Read on if you don’t like me one bit and want to see how much I have suffered over the last 36 hours. But be warned: there are some minor triumphs, with the usual caveats of all such (or any) triumphs.
So it was New York to Chicago – hang round Chicago for quite some time (but I wanted to leave plenty of time to get to Chicago, so that was a choice OK) and then Chicago-LA-home. It was gonna be arduous but it was gonna be manageable, and I sure had a bunch of stuff to read en route, which I had acquired cheaply and carefully with regard to my usual irritability/short attention span when on long flights. But really, I knew what I was in for and the trip was totally worthwhile, so no great problem aka ‘no biggie’ (would I make a great American? Sure, though they can’t understand a freakin’ word I say – unless I repeat it LOUDLY without any EMPHASIS, as if to a DEAF OLD PERSON).
So I get to Chicago, having stayed up all night on my final night in NY, doing pretty much nothing other than packing my suitcase really, really well. And then in Chicago – where they won’t let you store your bags so you have to take them everywhere with you until you check in properly – I went into town on the train (which presently is a big hassle because the powers that be figured summer, which I am sure is the height of the tourist season because if it isn’t, when is? was the perfect time to start repairing or ripping up or something the line between O’Hare station and the station just before it. So you have to get a shuttle.) But hell, I was packed pretty well, and the case has wheels, so... I went into town and just trotted around dragging my crap, I went to Einstein Brothers for some bagels which were good and coffee which was so-so, and then I went to this place also on Washington called Rock Records which Bill Meyer now tells me used to be good back in the day but the day wasn’t Friday 19 when I went there – you will recall my earlier boasts that I did no record shopping on this trip well I didn’t do any there so, means nothing but I did go in and have a look around. They were playing – get this – they were playing the Beatles’ album Revolver through only one speaker, so you were getting half the stereo separation which I now appreciate is pretty stark. To listen to ‘half’ this album, which I don’t own but which has been seared into my mind through repeated listens (on a mono cassette player) throughout the late 1970s, is a thoroughly irritating experience and I wondered then and wonder now whether they were doing this on purpose to be interesting or whether they just had a broken speaker or whether they simply didn’t know that wasn’t what it sounded like. Since the staff was all different when I left from when I got there, I don’t think it was any kind of conscious behaviour. There was nothing I wanted in there, at all, it was a huge space filled with multiple copies of fairly dire CDs supposedly 'on sale'. Oh I should cut them some slack because they probably did have some good things but I just didn’t want to know, couldn’t think of anything to look for. They didn’t have any Blue Orchids CDs, I know that for a fact, and I guess I thought they might have at least had some cut-out imports etc – or even local product (eg I had a look for a few things from Drag City but no go). Boring.
So I get back to O’Hare with plenty of time – plen-ty. Too much really, but I’m willing to put in the time to not get panicky about missing the flight, which is about the worst thing I can imagine (though I did miss a flight once and it was no biggie, they just put me on the next one, weird). So we go through that massively stupid security check where they check for all those metal items even though we know there are plenty of sharp or otherwise dangerous things that you can smuggle, then we all queue up for the plane, then we get on the plane, then we taxi around the runway at O’Hare for three and a half hours, then we get an announcement from the captain or the pilot or the admiral or whatever he is that if the plane doesn’t get on its way to LA (I’ve already missed my connecting flight, by the way) he’ll have to refuel because there’s not enough fuel, and I and I bet some other people are also thinking, ‘just fly, fly it, we don’t care if we don’t get there’, we are all kind of plane crazy. And then he announces he has to go back to refuel, and then he announces the flight’s been cancelled. So we have to queue up to get off, then queue up to get a hotel voucher and a taxi voucher and, oh yeah, a rescheduled flight. I shouldn’t even be writing about this because my trip is not over – in fact, it hasn’t started yet (we board in twenty minutes and leave in eighty) but what the hell, I am now inured to anything – I don’t care what happens any more. So there are three people attending to a very, very long line of people who should be more disgruntled than they are. And for an HOUR one of those people is only attending to ONE person, who has a stupid saggy old man ass which I have to occasionally see (through his trousers) when I look over there and think ‘what the fuck is that guy so special for that he needs to be serviced for over an hour??!’). Finally an elfin service personnel who reminds me of Bree in Desperate Housewives which I found out today has been cancelled – but I should stay on topic I guess – locates me in the queue when I am about one person from getting to the service desk and says it would be quicker if I go to another one she nominates, so I do and suddenly I’m waiting behind three people again, anyway, eventually I get to talk to this person who keeps taking personal calls from his family at home because he’s had to stay back four hours or something because the whole airport’s being belaboured by weird storms (particularly weird since I never saw any storms myself). He gives me $25 in food vouchers to be spent at the airport, a taxi voucher and a voucher for a hotel which he says is five minutes away (in a taxi). And then he rebooks me for San Francisco the very next morning (I am very keen to move on; if he’d said he was flying me via Brazil I would have said great – well, I’d love to go to Brazil so of course I would, so pick another less appropriate interim destination) and I have twelve hours in SF and then I fly to Sydney and then finally get to Melbourne 26 hours after the time I should have go there. Still with me? I’m not with me anymore, in fact I am sitting upside down on a very high ceiling watching myself type this at gate A8 of San Francisco Airport International Terminal. Anyway, so I go to get a taxi, get a taxi, get in and say, I have a voucher and I want… and the fuck says, ‘I don’t accept vouchers’, and I say – my first assertiveness in many weeks of listening to Americans complain about where their asses should and shouldn’t go, and people telling me all kinds of mindwarping crapola – ‘yes you have to’, but he doesn’t, so I have to get out. And then I see this other guy who had been at the desk getting rebooked and I tell him about my experience with the taxi driver and he laughs and says ‘that’s really funny’, which you can probably imagine is not what I needed to hear at that point. But I suggest to him that, since there’s a possibility that the next taxi driver one of us gets won’t take our voucher, and we’re both going to the same hotel, we should join forces and offer the taxi driver double the vouchers. Which we do.
