Thursday, May 12, 2005


Last weekend I went to Detroit, at the gracious behest of friends. They paid my way and conspired to make my brief homecoming a delightful one. Simon was turning 30, and his and Shan's newest little one was three-weeks old. Spoogy and Henny's little girl had just had her first birthday. It was nice to be amongst all my peeps.

A couple things developed out of that trip for me, though. One is that I marked it as the end of an era. The last time I went back, which was about a year ago, I was torn. It was so good to be around the friends whom I consider family: Ken, Nappy, Bill, Lockhart, Dan the Man, Lenny, and others. In a way, these are the people who I grew up with, the people with whom I cut my teeth on the way to adulthood. I went back last year and returned to SF thinking that maybe I should figure out some way to split up my time, a sort of bi-coastal living experience. Many of them have families now, and I didn't want to be left out. Eventually the draw wore off, and I sort of resigned myself to my life in California.

This time I had a much different experience. While I was just as happy to be with some of the people who mean the most to me, I almost felt like I could hear the sound of the door slamming authoritatively shut, could feel the breeze it created as it narrowly missed freeing me of my nose. Thomas Wolfe's "you can't go home again" quip finally struck home. I knew, deep down, that I don't belong in there anymore. More importantly, I knew something I haven't known in a long time, which is that I do belong here. At least for now. San Franciso is my home now. I've made it my home, I've made my life here, for better or worse, and mostly for the better I think.

I reached this knowledge almost immediately, while Suzy and Jill were driving me to their house from the airport. Poor Jill was screaming her head off; she didn't recognize me from a year ago, when she was a month old. Suzy apologized, but it wasn't that. Certainly I could understand Jilly's position in the back car seat. No, Jill's cries felt like my own birth and renewal, allowing me to see the flatness of the terrain and the washed out colors. Caveat here: I have no desire to offend any of my fellow Detroiters, least of all my friends. I am not dissing Detroit, which will always occupy the deepest place in my heart. It's just that I'd never fixated on the geography of the place in the way that I did last weekend.

I saw a unique parallel: Except for the existence of my friends, who are, and continue to be, my effervescence,when I was in Detroit, my life was flat. By the same tack, the Bay Area hills, represent the ups and downs I've endured since I moved out here. But at least I know I'm alive, and when I forget, I have made good friends here who are riding it out with me.

I'm not saying that one landscape is universally better than the other. Detroit is a special place, and I don't mean only special ed. But I could only have the life I live here. I don't know what life I'd be leading in Detroit, but it wouldn't suit me. The trip put things in perspective for me, something I lost this past year after losing my mom. I still have a lot to figure out, but it's nice to know that that piece of it has become a nonquestion: San Francisco is my home now. For the real.

* * *

And damned if I didn't fly United, the Greyhound bus of the friendly skies. I know the domestic airlines, and particularly, United, are going down the shitter, but damn yo! Unbelievable.

On the first leg, I was scheduled for an 11pm red-eye to Chicago. The flight board showed an "on-time" status, and sure enough, the three hundreds of us on a full 777, boarded when expected. But after boarding is when they decided to check on some engine trouble. It was after 1am, when they finally let us out of the plane to board a different jet. Since at least half of the travelers, myself among them, would miss connecting flights, there was a whole 'nother hullabaloo before we were freshly ensconced and ready for take-off—at 2am. They did pass out flight vouchers along with the 4 oz. bags of pretzels, but that hardly atoned for keeping us sitting on the tarmack for so long.

With the original itinerary I would have gotten into Detroit City at 9am; instead I didn't get there until just after 1 in the afternoon. Since my trip was so short to begin with, when we got to Chicago I had to bully my way into having them change my return flight, from leaving at 9am to leaving at 3:30pm. They wanted to charge me $99. I touched my feet down, gently but terra firmly. The result was a trip that was as long as was originally intended.

In fact, it worked out quite nicely, and I'd have no further complaints if it wasn't for the fact that my seat tray was completely filthy, on the first plane, Detroit to Chicago. A passenger must have spilled what looked like coffee with lots and lots of sugar in it, which had semi-dried into a sticky, disgusting mess. Full flight. I was stuck with it, no pun intended. In reality, it hardly mattered since all we got was a 4oz. bag of pretzels, but I'd kinda wanted to write a little bit. Little did I know it was just foreshadowing.

On the second plane, I was utterly dismayed to discover that my assigned seat had some kind of poo poo like substance clotted atop it, and even better, it was another full flight. I knew that complaining would yield very little so I placed my blanket on top of it and parked my ass—only to find that the pillow I'd been given had clearly been drooled on and possibly used to brush someone's hair. It was disgusting. I didn't have the guts to use the restroom on the plane or to buy an on-board "snack meal" for myself, since you don't get fed on domestic flights anymore, even when you're flying almost clear across the country. And I sure as shit wasn't gonna put on some skanky headphones, especially after having had the opportunity to play with Henny's med school tools. (He showed me how to use the otoscope, or "ear-scope" to peer into Suzy's head; it was like falling down the rabbit hole, I'm tellin' ya).

