One thing that I love about going away and travel is the chance for reinvention. It provides a cosmic state of limbo from which I can see my life, both present and future, more clearly and access a broader, more creative perspective on where I want to go from here. These past 12 days in Northern California have been no different. While I’ve been here before, it doesn’t matter where I go. Travel acts like a truth serum, to experience a fresh perspective, simply the act of going brings it.
Friday + Saturday
The dreamy state that I wake up with at 4.40am to catch the first flight out of Kamloops, stays with me the entire day. I laugh wholeheartedly and loudly when our flight attendant turned her entire safety talk into a comedy act. Eat pretzels served with cranberry juice, and sleep.
In San Francisco, I take the BART into downtown and walk the 10 minutes to my hotel, feeling torn by terror and painful compassion by the countless homeless and their open sores in the streets as I pass by. I have become so sheltered and sensitive in the short time I have lived in Canada now. I begin to wonder if the Layne Hotel was been a terrible choice as I scamper off the alarming streets into its doors. Moments later, enamoured by the Victorian style room I fall in the bed equal parts relieved and excited.
The next day my best friend Lilly flies in from Hawaii. We count that we had travelled in 11 countries together now and reminisce on old adventures and spill our hearts and souls to each other as we only can when it’s the two of us.
In partnership with SF Travel, I arranged a few surprises for us that afternoon. First, a guided food tour around little Italy. We meet our guide, Tom, at an assigned corner at 2 pm, and are astounded and in stitches at his socially awkward and quirky manner. As he guides us from pastry shop for cannelloni to deli for salami sandwiches and everything in between, he entertains us with stories about himself told with a flourish of spit flying out of his mouth and a jolting stampede forward at every punch line, like a bull in Pamplona.
We run as fast as we can back to the hotel to change, giggling about our eccentric food guide, hastily preparing for an evening out. We have a reservation at Asia SF and have to be there on time.
Lining up behind a gaggle of overdressed giggling women I wonder what we were in for. We are both wearing skinny jeans and little tops that don’t meet the dress requirements.
Inside we are led downstairs to a dark nightclub with red velvet curtains and drink gin out of short glasses. We led back upstairs and placed at two seats by the bar with menus to choose from as our bartender explains what to expect. “You’ve got the best seats for the show”, she winks and takes our orders. Around us, beautiful big-busted women strut taking orders and flirting with the clientele. They are transgender men who prefer to be women.
Our first course arrives, tuna sashimi for me, shrimp salad for Lilly, and the first show begins as a gorgeous curvy tall transgender woman steps up into the bar and starts singing and undulating in a sparkly dress with a high thigh split, shimmying up and down the bar. She is followed by two more women, each with their own unique performance and set of skills.
The second-course is followed with a similar display and rounded out with dessert as we gape, giggle and admire the women around us who have gone to such great lengths to embody their feminine beauty.
Stumbling out afterwards we feel gleeful and grateful to be women and to have witnessed such a spectacular celebration of women in such an unusual way. I wonder why these transgender women could embody female sexuality and power with such grace and beauty while many of the rest of us feel compelled to hide and dull the aspect of ourselves. Is it because men are afraid of it? Is it because we are afraid of it?
Sunday + Monday
We wake up late, check out, and go for breakfast around the corner of the hotel. Farm: Table quickly becomes my favourite cafe in downtown San Francisco. Lilly has never been here before so I take her on a long walk to the Golden Gate Bridge and we get burgers at a diner on the way back while spilling our hearts out to each other. There are few people on the planet that I can share my most vulnerable fears and painful experiences with. Lilly is one of those people.
In the afternoon we catch a bus to Sacramento, to stay with a friend. He gives us his bed and takes us out for a drink and lays out all his camping gear for us to use and is kinder than anyone should be.
Tuesday + Wednesday
I pick up the hire car in the morning. Hiring a car feels like an enormous responsibility to me — I am nervous — but try to be a sensible adult. We pack it with all the camping gear, just in case, and I carefully wield us through the city and out towards the mountains and Lake Tahoe.
At the campsite, the sun is setting and a cold wind blows in. All of a sudden we are peltered with pine cones the size of my head and are showered with sweet-smelling needles. I look at Lilly and say that maybe camping is not such a great idea. We drive the South Tahoe strip finding a hotel that looks like out of the movies with a giant neon sign and fall asleep to the sound of wind squealing around corners.
Lilly and I compliment each other well: I take care of the pretty details and she takes on the practical things. When I wake up she is prepared with a plan. We pack up and drive to a trailhead to walk up for a few hours until we get to Eagle Lake. A few minutes into the walk we feel as nature quietens us. There’s this intangible magic between a human being and the spirit of nature that takes our breath away. At the lake, we lose our path and scramble over rocks like little children for an hour until we find our way again. Our stomachs rumble with hunger as we make our way down and drive to a hidden spot by Lake Tahoe for a picnic.
We decide that camping life is not for us. We are ill-prepared for the windy, cold weather that has decided to turn up and head back to Sacramento.
Thursday + Friday
I wake up at four am again, with sharp pains in my cervix, pains that have plagued me on and off for months. I count down the days until I finally get my copper IUD removed — the day after I come home — and gently place my hands where it hurts sending Reiki healing energy to the area. I can not go back to sleep.
