San Francisco, CA – Wednesday 17th August 2016
Terminal 1, Departures – Door 10, San Francisco International Airport
TRIP TIME 00:28:10
FARE BREAKDOWN Base Fare $2.00
Booking Fee $1.55
SFO Airport Surcharge $3.80
Diogenes 4.35 stars
A Cadillac Mustang tentatively slows, curb crawling with the driver leaning forward peering out the dusty front window. Smiling and waving, Steve steps forward, phone in hand, to open the front passenger door.
Hi, I’m Steve.
I drag my suitcase from the pavement. As it dumps onto the bitumen, the driver appears by the rear door and heaves both our suitcases into the trunk. They land between slabs of bottled water and a forest-green sports bag that may or may not have a small dead body inside. Over-dressed for the surprisingly warm weather, I peel off my baggy black jacket I have carried with me from Melbourne before jumping in the backseat.
I’m still reminiscing over my breakfast – a six-egg white omelette with sautéed kale, guacamole, roasted baby yams and shaved turkey breast. Could it be any more American? Egg white omelettes and turkey breast first came to my attention thanks to a plethora of television sitcoms. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen them on a menu in Melbourne. Unfortunately the tea was truly American in style also – tepid dish water. Thankfully, I brought a stash of real tea bags with me from home. These will have to be rationed out over the next month. Americans may start their day with coffee but I’m a cup of tea girl all the way. I’m not pretty without my cup of tea. America and Australia may well have been colonised by Britain, but the tea has an altogether different standing in Australia than in America. I’ve visited the USA three times and rarely have a found a kettle, electric or otherwise, in a hotel room.
Steve always sits behind the driver as the English gentleman in him won’t allow me to get in the car on the road side and naturally as a lady I can’t be expected to scoot over. I allow him these indulgences, quieting my inner rabid feminist. From my position in the rear passenger seat I get the perfect observation point on our Uber driver. Burgundy check shorts, a ‘limp from years of washing’ indistinct logo t-shirt. Bob Dylan’s version of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ plays too loudly on the radio.
And so begins our trip up the west coast of America. For the next month, Steve and I travel up the west coast, fly across the top stopping in Chicago before landing in New York then down to New Orleans and back west to San Diego.
Eagerly embracing the new disruptive paradigms of Air BnB and Uber, we tasted a previously hidden or hard-to-find version of America. Staying with an American version of my great aunt and uncle in Bend, Oregon and an ageing Mills-and-Boons’-cover-model-turned-bar-owner in New York City, we meet many entertaining people who opened up their cars and homes to us. Uber drivers in exchange for pieces of gold, similarly opened up their private space to strangers from a foreign land. Unable to retreat to a distant room, our Uber host must find their own space within the metal cage.
How long you been doing this?
Steve always starts the same way. He doesn’t actually really care how long you’ve been working your car for Uber or been driving that day. It’s a hook to hang the rest of the conversation on. It turns out our driver today is named Diogenes. The app tells us so. Diogenes himself doesn’t actually tell us much at all. The fourteen and a half miles over twenty-eight minutes costs a total of $30.17 which includes a surcharge of $2.00 for pick up at the San Francisco airport. When you submit yourself to a taxi in a foreign country, there is a fair degree of trust involved. Ubers take this one step further. A private company with little external regulation, car sharing is just one part of a new society we are figuring out as we build it.
The Lower Haight is a short walk from our Air BnB which is self-described as the ‘ugliest dump in the world’ which is all part of Steve’s plan no doubt as it is also near one of his craft beers’s pilgrimage sites. With around 50 beers on offer, making an informed choice from the board can be tricky. The grungy bar has been in its location for over 30 years which is about 200 in craft beer years. Once past the amenable door bitch, we find ourselves in a small bar covered in beer ephemera, neon signs and tap-handles – a work of art in their own right.
After our first round, we are feeling peckish so Steve goes next door to check out the grilled sausages on offer. Beer sausage, cheddar brat, weisswurst, chicken habanero and more including a choice of three vegan options. Returning with a spicy Italian pork to share, I’ve made a friend by the time he comes back.
‘Steve, this is Brad,’ I say as the men eye each other cautiously.
Hand outstretched, Brad smiles while Steve hands off the sausage in a crusty roll to me, wipes his hand and meets Brad halfway.
‘She is always making friends,’ Steve says looking at me out of the corner of his eye.
We spend the next drink or two, chatting easily while Steve drills the poor man about possible further craft beer destinations. At one point, Steve checks his phone and announces ‘How about our next stop is the Tonga Room downtown?’
Steve and I have a dirty predilection for Tiki themed places. Umbrellas in drinks, hollowed out coconut candles, Hawaiian shirt clad waiters – what’s not to love.
955 Oak St, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA
TRIP TIME 00:13:33
FARE BREAKDOWN Base Fare $2.00
Booking Fee $1.55
Driver – Crispin
Atop Nob Hill, the view as we stepped from the Uber was worth the fare itself. The Tonga Room at the Fairmont Hotel is a tourist and local destination alike. I duck in to use the restroom before we queue for the Tiki bar. It’s everything I can do not to trip over the mermaid sprawled on the floor getting into or out of her costume. I like this place already.
Dressed for the part, Steve is wearing his polyester retro Tiki shirt with tribal mask motif. Party lights hang from the grass table umbrellas, there’s a band playing upbeat 80’s and 90’s tunes on a raft stage floating on the pool. I’m hoping we get to stay until it storms and rains. I hover by the pool rail as my man goes drink hunting. Small groups of people gather around the few bar tables but I’m happy to people watch from the edge of the bar area.
‘Were they ever really mainstream, do you think?’ I ask Steve in between sips of my rum heavy zombie cocktail.
‘What do you mean?’ he responds over the top of his Mai Tai in a fake coconut.
‘I mean, have Tiki bars ever been more than a kitsch, romanticised idea of a time passed?’
‘Does it matter?’
‘Probably not.’ I suck my ceramic Tiki mug dry. ‘So where to now?