Sunday, May 7, 2006
12:59 p.m. -- Washington and Cherry -- It’s another beautiful Sunday, though not quite as warm as, not quite as ideal as last Sunday. Business is slow, and I've spent the last ten minutes chasing a radio call all the way from the Haight-Ashbury to Presidio Heights, one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in San Francisco. Old mansions line this block of Washington Street, and every other nearby block, too. Few of the residents here take cabs -- most have their own drivers.
Two strikingly handsome white folks in their early/mid thirties step from the curb when they see me coming. The woman is blond and slim and has a pleasant, amused smile on her face. She's wearing shades -- we’re getting toward summertime, the sun seems particularly high in the sky today, the world seems awfully bright -- and I can't see her eyes. "Hello," she says warmly. She seems to regard her beauty lightly, as though it’s a new toy she’s just been presented -- gift-wrapped, in bed, along with a steaming cup of coffee this very morning.
The man is tall, a cross between rangy and borderline buff. I imagine the two of them in the opening scenes of a movie: Reese Witherspoon’s convertible sports car breaks down in the desert. A half-mile in the distance she sees a ramshackle structure dancing in the heat waves. She’s sweating a bit by the time she hikes to it. A pair of blue jeans and work boots are sticking out from under a ’57 Chevy. “Excuse me,” she says. A scraping sound follows, as Jeff Bridges rolls out from under the car. He sits up, uses his corded forearm to smooth back a brown forelock, and looks up at his future. “Yes, ma’m. What can I do for ya'?”
In real life, after they tell me their destination (Russian Hill), I ask, “What are you two up to on this beautiful afternoon?”
“We were just at an open house,” the man says. “They’ve redone the place completely, and we wanted to see the design work.”
“Are either of you an architect or a designer?”
“No,” says the man, “but Josie’s great with design -- she’s a natural.”
They’re not ‘tumbleouts’ (people whose stories just pour out of them) but they don’t seem to mind my questions, and they take turns answering. They live in Phoenix now, but the woman used to live in San Francisco, in the Marina District, and she loved it here. When she’d hooked up with the man, they’d decided to “keep a place in San Francisco” and now they spend “several weekends a year here, mostly in the summer.” Their place on Russian Hill has a view of the Financial District and the Bay Bridge. In Phoenix they’re "working together on a project,” restoring a 100-year old adobe, hoping to get it back to it’s former glory. “It has great bones,” says the woman. The house sits on two and a half acres in an area that is a mix of residential and high-rise office development. This isn’t their first project together, but it’s their biggest so far. “This one is special,” says the woman.
“How many square feet?” I ask.
“Eight-five hundred,” she says.
The back of my head slams into the headrest, and both of them laugh. Rhonda, Sarah, and I live in a two-bedroom, one-bath house of 1300 square feet. “What kind of shape is it in?” I ask. “And was it empty?”
“No, there was a family living there. It’s in decent shape -- it’s just old,” says the woman.
“A family of how many?”
“Two,” says the man.
“Forty-two hundred and fifty square feet apiece!”
We’re in a friendly mood by the time we reach their place, which is a short stroll down to the cafes of North Beach, but a steep climb back up.
The man says, “We need to leave for the Oakland airport at 1:45.”
“I’d love to take you.”
1:44 p.m. -- Taylor and Broadway -- Thirty five minutes after I drop them, I’m back, pulling around the corner and turning up the hill toward their place. Ten seconds later Mr. Bridges comes out with a suitcase in either arm. He’s changed into blue jeans and a white tee-shirt -- pretty casual dress for a plane ride, but then they are headed for the desert heat. Ms. Witherspoon is wearing a sleeveless black top. She smiles and gives me another warm, “Hello.” She’s gorgeous. I can barely look at her.
I feel badly about having grilled them so mercilessly during their first ride, and now I’m silent as we cruise down the hill, follow Columbus through North Beach to the Financial District, and head for the Bay Bridge. They’re quiet too, at first, and then they start talking in lowered voices about a building they’ve been keeping their eyes on. The woman happened by it yesterday and saw it listed for sale. “Two-point-three,” she says, “which seems about right.” He murmurs agreement. And they fall silent.
Cab drivers heading out from SF and across one of the surrounding bridges are supposed to inform a fare, before leaving the city, that the fare is responsible for the return bridge toll. I usually do just that, but as soon as I hear the "two-point-three" I just don’t have the heart. It seems so petty. For the sake of my own imagined dignity, I’ll eat the $3 bridge toll. I stay silent until we’ve almost passed through the tunnel at Yerba Buena Island, halfway across the Bay, and then I ask:
“How did you two meet?”
They do what most people do when asked this question: they laugh.
“In a revolving door,” the woman says.
“Yes,” she says, tickled at the very thought of it. “No fooling.”
“Where was the revolving door?”
“At a hotel in LA,” says the man.
“Were you headed in the same direction or opposites?”
“Opposites,” says the man.
“So you just kept revolving and followed her?”
She answers for him: “He did. I was leaving, heading back to San Francisco. I had already checked out and my bags were in a taxi out front. Terry said, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, 'San Francisco.' He said, 'You’re not going anywhere.’ And I had the valet get my bags out of the trunk.”
They’re laughing again. And I’m liking this story a lot: “That’s pretty much verbatim?”
“Pretty much verbatim,” says the man. “Actually I said, ‘until you have lunch with me’.”
I try to imagine myself saying something remotely like this to a woman I don’t know, and I know I never will. Or at least I never have. I say, “This was the first time you met?”
The woman: “We’d actually seen each other briefly the day before, around the pool. We’d talked just a little. I was with someone else...”
“A man? Or another woman?”
“A man. Terry says he didn’t even notice my bikini...” -- she’s getting a kick out of telling this part -- “he noticed my ‘energy.'”
I say, “There IS such a thing as 'bikini energy.'” But I do understand completely what other things Terry might have noticed. “Where was the hotel?”
“The Mondrian Hotel -- on Sunset,” the woman says. “It was the hot place then, where young people would go to meet.”
“When was this?”
She says, “Seven years ago.”
Both of them at once: “July fifteenth.”
The woman: “I think we’ve probably lasted a little over the average of most people who meet at the Mondrian.”
I point over my shoulder at her. “How did you feel, what did you think, when he said, ‘You’re not going anywhere’?”
“I loved it!” At 'loved,' her voice rises higher, to a delighted and delightful squeak. "I LOVED it!"
She continues: “Here’s what he actually said: ‘The girl from the pool.’ And I said: ‘The boy from the pool.’ He said: ‘Where are you going?’ I said: ‘San Francisco.’ And he said, ‘You’re not going anywhere until you have lunch with me.’ And after lunch he just kept finding other things that I had to do before I could leave. I didn’t make it out of LA until the next day.”
I say: “You know him now. Is that typical of how he is?”
“Exactly. If he wants something, he goes after it.”
I point over my shoulder toward him. “Did you surprise yourself? Did you have it rehearsed or anything.”
“Entirely spontaneous,” he says. “I don’t think those things work any other way.”
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Labels: The Mondrian