Monday, September 19, 2011
The Father and Son San Francisco Travel Diary -- Part I
Over Labor Day weekend, I flew up to San Francisco with my seven-year-old son Jalen. While Mrs. Bootleg had graciously tolerated -- and tagged along on -- our baseball-centric family vacations for years, it occurred to me that cutting my wife loose was the selfless thing to do. So, I selfishly absconded with the boy for some quality father/son time.
Saturday, September 3
Jalen loves flying. As most of you know, I...am not a fan. Our flight was scheduled to depart San Diego at 2:15 PM and Jalen was absolutely bouncing off the walls at breakfast. For me, the worst part was having to emulate his wide-eyed early-morning enthusiasm while my own stomach spontaneously knotted. Thankfully, watching a season's worth of Oakland Athletics games -- paid for as part of the MLB Extra Innings digital cable package -- has taught me how to feign excitement over something my son loves.
Mrs. Bootleg contributed to the trip in several ways. Most importantly, she used her credit card points to land Jalen and me a two-night hotel stay. From there, she proceeded to pack enough clothes for Jalen to coincide with a six-night stay. My wife's an incurable over-packer and reflexively responds "Just in case" to anyone who'd dare question this psychological, sartorial tic. Crazy people should be required to finish that phrase. Just in case...of what? Random acts of Gallagher on the streets of San Francisco?
At the airport, I realized I forgot my wedding ring. I'm privileged to not be saddled with one of those accusatory or suspicious spouses -- and it's not like I could pass off the pot-bellied black child with the similarly-shaped head and almost identical baseball team t-shirt as anyone but my son -- but, I send a quick text and admitted to my absentmindedness. In it, I referred to my wedding ring as my "good luck charm" for flights when I'm anxious. My wife's accusatory and suspicious response ("Is that ALL it means to you?") confirmed my faith in superstitions forged out of white gold.
We flew Virgin America to San Francisco. Our flight cost $130 less than it would've on Southwest Airlines. And, unlike Southwest, the cabin was immaculate. Also, passengers select their own seats at the time tickets are purchased. The obvious benefit is peace of mind, but the downside is that Jalen couldn't have his beloved window seat. I only sit in the aisle seats and I'm NOT suffocating in the middle seat, just so my son can intermittently see God's majesty. Before you judge me, know that my comeuppance appears in the next paragraph.
Moments before the doors closed, the final passengers boarded the plane -- among them was the occupant of the window seat in our row. She was wearing a long, off-the-shoulder summer dress and both of her bare arms were covered in sleeves. Uh, not those kind of sleeves. These kind of sleeves. And, her nose and tongue were pierced. She smiled politely as she squeezed past us and JUST as Jalen asked, "Why does that lady have...", I fell on top of my son's innocent verbal grenade. Literally. "Sorry, Jalen! Daddy's so clumsy sometimes. Hey, why don't YOU take the aisle seat?! That's where big kids sit!" Whew.
Quick question: How did humanity survive 90-minute flights before satellite televisions were embedded within every headrest?
After we landed in San Francisco, Jalen and I took the BART train from the airport into the city. I asked these questions on Twitter, but I'll put them out here, too: (1) does anyone ever get used to that weird feeling that comes from sitting in a rear-facing seat while the train appears to speed backwards and (2) how do those of you who ride the train everyday not throttle the person playing Nicki Minaj loud enough to hear through their earbuds? Physiologically, both affect me the same way.
In 2007, I wrote the following after surviving New York City's Grand Central for the first time:
You know what Grand Central needs? More stairs. This is the only place on earth where rolling luggage is a burden, not a blessing. Paraplegics, you've been warned.
Union Square in San Francisco is hereby added to the list. Jalen and I navigated the mass of humanity -- all of whom seemed to be walking in the opposite direction of us -- lugging a single piece of rolling luggage over the cracked, decaying sidewalks that the city's administrative infrastructure forgot. San Francisco will always be my favorite American city, but I'm convinced that all the crowds and inclines have given the city a greater gravitational pull than anywhere else on Earth. It's a working theory. Well, then, tell my quads I'm wrong!
We stayed at the Westin St. Francis. Eventually. At check-in, I'm told our room isn't ready. It's 5:15 PM, which made me think...our room should be ready. The front desk employee excuses herself to "see what she can do". We're meeting some dear friends of mine at 6:00 PM for dinner and I'd like to freshen up and change from my "San Diego" t-shirt (short-sleeved) into my "San Francisco" t-shirt (long-sleeved). My baggy Jordan shorts can -- thankfully -- withstand all climates. The hotel employee is gone for more than five minutes. She returns with a key to a "better" room (her words) on the 30th floor. (Translation: "Here's the same room -- cleaned -- and a few floors higher.") I'm on to you, hotel industry.
Below is the view from our room. Here's something I've never understood: why do people take pictures of the view from their hotel rooms? The splendor of a city's skyline is one of those things that seems impossible to capture on any camera, much less the one built into a cell phone with a window in front of the shot. There's a reason these images always carry the same caveat on the Facebook page in which they appear: "These pictures don't do the view justice." Same applies here, yo.
On the elevator ride back down to the lobby, Jalen tells me, "The 'going-down' elevator makes my penis feel funny." My only regret is that he and I are the only ones on the elevator to hear this.
Jalen and I met up with my friend Vig, his lovely wife and their adorable four-year-old daughter. We walked around the corner to Max's Cafe for dinner. The decor and concept is an unapologetic knockoff of the east coast delicatessen, but the menu is a gloriously bloated cavalcade of calories. Of course, I started with the "Max-hattan" -- their take on America's manliest cocktail. It was OK. A little too heavy on the vermouth, but I took down two of 'em with dinner which, for me, was "Grandma's Honey Roasted Chicken". The golden salt-and-peppered skin accented the sweet glaze nicely. The meat was moist and absorbed a lot of the exterior flavors. Unfortunately, the mashed potatoes didn't work with the honey and sugar notes from the chicken while the roasted sweet carrots seemed redundant in taste. I could, however, eat the chicken by the box, bucket or any other acceptable urban chicken transport system.
After dinner, Vig and I took the kids to our hotel's top floor. No real reason. They're kids. They like this stuff. As the elevator doors opened, the 32nd floor appeared to be some kind of private bar. A clipboard-carrying attendant rushed over before dismissing us with a sneer perfected from hundreds of dorky families taking their kids to the hotel's top floor. She so wanted us to step off the elevator so she could throw us out, but the doors closed before she could have the satisfaction. When Jalen asked why we didn't get off, I responded with my tongue in my cheek, "That floor is for people younger than me and older than you, son." You'll be surprised to learn that innocuous explanation came back to bite me the very next day.
Jalen didn't fall asleep until after 10:00 PM. I'm usually the one who's perpetually uncomfortable in unfamiliar beds, but here's my son alternating tossing and turning with obvious proclamations ("I can't SLEEP!"). I went to bed right around midnight, but was awakened just after 2:00 AM...by my son. As he involuntarily rustled -- and wrestled -- between his sheets, Jalen sat up in bed and let out a momentary moan. To my slightly disoriented soul, in a darkened hotel room, this freaked me OUT. It appeared to be inspired by this.
Sunrise can't come soon enough.
NEXT: Hole-in-the-wall restaurants, Oakland A's baseball and some inappropriate (very) public breastfeeding...