So, after saying goodbye to the two weeks project in San Jose and spending a weekend in Oakland hosted by a Couchsurfer, I decided it was time to come to SF and play all my chips here. The main idea was always to make solid contacts for a future position/s that would take me out of the, already mentioned, jobless reality of Argentina.
Anyhow, looking for contacts and jobs is more of a seated and patient task in front of a computer, sending mails until your fingers and eyes start to bleed, so… not much on that.
Before I departed from San Jose, the moment when the real trip would start, I made a very important decision that would change everything in the near future. Without thinking it through, I realise that I did the same a year ago before going to London, the undiscovere’d country, my dreamed city, for the very first time. So, I shaved my head to the very core leaving me almost bald. If we sum this to the fact that gained a lot of weight in the past few months we all could agree that I’d committed a sexual suicide, though I don’t mind as I stay focused in what it is important. Really, I don’t mind. Stop it, I’m fine with this situation. Moving on.
Sunday night, my last in Oakland, maybe forever as the opportunities never felt well there for a future, I was sleeping at my host’s in the floor and feeling a little blue about the future, thinking that this was maybe a big mistake, I almost thought on the possibility to return to Argentina, yeah, that’s how bummed I felt.
Midnight o’clock, Monday, my mind continues to wander in a desperate chain of depressing and absurd thoughts until the big guy stepped up, maybe tired of so much unnecessary, as always, self-loathing. He didn’t like it a bit, so he started to say things like “Are you kidding me, man? This is what you wanted. Big dreams and adventures are always scary. Stop being such a spoiled brat and face whatever you came here to find. You schmuck”. Ok, maybe he didn’t said the last part, but you get the general idea. I like this guy. The thing is that I only needed some hours of sleep, a cup of coffee and hit the road to this so called really cool city named San Francisco.
I took the BART from Oakland next day at noon, more or less, to the west side of the Bay, that seven by seven city. My guitar in one hand, the suitcase in the other and my bagpack clinging from behind, I seated next to what I could assume were a family from the Middle East with the ladies having their heads covered and nice little girl speaking in English and repeating whatever the train voice said.
Traveling inside the BART from one side of the Bay to the other has something special really. The last part of Oakland seems so industrial with little houses, then you enter into the underground tunnel which goes under the water. You lose completely idea of time and speed. For a moment I thought that we were stuck in the middle of a BART traffic jam, if that exists. Suddenly, lights start to come across like beams, appearing and disappearing so rapidly, and then, the first station on the other side, Embarcadero. Could it be a clue from the destiny, as for it means in Spanish, like a call from my guardian angel telling me to embark in this and have no fear. I’m not a religious person, that’s what I say to myself and others, but I like some symbolisms. So, I have been thinking in a particular, and very well known, psalm, the 23:4, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” The you, rod, and staff can be whatever you want them to be. It can be your own confidence, or the assurance of being part of something bigger, like a link of a universal chain, or else.
Three stations went by and I got off on mine. I remember walking a long way to my exit. I felt as everything I wanted was resumed on that path. The path of someone initiating himself in something new, dying and rising again, we are always leaving something behind in order to find something new. A very dear friend of mine said once to me that we don’t entirely return from our journeys, a part lays there, and the new us that we found comes with us, you leave and gain, you die and rise again, the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.
I hopped in into the Mechanical staircase, and then, the sun light, the surface, San Francisco and it’s people. The noise machines working on the streets, tourists everywhere, Market St., coffees to go on several hands. It reminded me a little to London, Berlin and Buenos Aires, don’t ask.
I walked to my hostel, pretty near to everything, especially Chinatown and Mission, (but we’ll talk about that later). People in the hostel seemed friendly and all, and wasn’t expensive, fortunately for the third world country traveller. In my four bunk bed room I found the only other guest, a Polish with a British accent, he seemed ok and nice to chat with.
I decided that on this very first day I wouldn’t work, just walk around the city, chill and go to an Open Mic at night. After the proper and always needed quick shower, I took off, and started walking with no path, the way I like to start with a city. I became quickly amazed with the buildings and all the architecture that I slightly understand but admire surrounding me. After a couple of hours of walking I finally end on the North East side of the area, with the San Francisco Port and Ghandi’s memorial on one side and the Oakland-San Francisco Bridge in the other. Such a spectacular view.
