The Big Chill
A cold front pushed through the bay area overnight, and I woke up around 3:00 AM to the soft and mellow droning of multiple fog horns into a mist that covered the city. My parents live close to the coast in Virginia Beach, so I’m accustomed to hearing a fog horn from time to time when I visit them, but never multiple ones echoing over an area. My curiosity piqued, I poked my head outside my window and could barely see the buildings surrounding my hotel. I can’t remember ever seeing such dense a fog that was so all-encompassing before, and I half expected to see a schlocky Wolfman or Dracula jump out. Satisfied that I was safe from B-movie monsters or zombie pirates, I went back to bed and found the fog horns strangely soothing as I fell back asleep.
I spent the night with my window wide open, so by morning, the cold front arrived with a supersized helping of San Francisco’s notoriously chilly and breezy weather. Fighting the overwhelming urge to not leave my blanket-and-comforter-clenching fetal position, I got up and jumped into the shower, then struggled to unlock my tablet, still jacked up from my accidentally dropping it on the floor last night. The concierge gave me the mother of all puppy-tilted-head-confused expressions when I asked him for a paperclip (for pressing the tablet’s internal reset button), but I managed to fumble my way back into accessing it by the time I sat down for breakfast. Not long after sitting down in the hotel restaurant, John and Arnoud arrived and joined me, and then we headed over to Steve’s apartment, previously declared as the rallying point for the day’s plans. Walking into the apartment building’s lobby, the mighty Alex met up with us, looking ready to go despite his staying at the Motel 6 in the Tenderloin. According to Alex, his motel was a little less than an ideal place to stay, both because of the “quality” of the lodging and the previously-mentioned warzone-disguised-as-a-neighborhood location.
Nobb Hill, Chinatown and Beyond
Walking around this city, one can’t help but notice that some of the locals are fearless and/or couldn’t care less about what others think, so the DC area power suits and muted suburban dress codes that I’m used to were replaced by hair in every color in the rainbow (as well as a few not found in nature), and outfits that left me wondering if it really mattered that it was recently Halloween. In fact, a Dr. Cox quote from the TV show Scrubs kept rolling through my mind as I passed people wearing unique and sometimes questionable outfits – “I like the gays. I like their music. I like their sense of style. I especially like what they’ve done with Halloween.” Whenever Halloween falls in the middle of the week, most places encourage wearing costumes and celebrating on the closest weekend. While it’s clear that most places celebrate Halloween like Christmas, San Francisco is inclined, maybe even obligated, to treating it more like Hanukkah.
In our negotiations at Steve’s apartment about what we all wanted to do, Alex suggested that it was up to Steve since it was his big weekend,(1) and he chose touring up Nob Hill since it leads to several other areas worth visiting. Journeying up to Nob Hill is less of a walk and more of an uphill hike, and Steve’s friend John (not the tiniest of men) proved that he wasn’t shy about crossing into TMI territory by letting us know that he was suffering some chaffing in specific personal regions. Alex, Steve and I elected to keep on walking, but John and Arnould opted for the cable car instead. Also nicknamed “Snob Hill,” the area is the polar opposite of the Tenderloin as much more affluent, with high-end shops lining the cleaner and better kept streets, complete with the famously opulent Fairmont Hotel at the summit. We made good time compared to the others waiting on the cable car, so we wandered into the hotel to sit down while we waited, camping out in a more out-of-the-way corner of the hotel’s luxurious lobby.
Shortly after sitting down, John and Arnould arrived and we were back on our walking tour (made easier for John as most of it was downhill), taking us right into the heart of Chinatown. We walked through the main drag, checking out some of the touristy junk shops and texting Michael to keep him apprised of where we were.(2) By this time, we were getting hungry and John was looking forward to being off of his feet and sparing his loins, as well as us the accompanying updates about their condition. We ate at the Empress of China Garden restaurant, and woofed down curried chicken, walnut prawns and empress beef. Steve, who was quickly becoming (if not already) a certified foodie like many in this city, said he wasn’t as impressed with the food, but the rest of us didn’t seem to mind. Michael joined us just as we were wrapping up lunch and explored the multi-story restaurant a bit before leaving. We were all pretty amused to discover the celebrity wall, showing off the restaurant’s more famous (yet dated) patrons – various politicians and actors of decades past, some of whom we admired, and others…not so much.
Michael borrowed one of John W.’s cars, so Steve’s friend John took advantage of the wheeled transportation as we hiked down toward Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. This area is basically a tourist trap with all things touristy to buy and eat, but it’s also a popular hangout for the local sea lions, which you can hear grunting and whooping it up for blocks in every direction.
Left: Arnoud, Steve, myself, Michael and Alex at Pier 39.
Right: Sea lions doing what they do best…
With late afternoon closing in on us and Steve needing to get back to prepare for the big show that night, we called it a day. Steve and Alex elected to walk back and the rest of piled in the car for a ride back to the hotel.
(1) I forget who originally proposed it, but previous to the trip, Alex, Michael and/or Steve kicked around the idea of go kart racing, but the track Steve found has an expensive reservation fee and there was some doubt about getting commitments from others to join us. In the past, we enjoyed go kart racing as part of the bachelor party festivities for both Alex’s and Michael’s respective weddings and you could say it’s a become bit of a tradition amongst our circle of friends. During Alex’s bachelor party fun, the same amusement park we did go karts at included boat bumper cars, which was a Hell of a lot of fun, even when Alex, Michael and Steve joined forces in a repeatedly and ultimately fruitless attempt to maneuver me into a waterfall. Bastards.