We spend the next two days exploring and laughing and learning. While we see markets and walk around botanical gardens and sip wine at wineries I see a deep craving in my sweet friend: to be vulnerable enough to give herself to another.
Like many of us, her tender heart has been bruised and battered in the name of love, by those who knew no better. There’s an immediate reaction to protect the heart, through comedy, with invisible walls, and collapsed boundaries. I tell her it’s time. That she needs to listen to her heart’s yearning and change, to open up and love, but with revised clarity around what she truly wants. That the loving partner she seeks is there, but first, she needs to change her ways.
We find a charity shop and she buys me a fluffy blue sweater that I cannot put down. I love it, not just because it’s so soft that everyone I pass wants to touch it, but because I know that it will forever remind me of her, and these moments that we spent together.
Friday + Saturday
We share one last meal at a little place called the Orphan Breakfast House and I take the bus back to San Francisco.
It’s hotter here and I am sweating as I walk those infamous hills back to Layne Hotel. Moments later my friend Caz shows up too. We unpack our bags in our room and pick up snacks at Trader Joes and spend the afternoon on our beds allowing minds and souls to transition from where we both were, to here.
We are working on a surprise: a short film, together.
The next day we head out and end up in Japan Town where we get aura photos taken at Sharaku, a little Japanese clothes store. The owner recognizes us immediately and asks “Photo?” in a stilted accent as we run our hands across the silken kimonos. I nod and she motions us to wait while she rapidly speaks in Japanese to the women trying on clothes.
Caz buys a beautiful pink and red kimono and we are ushered into a back room. One by one she instructs us to sit on a bench and place our hands on a metal box while takes our pictures. I squeal when I see mine… it’s all yellow and green and pink and purple. The explanation that is printed out describes me perfectly.
We stroll the streets of San Francisco looking for cute corners to film in, slurp giant bowls of ramen at Yamadeya, meet dolled-up transgenders that give us directions and fall into bed after hours of walking.
Sunday + Monday
I desperately want to go to a flea market, something that I miss in the little provincial town in Canada where I live, and we find one in Oakland. We take the BART across the water and end up in a car-park turned marketplace where everyone speaks Spanish. To wrapped up in my excitement to notice that we are the only white girls there, I skip from stand to stand, searching for treasures.
I chat in Spanish to the guy who is selling pineapple and strawberry juice that gives us one for free and buy two silver rings and a vintage leather backpack to turn into my mobile office. This. This is my idea of heaven. A blend of cultures and people coming together. It’s places like this I feel most at home. Amongst the chaos and the madness and the jungle of differences that ultimately bind us.
There is a beautiful mosaic on a set of stairs on 16th street and we wake up before the sun to find it. I am quiet and slow and Caz barely manages as grunt as we make our way out and tumble into the waiting Uber. The early start is worth it though, as we get the most spectacular soft candy sunrise over the city. Moments like these are breathtaking. Caz gets to work and we film a little more before the sun hits us.
We find a cute cafe in a suburb filled with million-dollar houses and enliven ourselves with cups of coffee and matcha and pastries. A girl with pink hair sits next to us and writes postcards.
Tuesday + Wednesday
Caz is leaving. The friendship I have with her is spiritual. We understand each other at a level that requires no words. I like that. Our inner worlds are too vast and deep to elucidate. I often feel frustrated by the limitations that words can have and am relieved when I spend time with people whom I don’t have to explain myself too. We hug goodbye. I miss her already.
I have a few big-city things to accomplish before I leave, too. I need a winter coat for Canada and that perfect mix of underwear that is both sexy and comfortable. Things that just can’t be found viscerally online. I run around searching for the perfect items, stop by Lush for marshmallow bath oils and feel pleased with myself when I come home with a navy wool coat and 10 pairs of lacy panties.
In the afternoon I meet with Velvet Valentine. She is a San Francisco native, with iridescent memories of SF from a naughtier era, as she walks me around some of the famous streets feeding me stories of murdered cross-dressers and famous dancers that fell from grace. I know Velvet through a mutual friend, a man we both met 10 years apart in Amsterdam, who thought we might be well suited. He was right. Walking with her in these streets she feels like a sister even though I have only just met her.
That night I hold a mentoring session with a client from the hotel room. I really like this woman and love seeing how close she is to a massive breakthrough. Once she steps past the line of fear that is reigning her in, anything will be possible for her.
I stay up late and can’t sleep. I am on my own for the first time in 10 days and the wailing from the crazy woman outside on the street keeps me awake.
I wake up groggy and tired and ready to go home. I pack my bag. Somehow my suitcase seems to have doubled in size. I sit on it as I try to zip it up and pray that the airline will still accept it as carry-on. The hotelier gives me generous farewell. He is very cross and stern but I made him laugh several times during my stay and I think he is starting to like me.
The BART takes me back to the airport and I sit in a cafe while waiting to board, diving back into my overflowing inbox after 2 weeks of neglect. I read email after email and answer the urgent ones and leave the others for later.
As I board my plane I thank San Francisco, as always thank every place that I leave, for her gifts to me: a devotion to the creative fire that is slowly reemerging within me.