I hope you’re enjoying reading this as much as I’m enjoying writing it down. Possibly you’re enjoying it as much as I’m enjoying this ongoing screeching/screaming noise, which may be someone screaming but is surely something scraping on the people mover (you know, those flat escalators) upstairs from here, or a figment of my imagination.
So we get to the hotel, it takes 20 minutes to drive there, and they say they have no rooms, and that the airline should not have given us vouchers for them because they’re fully booked. Then they say actually we have one room, with a queen sized bed in it, if you’re willing to share. Now understand, we are pretty fucking stranded here in this weird hotel that presumably is quite close to the airport but nowhere near the entrance to the airport and generally is just in the middle of nowhere. The guy I shared the taxi with – perfectly nice man, I don’t doubt his integrity at all – says he’s happy to share a room, he’ll sleep on the floor. But by now I am entirely frazzled and getting paranoid through lack of sleep, not of him, but of everything and am pretty firmly convinced that I won’t be able to sleep at all, particularly since it’s now 1 am and I’m going to have to get up at 4:30 am to get back to the airport and catch my SF flight. Luckily the guy is much more on the ball than me, and he does something decent for which I am very grateful: having snaffled another hotel voucher previously (not sure how he did that), he takes a taxi there and leaves me with the room.
The hotel sux, but of course I am pretty beyond caring, and I can’t get the alarm clock to work but I get a wake-up call, and I’m ready at 5 am for the shuttle to take me to the airport where I sit around forever and then get to fly to SF. Nothing special about this flight except the scenery when the clouds clear and I start looking is incredibly beautiful and strange – I guess I am looking at east California or Nevada or something – remarkable terrain which I try to photograph but it comes out looking very washed out.
An enhanced photograph from the aeroplane window.
So I get to SF and things start looking up, within the proviso of course that they couldn’t have got much worse without someone losing a limb or something. Although I almost don’t do it because I imagine perhaps ASKING is something treasonous or will raise the threat level above orange (the threat level is orange. Don’t ask me how I know. Alright, ask me. I know because this information is broadcast throughout the airport every five minutes) but I ask whether there’s somewhere I can stash my carry-on luggage and there IS. And I can go and get the BART to SF and hang out.
Now I know quite a few people in SF; Natalie and Rhonda, Greg Wadley, Alan Korn, Jefferey Kennedy (who admittedly I have had no contact with for about thirteen years), and others besides. I didn’t contact any of them firstly because I couldn’t and secondly because I was concerned that if I arranged anything I might have a paranoid attack and need to be back at the airport just in case the strip of land between the city and the airport crumbled and I couldn’t get to the plane. You know. Remember my sleep accumulation at this stage was: about 20 mins just before the NY-Chicago flight took off, about 20 mins on the Chicago-SF flight, and about 3 hours in the Chicago hotel – this is over around 48 hours I think. So I am getting a little weird. And also I think it’s kind of offensive to people I respect to be saying ‘well, I wasn’t going to come to SF because I’m so freakin’ busy, but guess what, I’m here and I really want to see you’ – it’s rude. So I took the BART into town and tried hard to recall where the good places were. It’s funny, about 15 years ago I used to feel I knew SF really well – possibly an illusion – but while I still love it a lot as a city, I no longer remember where anything is. I thought, well I’ll just go to Haight Street because at least I know that’s one place where I’ll find the free papers or whatever that will jog my memory about where the good stuff is.
