I woke up in San Francisco last Saturday morning.
A couple months ago I decided that I wanted to go to the Bay and so, out of character, I impulsively bought a ticket. In an effort to take hold of my life, this year I've budgeted everything out to the dollar and part of that budgeting has been a monthly chip-in to a pot for travel. I've barely touched that pile, so with the cash in hand and a need to not change my mind I pushed ahead and grabbed a seat on an SFO-bound flight.
I am the son of a major trip planner, my mom. As a kid, every family trip would follow a month (if not months) of research on the best (and worst) sights, largely along the best (and worst) routes to see them. My mom would buy guidebooks and scour websites, printing out articles to read to us aloud in the car, offering fun facts about the local fish population or assuring us that we were in the right season for whatever specialty our restaurant was serving for dinner.
Much of that transferred down. I went to Japan last November after saving up miles and bought my ticket a year in advance in order to get the best deal. This allowed for extensive planning and budgeting, all contained in the three Google doc spreadsheets I made.
I couldn't plan for the life-timing, however, but this Japan trip came exactly when it needed to. I'd just finished a particularly taxing season of Tuesday Night Cafe, the art series I produce. Work was stressing me out and affecting my health for the first time. My love life never makes much sense, but at that moment it was particularly out of sorts. Leaving the states, deleting the Facebook app from my phone, and getting lost in a country just foreign enough proved to be, at that moment, exactly what I needed to reset and recharge.
Likewise, this trip came at a good pausing point. Between work, side-gigs, producing, creative challenges, and general event attendance this summer has been the most packed I've ever had. I've spent the larger part of the last three months exhausted and my trip to a Korean spa last week (an amazing experience, by the way) only provided enough juice to get me through a couple days. I love Los Angeles but man that place can be tiring.
Friday evening I exhaled deeply then stepped on the plane.
While I am a borderline obsessive planner, I came without much of an itinerary. To be honest, the lack of a plan came with tangible anxiety on my end. I'm used to friends flaking when I travel so I try not to rely on them coming through, but the opposite end of the spectrum comes with the fear that my weekend will be riddled with gaping schedule voids just short enough that I can't do anything with the negative space. To achieve that happy medium is an art and I do not have much confidence in my ability to make it happen. This time around I chose to test that skill set.
The great thing about social media is that one Facebook post can yield a whole list of plans, so I put up a “hey I'm going to be near you” post and largely relied on a smattering of text messages to structure my weekend. As half of Los Angeles fled after college and moved to NorCal, that SOS yielded a number of plans that have made the weekend all the better and given me things to do. Thankfully most of my friends are on Facebook. That said, Byron is not.
If anyone offers the right mix of big brother-type intimidation and love it's Byron. One of the former producers, photographers, and DJs for Tuesday Night Cafe, Byron has since moved up to the Bay and lives with his wife, a former frequent Tuesday Night Cafe performer, in Oakland. I've only hung out with him once before and figured that this time I would go for it again. An e-mail was sent, a reply was received, plans were made.
So I woke up in San Francisco and readied myself to meet him and a few other folks in Oakland. I still haven't quite gotten the hang of the BART for some reason, but after going the wrong way for twenty plus minutes, I made it to 19th Street. It would be host to a reunion of sorts.
And a reunion it was. Eric, a friend I hadn't seen in years, showed up as did Narinda, a friend from Oakland who comes down to LA intermittently but was nevertheless a rarely-seen face. We drank good coffee and ate so-so pastries and talked for hours on end.
This entire blog post could be an analysis of our conversation, a conversation that went surprisingly deep for 10AM. After quick status updates, we talked about the future and where we wanted to go next. We reminisced about old friends and pooled knowledge about where they are now. With that we started to chip away at our own veneers and questioned the idealism of our desired lives, taking ourselves to task and pushing beyond easy answers. We pulled up our deep anxieties about what it means to be socially conscious when you can't make it to the rally or have to reconsider your praxis. We shared ideologies and mashed them up over our coffees.
And then we were done.
The conversation wound down just as we hit our time limits, a conversation gratefully extended.
I didn't come with much of an itinerary, but in many ways I am finding more and more that the beauty in travel is not the trip itself (apologies for the cliche) but rather the people at your destination. What is the Bay without a good conversation on the other side of the BART tunnel? What is a plane flight without real people to greet you upon arrival? Why travel if you are just there to passively take in the scene? Nature retreats and meditative solitude aside, places are special because of the people who have built and continue to evolve them.
Los Angeles is tiring, but perhaps this is a reminder that getting caught up in the events and day-to-day minutia is only a distraction from the people who make up those moments. Rather than focusing on the scheduling and itinerary building, perhaps this is a reminder to look for the humanity and humans in these moments and link those opportunities for conversation and building rather than attendance and checklists.
I'm on a plane back to LA as I type this. I am returning with much to do in the coming weeks.