And then there's the news today about the pensions for United workers. I just don't know what to say. Here these airlines complain about how much their business is suffering, and here I was on fully booked flights on the largest domestic jetliner currently in use. They starve us and expose us to completely unsanitary conditions. They herd us like cattle and keep us penned in like chickens. (Asked Soylent Green, "Where are you, when I need you PETA? Can't ya help a sistah out?) They subject us to lotteries: my friends got my ticket for $100 roundtrip on Hotwire; the guy sitting next to me paid $440 for the same ticket, bought three-weeks in advance, and honey it's wasn't no first class, you know what I'm sayin?

I dunno. I'll be really curious to see what happens to the industry over the course of the next year or two. I mean what do we do when these companies tank, as I feel like they just might. Rely on Amtrak, which is a total joke, and Greyhound, which simply is what it is? Maybe it is time to breakdown and buy a Segway.


Anonymous Eric Berlin said...

Eric Berlin on May 15, 2005 02:07 AM:
I related very strongly to the first part of your story. I grew up in New York and then, for reasons I only fully realized much later, moved to California around seven years ago. Five were spent up in the Bay, actually, thought I've been down near LA for a year and a half now.

I went through several stages of development out in Cali: settling in, deep homesickness, bi-coastal anxiety, you name it, I felt it. But each time I went to visit, I went through the process of realizing that Cali was my home and that I was more at "home" there than I could ever be, or perhaps ever really was, in New York.

Now, when I go back, I feel like a visitor. New York City offers the ultimate vacation for me: places to crash, old friends to hang/chill/party 'till hours with, and a full city of delights to keep me occupied and engaged. Long Island and Westchester are where the remaining family is, and I still have strong attachments as far as my home town.

But I'm at the other side now and realize I made the right choice, for whatever the reasons I did.

Thanks for a strong, interesting rumination.

11:39 PM  
Blogger mpho said...

Eric, you nailed it for me, too. A definite issue for me is that many of my good friends are now parents, which is fine, but parenthood changes people's priorities, outlook, perspective, and even definition of a "good time." That said, I enjoy watching them interact with their children and being a part of that whole thing though it's not where I'm at or will likely be in my own personal life.

But the bigger issue, which you put into words for me, is that for the first time since I left 5 years ago, I felt like a visitor. It didn't feel like a homecoming as it did previous times. It felt more the way I imagine it would if I had gone on foreign study years ago, stayed in touch w/ the people I'd met, and then went back to visit after a long absence. I found it disconcerting; I mean these are my best friends. I've been through everything with them. Even when my mom died last year, a few of them immediately dropped everything and came to me. I didn't ask it of them, but they did, it and it meant a lot to me. I would do the same for any of them, but the truth is, we're on completely different paths now.

It was an unexpected realization but also one that confirms my existence in a very grounding way and in a way that doesn't negate their choices or the validity of our friendships.

Thanks for sharing your experience. I didn't think I was alone in it, but it's nice to know directly that something you go through is not a solitary experience.

Tell the truth though: isn't true you can only get a good bagel in New York? :)

11:40 PM  
Anonymous Eric Berlin said...

Oh yeah, New York's the best place on the planet for bagels and pizza both (legend has it it's the water...). However, LA's surprisingly good, way better than the Bay, I'm sorry to say.

The kid factor would certainly do it on many levels. The truth is, very likely, that even if you still lived in town, you'd be in a very different place with your friends with kids -- it's a life changing kind of thing.

That said, it's really really tough to have that same level of comradeship and closeness once you move away. I was almost angry about it at times: why won't they call more? why am I the one who always... etc. etc.

Then I realized that I had moved on, I had moved away. So the keeping up with part was largely up to me.

It's tough, but over time I learned who the truly close, the truly best friends are and maintain great cross-country correspondence and visits whenever possible.

11:59 AM  
Blogger mpho said...

Actually, one of the many reasons I left is because I anticipated the day when my friends when start to have families, and I knew I wouldn't be "the baby" any more. (Now I'm "the aunt"). But I've been lucky in that most of them have been really good at maintaining a connection. I don't feel like the impetus is on me, even though I'm the one who left. I've really been fortunate.

As for bagels and pizza, you can add Chinese food to the list. I'm more a Hunan/Shezuan (sp.?) kind of a gal. I don't know how it is in L.A., but as you probably know, Mandarin and Cantonese rule the day in SF, and it's just not for me. Can't complain about the sushi, though.

Nice blog, you've got by the way. I just checked it out....

12:00 PM  
Anonymous Eric Berlin said...

Thanks very much for checking out the old

I was never a big Chinese food person SF. In the East Bay, at any rate, the Thai and Japanese food was absolutely first rate. Just found a Thai place in Pasadena that can even compete with Cha-am in Berkeley, which was out of this world good, and pretty darned cheap as well.

If you're interested, I get into some of the background of my move to Cali as part of my Big Bad Voodoo Daddy concert review.

12:00 PM  
Blogger mpho said...

For Eric Berlin's Big Bad Voodoo Daddy post go to:

12:41 AM  

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