I'm currently on an American Airlines flight which is winging its way high above the arid mountains of California from San Fran to LA. These internal American flights are curious affairs, which feel rather like British bus journeys. People bring their own food with them. Some have even come equipped with takeaway meals. It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase budget airlines. The stewards are all grumpy gits and the air is thick with the stench of potato chips and Haribo. One child is eating sweeties which are "happy cola" flavoured. God knows how many E numbers she's chowing down on, but I reckon someone's gonna get a sugar high and then crash before this flight is done. She's already laughing like an addict. She'll be checking herself into the Betty Ford clinic before the week is out.
We went into a bookshop on Market Street today and were greeted by the sound of Holst's Planets Suite. It felt rather prescient to be hearing something so quintessentially English on the last day of our American adventure. To add another layer of brilliance, the movement which was playing was Jupiter, the main theme of which is, of course, I Vow to Thee My Country, otherwise known as Thaxted; written in and named after the town where my parents live. And what a tune that is! I wonder if I'll ever write a tune that good.
We sat outside Starbucks on Castro and 18th for old times' sake and met a ballet dancer with eyes the colour of forget-me-nots. He'd come from Russia via Jamaica and wanted to open a dance school for young people. We couldn't tell if he was odd or just Russian. I think he was probably also a rent boy.
A car was illegally parked outside the cafe and a traffic warden sidled over. Instead of crudely slapping a ticket on the windscreen with a sense of desperate glee (as I'm sure would have happened in London), he took the time to ask every single person sitting outside the cafe whether the car was theirs. When the owner finally appeared, the traffic warden ushered him on his way without the ticket, which he'd already written out. In my view this is exactly how traffic wardens should behave. Everyone deserves at least a chance to move their car.
A man in his thirties arrived with a beautiful black dog. One assumes they were homeless. The man left the dog with the Russian dancer and went into the Starbucks to get himself a glass of water, which he shared with the dog. After a few minutes, he entered what can only be described as a drugs-related episode, which I assume was related to the can of spray paint he was holding in his hand. He started sweating profusely whilst shaking, moaning and banging his head with his hands. Eventually the panic subsided and he fell asleep, only to be woken up by Starbucks staff who informed him he could only stay if he bought himself a drink. He picked his broken body off the chair and disappeared with the dog.
And there it was: the flip side of the San Franciscan free-loving, hippy-drippy dream. People come here, and, encouraged by the Castro-Haight vibe, live decadent, irresponsible, sun-drenched lives. But then it catches them. Bang! And they're nothing but relics. Their pace of life has slowed to a stand still, they're unable to function in everyone else's reality. Unable to move elsewhere, unable to find a job, they remain in the Castro or the Haight because it's the only place they don't feel like freaks, the only place where their sense of normality is mirrored by others. Anywhere else in the world, they'd probably be hospitalised. And they know it.
There's a mobile dangling from a lamppost on 18th street. Made from a bicycle wheel, it spins in endless circles, buffeted by the wind. Suspended from the spokes of the wheels are a series of action men dressed up in camp costumes. Some are figure skating, others are ballroom dancing, some are placed in suggestive sexual positions. For me, the mobile sums up the entire lifestyle here. A sort of wonderful, beautiful, relaxed bubble, which eats itself and ultimately leads nowhere.
Our San Franciscan honeymoon has been rewarding, exciting, remarkable, intense. It will never leave us. But ultimately it's time to head back to the real world, before we're sucked into the bottomless whirlpool!!