Six o’clock, it was time to return to the hostel and get ready for the first Open Mic in the US. Back in the hostel there were two extremely beautiful French girls checking in… Oh, right, sexual suicide, (I said that I didn’t mind!).
I had to take the Bus #27 for a ten minute trip to the Utah Hotel Saloon on 4th and Bryant. At a stop a black woman approached me “Hey, handsome. How are you?”
I know that Americans like to talk to whoever they see, but for me was something totally new. “Hey” I, replied. “I’m fine. How are you?”
She started to talk with me but it looked like it was only with herself, an internal monologue she was making me part of. She is facing me and looking over my shoulder. I start to worry a little, I mean, what is going on? Is she trying to set me up and mug me here? Coming from Argentina you get a little paranoid, mostly if you are in a foreign city.
“What’s your name?” She asked me.
She just was going backwards.
“Gemini?” Last question.
“Yeah” Finally. Why am I even answering this?
I checked and rechecked if something was happening behind, but it was cool. I relaxed a little while still waiting for the 27 and keep answering Kenya’s questions.
In the end she got bored of such nonsense. “Do you like cologne?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I have man cologne here. Do you want some? I’m selling it”.
“I’m good thanks.”
The bus appeared turning on the corner and so I lifted my arm.
“Are you sure, honey? I can spray some on you if you want? Maybe your sneakers or guitar case.”
Don’t you ever try to mess with my guitar.
“Thanks, but I’m good, really”.
She put the cologne away while I was getting on the bus.
“Ok, Manuel, have a good night.”
“You too, Kenya, nice to meet you.”
Once on the bus I remembered some stories of a friend of how he met some girls on the public transportation back in NY, encouraged also by the foreigner element, (I’ll talk about it later).
A beautiful, long, short hair girl got on the next stop. I asked myself if it would be weird to start a conversation… but… no… no… Ok, I’m fine, really. Is something I wanted. I don’t mind resembling Syd Barret, the later days.
I finally got to the Utah Hotel Saloon, nice American Bar with a dedicated spot for the Open Mic a few steps away from the bar. I opened a tab, 20$ minimum for credit card, and so I paid, Oh… spoiled brat.
The OM was hosted by a guy named Brendan. And the thing went like this. First you sign in, put your name on a piece of paper and toss it into a jar. After everybody signed in, or the time ran out, Brendan and the coolest short and fat guy in the world, (after Danny Devito of course), would sort and note down every artist for the evening, I was listed like forth, a sweet spot, you don’t have to open, people is already moved but not drunk already.
I sat on the only available chair sharing a table with this guy named Sean, cool guy from San Francisco who lived elsewhere for a long time and now returned to his hometown.
Brendan yelled “Due Backstage, Manu!” That meant I had to go literary to backstage and get prepared, tune the guitar and look nice in the mirror while other performer was playing. I wasn’t feeling nervous or anything, but excited and happy, that’s the kind of thing that I like to do, I said to myself. Just, live and enjoy the moment.
The other performer ended, so I entered and played my only song for my friends that couldn’t listen but you, they are always there. With hope, Brendan will upload the recording of that night so I can post it. I rocked, seriously… uhmmm ok.
I had a few more drinks, listening to the other musicians, like this guy who went with his dog on stage, and the coolest fat and short guy who opened with “I use to do a lot of acid in my youth, and now I have reflux”.
In the end I was kind of worry of how to return, it was close to 22:00 and my ticket was valid for just half an hour more. Sean told me that he was going to the Brainwash on Tuesday, I said that we could meet there and play some more, (how that went, I’ll tell you next time). I was about to say goodbye when he offered me to take me back to the hostel, I think it was on his route or something. Didn’t ask.
We said goodbye on the corner of the hostel and promised to see each other on the Brainwash.
Back at the lobby I left my guitar at the front desk for a quick last cigarette on the street.
“Is it expensive?” the guy of the front desk asked me.
“Nah, more or less, It’s classified. Do you play?”
“You can try it if you want”
While I was finishing my cigarette I saw this guy with a guitar entering to the hostel. So I tossed the cigarette and entered as well. At the front desk they gave me back my guitar. This other guy was checking in, he handle a Mexican passport. I asked him in Spanish if he played and told him about the open mics and else. We accorded to go to the brainwash next day.
I returned to my room, which was next to the Mexicans. I said goodbye and went to bed. By the way, my baldness is slowly but continuously disappearing.
“Don’t believe in everything you read”