Thursday, 11 March 2004

AN AMERICAN ODYSSEY - PART 5






Max and Charlie had stopped by the Green Tortoise on their way home last night to see if they might be better off joining me and Nathan there. They decided that they were, if only out of practical necessity, although I think they dug the vibe too. The plan from the outset had been to try and orchestrate some sort of road-trip, and such plans would be easier to formulate, and thus act upon, if we were all staying at the same location.
Max and Charlie’s American Odyssey was to last in excess of two months and would culminate in a trip to New York, from where they would fly home. They had already been to New Orleans, for Mardi Gras – were Max was briefly incarcerated for unspecified drunken behaviour – and had spent time in both Dallas and Houston. Now they were in San Francisco with us, as had been arranged, and there was the distinct possibility of them hooking up with more friends in L.A. in a couple of weeks’ time. It was inconceivable spending the whole fortnight in San Francisco, and we had vague ideas of driving to Las Vegas anyway.
Besides all of that, the Green Tortoise was cheaper than their Mission digs. Max and Charlie, by all accounts, were already facing financial difficulties, so it made good sense.

Our friends arrive and we gather in the common room to devise plans. Everything is dependent on us being able to hire a vehicle. If we can then we’d like to be on the road before Sunday. We contrive a number of possible routes, scribbled down in the back pages of whatever book it is Nathan’s reading (it was something old and with a nautical theme about it). The most logical outcome that presents itself is to finish up in Las Vegas, from where Charlie and Max can catch a bus to Los Angeles and Nathan and I can do the same back to San Francisco, or maybe even fly. In-between, we can make a stop in Yosemite National Park, and maybe Bakersfield or Barstow. All this is dependent on us finding somewhere that allows us to hire a car where the driver doesn't have to be signatory, for it has materialised that Charlie doesn't drive either. To this end we exploit the free internet facilities at the Green Tortoise and make a speculative on-line booking at an establishment fairly near to us. The next step is for two of us – Max and Nathan volunteer – to follow up on our booking and see if it reaps any reward.
            In the meantime Charlie’s feeling a bit weary and I'm feeling very hungry. I welcome the return of my appetite because it’s been stifled of late on account of the excessive drinking we've been doing. I decide to tag along with Nathan and Max for a while so I can get some pictures of them hanging about Chinatown – it’s a suitable location for doing this – and then find a Subway, whilst they proceed with the mission in hand. It doesn't take long to find a Subway and it does the job. I then wander aimlessly about the area for an hour, before returning to the Green Tortoise with nothing particular in mind.
            Charlie’s in the common room and feels rejuvenated, so much so that he’s up for a drink. There’s no sign of Max or Nathan so I take him to Café Greco, although I opt for a coffee rather than a beer.
            Back at the Green Tortoise and Nathan and Max have cautious cause for optimism. Not only do they think we've found somewhere that will take cash but they suspect there’s been some sort of financial confusion that could well work in our favour. As British subjects, we declared ourselves as such when making our on-line reservation. Because of this, when Max and Nathan had shown up at the car-hire establishment and quoted the on-line booking reference, the amount we were to be charged was listed on the company’s on-line booking system in pounds, rather than dollars. But this wasn't realised by whoever it was who dealt with my colleagues, probably on account of them turning up in person. So as it stands not only have we secured a vehicle but it is to be charged for at just over half the amount it’s supposed to be. Nothing has been signed or paid for yet so we will need to wait and see if this guy’s credulity can be relied upon. Whatever the outcome we have procured a vehicle, and it’s a weight off all our shoulders.






Nathan is convinced that there must be some sort of classier scene than the one found on Broadway and Mission, so we decide to walk down to the Financial District and mix it up with the city folk. We try Harrington’s, which showed potential when Nathan and I stopped by there yesterday, but it’s not really happening. We order some food regardless – a couple of plates of putrefied chicken wings between us – and then hail a cab to take us some place else.
We’d picked up a flyer in Delirium for a club that is supposed to play sixties tunes, but when we get there the place is completely lacking in atmosphere or patronage. We command our taxi to proceed to SoMa (South of Market) instead. I don’t know how or why, but I think we end up in the Tenderloin (the two districts border each other). Wherever we are exactly, it feels much more ‘downtown’ than Dolores or Haight-Ashbury, although this could purely be down to the time of day. Certainly, there’s rough and readiness to the surrounding infrastructure, although the bar we end up drinking in seems sophisticated enough: exposed concrete walls, red lighting, an array of cocktails on offer.
But it’s still not really happening for us and we end up retreating early to the Green Tortoise common room, listening to music, interacting with the guests and the people who work there, and drinking take-outs from the local liquor store.

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