Eye of the haboob

From atop the Coit Tower. ...I'm addicted to tilt shift.

We were in San Francisco this week for a short vacation. My primary objective was to eat, and I achieved this goal. In part to reduce the effects of this gluttony, we walked everywhere. I say in part, because we also had this strange notion that public transport would be sufficient to get us around the city. The multifaceted public transport system in San Francisco is, I find, an inefficient mechanism for travel.

S said at one point that he couldn’t forget that the city is still in California, and I think he meant something else, but to me, the thing that really signified is you must have a car.

Today, our return day, we spent the overwhelming majority of our time in wait. First for the Bart (initially mistyped brat),which was delayed for construction, then for the flight to LA, then for the flight to Phoenix, and finally, on I-10, as an accident cleared, possibly from the massive dust storm we drove through.

The flights were delayed for various reasons: “the San Francisco airspace,” “mechanical issues.” These strike me as frankly euphemistic. What are they euphemisms for? I don’t know, but I suspect concrete human causes are at the root, perhaps decision-making at the logistical level, or some broader system-wide issue such as air traffic control technology. They sound good and vague, though: blameless.

Anyhoo. When we got to the airport in San Francisco, our flight was running 30 minutes late. It grew later in increments of 15 minutes, intermittently called out by the harried guy running the counter. We just hung out. The situation was clearly developing. There was nothing to be done. Meantime, a woman in our vicinity could not keep still. She phoned two or three people (presumably the same set) to update them each time she heard a new announcement. She was headed for Memphis. She was afraid she would miss her connection, but maybe not! Because there were a lot of people traveling on to Memphis, six, seven. Ten! We did not observe her interacting with any of these people. We did not overhear the guy at the counter disclose this information. She gathered this imaginary community about herself and reported it to her distant friends and relatives. This seemed to be her primary mode of dealing with the stress and annoyance: hey neighbor, rally round!

I identified this as a personality trait (she was also the kind of person who unconsciously narrates her activities, eg, “Oh, that’s where I need to be now!”), but S proposed that perhaps it’s a regional thing. Perhaps in this part of the country, we’re more apt to suffer stoically, to stick it out solo, ala Ellsworth on Deadwood (quote imprecise): “I stand before you beholden unto no human cocksucker.”

I am on the verge of bitching about other random people, so it seems appropriate to call out my own inexcusably bad behavior. Today, on this same flight to LA, a flight attendant called me out for using an approved electronic device at an inappropriate time, and such was my displeasure that I radiated a wordless wrath that made him recoil, crying out, “Well, you don’t have to be so mean about it!” Reader, I assure you, I did comply with his request.

On the flight to Phoenix, we were seated behind a drunk VA employee from Oregon. He wanted to play baseball professionally, but he just wasn’t good enough. His daughter plays softball at Washington State. Eventually the drunk introduced himself to his seatmate, and when he discovered that the guy was Finnish, he was all agog about recent and tragic events in Norway. The Finnish guy was all, “Yeah, that was terrible, but I’m Finnish, and I live in Sweden now.” The drunk introduced the Finn to everyone as being from Norway. “Finland.” “He’s from Norway!” “Finland.” A woman two seats ahead of us turned around and said knowingly to the Finn, “Chocolate.”

We think maybe she was thinking of Belgium? Or Switzerland? At this juncture, I put in my earbuds, but I could still hear this guy blathering on about different topics, all in the cringe-inducing ugly American vein. S put in his earbuds when the drunk began asking the Finn if he supports our troops.

It was a long 50 minutes. But you know what? The guy in San Francisco thought we’d have to catch the 6:00 flight from LA to Phoenix, but we got out at 1:30. So overall, a win.

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3 responses to “Eye of the haboob

  1. the dictionary project

    I miss public transportation from when I lived in SF. I had a car there but never used it. Were y’all wanting to get out of the city or were buses running late?

    • It’s probably just a combination of impatience and frustration, stemming from being a visitor vs. being a resident with a regular commute pattern. It makes a difference when you know the system/limitations. We were annoyed by the bus system website and the best-rated app turned out to not be very useful for trip planning. I think going in I expected the bart to be able to handle 80% of our needs, and that just wasn’t the case. The trains seemed to run few and far between, and the system doesn’t pervade the city. On several occasions, we waited for buses for 10-15 minutes, which doesn’t seem awful now, but at the time seemed fraught with uncertainty, especially when we were the only people standing there, at a stop without a shelter. We probably ought to have cabbed around more. 😛

      What part of the city did you live in?

  2. the dictionary project

    curious

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