The last time I was in San Francisco, I believe I was thirty-two years old. I was single, alone, on a business trip, and my parents were taking care of my children. I remember thinking that the city was invigorating and abuzz with activity.
Fast forward twenty-three years, and the activity was about to do me in. “Paul, I’m going to die. Stop.” I stood in the middle of a sidewalk on Stockton Street, one of the city’s highest and steepest hills. I was desperately trying to suck massive amounts of oxygen into my lungs. “What’s wrong with me? I’m never like this.” I leaned on my husband who was standing with his back to the hill also gasping. “The problem… is… my… thighs,” I wheezed loudly between words.
Paul started to laugh and it turned into a spasmatic cough similar to the sound of a barking seal. “Your thighs?”
“Yes,” I said taking deep breaths. “Aren’t muscles supposed to move oxygen around your body?”
“Honey, they do. They just aren’t capable of breathing for you.”
In Seattle, Paris, Mexico City…in so many places I would have smacked him, but at that moment, I didn’t have the ability to lift my arms, so I tucked it away for another time.
It was our first night in San Francisco, and I was determined to go to the Tonga Room in the basement of the Fairmont Hotel. Never have I been more disappointed and humiliated by a restaurant. It was like a marriage between Chuckie Cheese and the Panda Express. The mai tais were 22 dollars, the pupu platter was 48 dollars, the fried spring rolls were seven dollars each and they came four to a plate. A giant fan blew warm moist air across the room, and waiters stood still clutching paper menus when the inevitable gust passed by them. A recording of rumbling thunder and lashing rain boomed from speakers in the corners, and dozens of children ran through the restaurant, dipping their hands in the refurbished pool-turned- lagoon and splashed one another. I was hit with a chilling wave. I resisted the urge to stick out my foot and trip the urchins.
“I’m double dipping the spring rolls,” Paul said shoving one in his mouth. “If we’re here when the band starts, it’s a fifteen-dollar cover charge for each of us.”
“Fine,” I said breaking a fried roll in half and using it like a biscuit to sop up the extra syrup. “These children are heathens anyway. Where are their parents?” Then I saw the line of mai tai glasses lined up in the center of the table next to us. “That’s a hundred dollars of mai tais,” I said shocked.
“Check, please,” Paul said raising his hand and struggling to swallow the last of the roll.
We landed on the sidewalk outside the hotel.
“What do we do now?” Paul asked.
“We look for people who are at least our age, cheerful, enjoy food, and are not afraid to drink a whole bottle of wine with dinner,” I said determined. “To begin, we only walk downhill.” We picked up the pace.
“Women’s hair will be tastefully colored,” I whispered.
“Men?” Paul inquired.
“Silver foxes just like you,” I said patting his thick silver-grey hair.
“Do these people like Italian food?” Paul stopped and pointed his finger at the end of the block. A brave green, white, and red striped flag stood out in the darkness. Standing on my tiptoes and straining to see, I saw white tablecloths covering the tables. As the door flew open and ejected a happy couple, laughter rang in the cold night air.
“I love being 55. Thank goodness we are not afraid of white flour, cream sauces, or lady fingers soaked in espresso…let’s hurry.” My patent leather shoes clicked frantically towards the warmly lit windows.
We arrived at the restaurant and a bottle of chianti reserve was skillfully opened and poured. I closed my eyes and savored the bright, spicy scent.
“Don’t take this wrong,” Paul said. I opened my eyes to see him holding a glass up to cheer the good fortune of our night. “A toast to your thighs. May they always carry the oxygen to get us where we belong.”
We clinked glasses and I smiled at him as I took a small sip. Two. I have two smacks tucked away for the future.