So I got the BART to Mission and 16th, set off in three directions (the maximum I could have) from there before I was going in the right direction, and made it to Haight. It’s a pretty bad street, particularly the closer you get to the Golden Gate Park end, but at least I found a few good things like the coffee shop where I was sure Greg would be hanging out but wasn’t:
The place Greg should have been.
and the Ethiopian restaurant which I love but which was closed, and the record shop where I had seen the American pressing of the first Skyhooks album when I was last there – on tour with Huon, 2001 – and always regretted not buying. This time, they had the American pressing of the second Skyhooks album (!!!) but it was too expensive, I had too little money. Instead I bought three things – a Martha and the Vandellas album from ’72 that just looked cool, I got that for Mia (I already got her a copy of Music from Big Pink from a thrift store in Manhattan, one of those sumptuous big thick-cardboard gatefold affairs), an old National Lampoon from ’74, and an American pressing of the third Dragon album which – get this, get this! – is not only in immaculate condition BUT it’s a promo copy, white label! And it was so cheap. And maybe this is what it takes to get me back into collecting records (nah, probably not, but it is a really cool thing to have).
I talked a bit to the guy behind the counter about the National Lampoon. I used to subscribe to this magazine in the mid-70s, when it was still quite good but as I said to him, incredibly misogynist and kind of porno, which kind of washed over me at the time, either because I was too young or everything was like that then. He said he had been brought up adopted by older Catholic parents who would not have let him see that kind of thing but somehow he managed occasionally to get a glimpse in some fringe tobacconists' in his little home town and found it extraordinary. I think we were kind of empathic even though we were sort of talking at cross purposes (particularly since he probably only understood every second word I was saying because I was NOT. COMPENSATING. FOR. THE. FACT. I. WAS. TALKING. TO. AN. AMERICAN).
Then I wandered aimlessly for a while, then I decided – oh yeah, the San Francisco Public Library! They’ll probably have something about [the one suburban place I am interested in in SF but have never seen]. And so I made my way there, by now confident that the SF Public Library is probably open all night and serves mohitos. So I went to the history section and there was a guy there who was massively, incredibly helpful, served a great mohito, and got me the ‘vertical file’ (as they called it – quaint) on SFW. It was great, and included one fine original source to promote the estate in 1912, and another most interesting piece of work published to puff it a bit in 1937, two things I never would have found anywhere else I’m sure, so I guess what I’m saying was I didn’t see any friends, I didn’t have the maximised cool places SF experience, but I did get to do a little more fine research on top of the quality research I had achieved over the last couple of weeks, and I got that great Dragon artefact that only I would really appreciate.
As well, in the catalogue, they had an item listed that appeared to be a heritage report on SFW, so I really wanted to see that. I had to go to another floor and request that, and the guy told me to wait at a table and he’d go and get it. In truth the library is not open all night, or only the disco section is, and it was now 5:30, they closed at 6. And so I waited and waited and finally I went back to him and said ‘I’m worried that if I don’t get to see that item soon, I won’t have time to read it’. And he said ‘Wait, I have absolutely no idea what you said just then’. And I repeated it with the capitals and full stops and he chucked superiorly and said, ‘you have half an hour’, and I said, ‘well when will it be here?’ and he looked confused and then looked around his desk and then he found it, which would have been a great moment for me to become something I have never before tried out, a smug superior prick, but then we both had to laugh because it was one page, and not even filled up with type. It was essentially useless to me but I spent a couple of minutes retyping a couple of sentences from it and then I left the library feeling like I had actually done something pretty freaking fine. Of course I may discover, if I ever sleep again, that I actually made notes that were sunokt riw after riw if cinokete h=guvverusg like that, or that I was actually still asleep in the Chicago hotel room and yet to wake up… that would be poor. But look at this stage I feel like I did make something out of my crap, so let me feel it a little longer.
Then I returned to Chicago and had a coffee and some very yummy San Pellegrino plain mineral water on one of the vouchers. The funniest thing about the National Lampoon is the ads, which aren’t meant to be funny but which are all for wood grain cabinet stereo systems and really gross looking albums. Oh, my flight’s been called. See you on the other side… I hope.
[Later: I would like to say the remainder of the trip was uneventful, but in fact the bullshit continued, including Qantas losing my bag which was not returned to me for two days, but was, at least, returned, and sitting on the tarmac at Sydney Airport for over an hour longer than planned because of the exodus from Sydney that morning due to the freakin' Pope. The one thing I will say in favour of Qantas is that two Qantas employees actually came up to me and asked me where my bags were (!). One of these even advised me of the way in which I could turn this to my advantage eg I could get out through a special door because I had very little to take with me, or something, or maybe she just liked the look of me. Actually by this stage I looked pretty miserable. And four days later by the way I am still battling the lag. But I will survive.]