I’d set out on this trip with one of my goals being to establish a healthy love affair with the city of San Francisco, a goal I’d thought entirely attainable. The city of San Francisco, however, had other plans. She and I, as they say, just weren’t meant to be.
I came down from Vista Point, where I’d taken those shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, dug around for a pair of leggings and a jacket (one of the first times I’d had to on this trip), and arranged for what I thought was a cheap airBnB listing. One important thing I’ve learned about airBnB: As the site becomes an ever-more popular alternative to traditional lodging, many cities see it as a growing threat to their hotel industry, and have started taking measures to deter it. Some cities have imposed the same taxes and restrictions they impose upon real bed-and-breakfasts, making it difficult for homeowners to maintain listings and undesirable for travelers to choose the site over regular motel rooms. In San Francisco, unanimously ranked the current most expensive city in the U.S., this means that the $44 bunk bed listing I accepted turned into a whopping $86 listing after taxes. (No, that’s not a typo.) By the time I got to this house, which should have been plated in gold, it was late at night, I was exhausted from the drive from Tahoe, frustrated about the cost of the room, and had trouble navigating these interconnected, condo-style properties along the steep hill. All of which led to my waking up 8 hours later and seeing that my car — which has been my only home and means of transportation for the last 3,000 miles — is GONE.
Appropriately enough, I began to have a miniature panic attack. What if it’s been stolen? I’ll never get it back. They’ve probably already switched the license plates and serial numbers by now so the cops will never find it. All my stuff is gone. How will I get home?? If I fly, I’ll have to leave today. I’m still paying the car off, and now I don’t even have it. Maybe it was towed. God, I hope it was towed. Then at least it’s still nearby. But how much would that cost me? Double, triple, quadruple check the parking signs. I didn’t break any rules. It’s not Tuesday, right? Why would they tow it?? How do I even find out? I hope I’m not locked out of the house.
I followed my Asian innkeeper’s advice to “google the city tow” and found, to my bittersweet relief, that my car was indeed impounded early that morning because in my delirium, I hadn’t realized I was blocking someone’s driveway. For the record, I am now and was then, too, VERY AWARE of the law against blocking driveways; I just screwed up this time. I was relieved that my car hadn’t been stolen, but I was devastated that it would cost me 500 DOLLARS to get it back!!! My heart sank. This was obviously a huge portion of my budget for the whole trip. I told my friends back home I’d be coming home early and got an Uber ride to the impound lot in the middle of downtown San Francisco.
I walked into the office, took a number and waited my turn like I was at the DMV. When I was called up to the window, the woman stared at me blankly and finally said, “How can I help you?”
(What I wanted to say): “Well, let’s see. Your shirt indicates that you work for a company called AutoReturn. I need my auto returned. That’s how you’re going to help me. Think you can do that?”
(What I actually said): “I need my car back.”
She starts to ask me questions and types on her computer for what seems like hours. At the end of the typing, she looks at me with a slight exasperation and says, “Ugh, sorry bout that, I had to type ALL that stuff in!”
Me: “Wow, yeah, is that a hassle for you?”
Her: “Yeah it definitely is!”
Me: “Is it more of a hassle than having to pay $500 to get your own car back? I don’t think so. Which door do I go out?”
Forgive me for being less than sympathetic. I truly could not care less. I just wanted to see my baby.
I drove out of the lot, aimlessly into the busy downtown traffic, looking for a place to go. The cars around me angrily honked at my every hesitation, reiterating this city’s hatred for me. I was terrified to pull over and park anywhere at this point.
As many of you know, prior to this trip, I worked for two years at a busy sushi restaurant in downtown Charlotte. If that restaurant were a city, it would be San Francisco: It’s crowded, loud, expensive, there’s no parking, and everyone’s Asian. Mirror images.
I pulled over into the alleyway of a cafe so I could get breakfast and figure out what to do next. In the alley was an AWESOME mural. I had to temporarily brush off my despair for the sake of a good photo op:
“No Human Being is Illegal”
I went in to eat and called my girlfriend Tyler in Napa, who I was planning to visit when I got done with this godforsaken city. I told her all about my troubles, and she told me to go ahead and come up there, she’d hook me up with a free tour of the winery where she worked, and then we could go to her place and swim in the pool. Sounds perfect, I said. Armed with an escape plan that included the first familiar face I’d seen in two weeks, I abandoned any lingering hopes I had of enjoying San Fran and made the two-hour journey north to wine country. More on that next.