(2) Michael, working the day before, was up late finishing some tasks, so he was running behind this morning due to sleeping in. Later on, he made the amusing and a tad off-color joke “You know, all Chinatowns kind of look alike.” Which I followed up with “And then you want to see another one a few hours later.” Please believe me when I say that my friends and I are not racist. Honest.
You’re Either In or You’re Fabulous
Steve first told me about Project Nunway earlier this year, and based on his contagious enthusiasm and my own piqued curiosity, there was no way I was going to say no to attending. The show is an annual charity event presented by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (a.k.a., “The Sisters”), a West Coast-based charity and activism group that supports the gay community and addresses related social issues. Being a supporter of alternative lifestyles (even though I don’t practice one) and appreciating a little religious satire, it’s hard to resist a charity fashion show full of drag queens, plus, this year’s theme was “Dissident Futures,” so the show was appealing to my geek side, too.
Arriving at the YBCA, the place was livelier than a circus. Cross dressers marched around in their garish best, Halloween-costumed attendees mingled and mixed, and the hopelessly straight and milquetoast (e.g., Michael, Alex and myself) gawked and admired at what amounted to San Francisco’s mixing of Burning Man with Comic-Con. Between the costumes, party ensembles and Sisters marching around the lobby, it was a sure bet that there wasn’t a single pair high heels or platforms to be found in the entire city. It was also the first time in my life that I was having difficulty figuring out if some people were male, female or somewhere in between, but common sense told me to hand out no lines and keep my hands to myself.(1) Truth be told, the artist in me loved the vibrant, colorful, myriad orgy of self-expression filling the convention center, and I didn’t care if it was still a hold-over from Halloween or not. Despite a few rare alternative events, like the High Heel Drag Queen Race held annually in Dupont Circle (a.k.a., the “fruit loop” – and that’s a joke I got from a gay friend, so don’t flame me for it), the DC area wasn’t really known for these kinds of events, let alone encouraging locals to show up looking like regulars at the Mos Eisley Cantina, so this alone was worth the trip. Everything from neon-colored hair to the creative and the sometimes confounding application of Christmas tree LED lights were a spectacle to behold.(2)
The show was completely sold out and it was standing room only, and as the lights dimmed, the band came out (no pun intended) and the show began, filling the next two hours with a parade of outlandish and creatively perplexing outfits.(3) The show’s theme was reflected in costumes by incorporating recycled materials (a competition requirement), make up, lights and drew from highly conceptual ideas to inspiration from movies.(4) We saw combinations of retro and steampunk, homages to the gods of antiquity, religious satires, alien worlds, robots and cyborgs, utopian and dystopian ensembles, all made of myriad fabrics, lights and materials (including balloons and old wire conduits). One wonders what was more impressive, the costumes themselves or the willpower to put them on and march, strut or sashay out in front of hundreds of cheering onlookers. Like Steve’s uninhibited conversational skills, that kind of bravery to present yourself for admiration without being embarrassed or massively self-conscious (or at least not showing it) is an enviable quality.
Later, the lobby opened up for the after party and throngs filled the room with the din of excitement and celebration due to the event’s clear success and the crowd’s enjoyment. There were the anxious trying to get pictures taken with all of the Sisters in their Nunway regalia, the social cliques comparing and contrasting their reviews and analyses, and even the occasional couple getting caught up in the sensuality of it all (e.g., one particularly attractive lesbian/bi couple didn’t hesitate to make out next to me). Steve all but disappeared into the mix, and Alex, Michael and I enjoyed our share of people watching.
Knowing precious few people in the crowd, and combined with Michael’s own exhaustion from working yesterday, Alex, Michael and I made our goodbyes and started walking back. The YBCA is tucked away in the South of Market district, which felt a bit like Times Square, with the buzz of a Saturday nightlife in full swing. Alex and Michael were hungry so we found Sushi Boat on our way back and they jumped at the chance for sushi in San Francisco. The joint was everything you could expect of a good sushi restaurant, especially the moat surrounding the chefs/bar area with bamboo boats floating by with offerings of freshly-made sushi goodness. Alex and Michael dug in, trying a little bit of everything that was literally floating by while I was content with warm tea (I wasn’t hungry). Soon enough, we were back out to the streets, being accosted by a very chatty and enthusiastic man who eventually tried hitting us up for a handout. I’m still not sure if he was homeless or not, but his was definitely a charming act.
(1) With all due respect to the Georgia Satellites.
(2) I was routinely distracted by one attendee who managed to install so many LED lights into the furriest pair of Uggs he could find that you could easily spot him from orbit.
(3) In great testament to their craft, the band’s lead singer was “Lady Mahogany,” who I’d have no clue is actually male if not for seeing the band out of costume at the dress rehearsal.
(4) One leaving-little-to-imagination creation was directly inspired by Feyd-Rautha’s (played by Sting) undies outfit from the movie Dune. For better or for worse is up to you to decide.