Part 4: The Coming of Cong

We are exhausted. I wonder why travel shows don’t show you the truth about travelling: for every 2 days of exploring, we old people require about two-thirds of a day of rest. That’s science. Or math. But it’s a reality on our very short trip to California.

Yesterday I did about four days’ worth of walking. I know because my phone told me.

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We ate some really good food, saw some new, interesting things. The kind of day you hope to have on a vacation. This morning, we let ourselves sleep for as long as we need in the morning. It’s amazing how relaxed a morning can be without dogs to take care of.

We take a slow, short walk to a nearby grocery store, buy some snacks, then head to Starbucks (who at this point should be sponsoring my blog) to get some coffee.

I’ve noted previously my adventures with Starbucks employees and others not understanding my name as pronounced in my English accent with its soft vowels. But today is my best-ever example. Today is the day I became…

CONG

Cong!

And if you think that my wife didn’t insist on calling me “Cong” for the rest of the day, then you don’t know my wife.

So, this is the day we went to Chinatown and yet made no movie references. We did buy a fair bit of crap that we now need to fit into my wife’s suitcase. We ate where we were supposed to eat and didn’t once get lost. Again, this is due entirely to my wife’s ability to find her way around places. The only time she ever gets lost is when she’s using an actual map. She has powers.

Chinatown itself is, of course, a tourist trap and so a little disappointing. But I’m on vacation – I’m looking to see, hear, smell, and do things that I don’t experience at home. So, from that perspective, it’s mission accomplished.

I do realise that my months of working from home have left me totally unprepared for the noise, bustle, and traffic of a busy American downtown. At times, it feels completely overwhelming. This must be how the country mouse feels when he goes to visit his cousin in the city.

I wanted to visit the City Lights Bookstore – and so we did. It feels like a serious place where interesting people discuss topics of great importance inside historic walls. I buy a tote bag and some books. The art on the walls outside is highly photographable. I feel bad that I prefer Book People in Austin, which is less storied but airier, roomier, brighter. I regret to inform that I couldn’t find the graphic novel section, although I’m sure they had copies of Mausand Watchmen in the back if you knew who to ask.

After eating in Chinatown and buying some books, my bank account insists that I stop all spending for a while. We save some money accidentally by stumbling across a San Francisco underground station. So, rather than throwing down $30 for yet another Lyft, we spend $5 for two tickets to get out of town. It’s a little more walking than I’d prefer at this point, to be sure, but it really feels like we’re “doing” San Francisco at last. For all my hesitation, this is how we should have been doing our traveling all along.

Lesson learned.

Another lesson: if there are stairs and an elevator, and all the locals get into the elevator and you’re the only ones taking the stars…the stairs may be about to kill you. We did indeed nearly give up and die about two-thirds of the way up to the exit of Forest Hills station.

In the evening, after another significant break for napping, we made our way to an Indian restaurant for the now classic “vacation de-brief”. We agreed on the highlights: the walk along the pier; the sea lions; the trolley car. But for me, there was something missing. Or rather, something extra. The practical introvert I’ve become was over-stimulated by the sounds and smells and sheer energy of the city. We usually choose our vacation spots to suit our mood – and I remember a quiet break in Wimberley, TX, with much affection. But San Francisco happened because my wife is an important person who attends conferences, and I follow behind.

San Francisco, this time around, just didn’t feel right for me. I was pleased I’d visited, but I was very much looking forward to being home and all that that meant.

We left the restaurant suitably full. We wandered to a grocery store, picked up the last supplies we’d need for the morning, for our last breakfast. A trolley car passed outside, the streets of this quiet neighborhood, 20 minutes from the bustle of downtown San Francisco, were quiet and calm. For the first time, as we walked around our temporary home for the last time, I felt a suggestion of a connection to the city. But tomorrow, we fly back home: to real life, family, and two little puppers we have missed very much.

I would leave San Francisco with pages of notes, some interesting photos, and a (probably temporary) sense of calm that comes with no work and holding hands with my wife for extended periods. It was time to go home.

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