out. There was an old man at the counter who looked like he was about an hour removed from branding cattle or giving his team a run down the north 40, up until the minute that he put on his hat, at which point I couldn’t tell if he was Doc Moonlight Graham or Elliot Ness. There were several characters that filtered in and out of the background behind Benn. One was a fair-skinned lass who looked like she had spent far too much time on Ocean Beach that morning. Another two were part of a couple that were sitting behind sunburnt Irish girl and 1920s farmer guy, He was the kind of guy who wore leather sandals with khaki shorts, and he was shaking his leg like he didn’t know what to do with himself, particularly when his date would get up, adjust her top, and walk out the door, texting away. Lastly, the waitresses were characters that you would call stock characters in any greasy spoon scene. The other waitress – by this I mean the one who was not serving us – was a middle-aged lady whose lipstick and semi-transparent top were probably similar to what she wore thirty years ago. She had a huge cross around her neck, so it made for an interesting comment on her fashion sense or lack thereof. Our waitress was a hoot. Dressed slightly like a gypsy, this lady seemed determined to prove that she really enjoyed what she did, between offering recommendations (particularly switches from the menu items) to nifty tricks (half-and-half plus Kern’s Mango Nectar drink become a sort of milkshake) to commenting on how quickly time flies. She was gregarious, with little witticisms that weren’t entirely unusual for someone to say, though her delivery of those quips was certainly unique. This might be the boneheaded observation of the night, but this is what I walked away feeling: hearing what she said was like reading a script, observing how she said it was like watching the play. Ultimately, there is a lot of detail that one can gleam from a scene such as this, just as I have.

We went from there to hearing a Russian choral piece in Golden Gate Park. The director (not the conductor) of this event then went into an explanation of how he would have been thrown in jail had he tried to perform this piece (a hymn) in public in his homeland some twenty-five years ago. It was sad, but quite interesting hearing his little explanation. From there, we went to the Museum of Natural History. Suffice it to say, as it is close to midnight, I will give you the biggest highlights: butterflies like us, particularly my wife!

Afterwards, there was a nice little cafe by 32nd and Clement, right by a bar that had some golf pun for a name. It was remarkable how we sat, drinking chais and chocolates, listening to a soundtrack of instrumentals (from John Williams to Liszt to others I couldn’t begin to name). There were certainly little details of that cafe (such as the place running out of large coffee mugs) that would add to the ambience of a novel, but I’ll spare you them –as I am also running out of energy.

After enjoying Benn’s company, meeting his roommates, watching Finding Nemo, and eating dinner, I had a lot of time to think as I drove home via the Great Highway to Highway One. As I was driving, I came to the following progression of thoughts: I love to write, and enjoy reading my own writing as well. When we were watching Finding Nemo, we were reciting lines as they were coming up or laughing with the parts that we remembered. Pixar didn’t miss a beat with this movie, and that’s evident as there’s something for everyone (“he touched the butt” *giggles* to the fact that Bruce is the shark from Jaws to the names seen on the backs of the boats, etc.) How many novels are there that are like that? I mean, there are certainly books that stand out in my mind, such as The Stand and the Harry Potter books, where I know if I say “M-O-O-N, that spells moon” in the right crowd, they’ll get it; at the same time, are they getting the fact that the character Tom Cullen said it, or that the actor Bill Fagerbakke from Coach said it? Are they remembering that Ron Weasley said it or that Rupert Grint said it?
It seems to me that visual media, whether it is a play, a tv miniseries, or a movie if much more conducive to that level of dedication. Then again, maybe it’s the fact that most books that are remembered in such a way are also made into movies.

Regardless, in sum, I’m learning that it’s a writer’s challenge to create characters, scenes, and mere moments that are memorable. It doesn’t determine an author’s worth or credibility in literary circles (I doubt that Herman Wouk’s Winds of War has much that readers can recite ad infinitum) but it sure doesn’t hurt the sales!

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One Response to “San Francisco Trip”

  1. Eamon Says:

    I recently re-read James Ellroy’s LA Confidential, this time after having recently watched the movie. I realized that the characters now appeared in my head as the movie actors, rather than the way they did the first time I read through it. Sometimes the visual stuff is tough to shake.

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