We applied our time-tested method of getting lost in order to find anything to the search for a restaurant. Rounding a bend, we came upon a Chili’s. Unfortunately, we didn’t notice it quickly enough and couldn’t get to it without becoming the kindling in a two-car ball of fire. A mall loomed ahead on the left and, although the mall itself was closed, there seemed to be a restaurant still functioning. On closer inspection, it turned out to be an Applebee’s. It was after 11:00 and the rest of the city seemed to be dark.
We pulled into the mall parking lot and got to a convenient parking spot in front of Applebee’s just in time to see the last employees drifting out into the night. It had just closed.
Having the can-do spirit that made this nation great, we regrouped and decided to go back to the Chili’s. Having learned circumspection, we approached cautiously. There were encouraging signs: For example, the lights were on and there were cars in the parking lot. We strode to the door insouciant and fancy-free. That is, we were until were got a gander at the hours of operation. They closed at 11:30. It was now 11:25. We entered the vestibule wondering if we would be welcomed or ejected as latecomers and ne’er-do-wells. A young lady greeted us at the door. “Is it too late to eat?” Mark asked.
“Of course not!” she said and showed us to a booth.
We ate, we drank, we talked, we laughed. The two—uh—robust gentlemen who had sat to my right during the first act of the show were seated a couple of booths away. For an hour or so, we pelted each other with our thoughts and observations. We couldn’t be certain, but the waitress—the same young lady who had seated us—seemed to be favoring our table over the other ones she was tethered to.
She gave us simple directions for getting back to the motel, directions that we came close to screwing up, but didn’t. Back at Fun Central, a bottle of scotch was cracked, but the party was breaking up. Bernie went to his room. I realized that I had been awake for 24-hours straight, and Mark and I drank a toast to this accomplishment.
I was going to have to get up at 5:30 in order to get to the airport in time get properly searched, so I stumbled off to my room and bed. The party was over.
My old friend adrenalin kicked into gear as soon as my alarm rang. Before you could say, “hospitalized for exhaustion,” I was showered, shaved, and dressed and on my way to drop off my key card.
The lobby was closed and a sign directed me to the night window. I pressed the bell and a sullen youth appeared at the window. I slid my key card into the tray, and he took it, looked off to his right and said something that didn’t quite make it as far as my side of the bulletproof glass. It sounded like he had said, “Stay there,” so that’s what I did. After a minute or two, the sullen youth reappeared at the window and said, quite audibly, “I said, ‘You’re all set.’” His demeanor and the edge to his voice made it clear to me that I was no longer welcome at that window, so I adjourned to the Chevy Airbag.
Traffic was almost nonexistent as I glided along the One-O-One toward the bridge. It being the Bay Area, fog clung to the contours of the road and hills, and everything was beautiful and serene and quiet. I crossed the bridge, and the towers disappeared into the fog and clouds.
Everything was going smoothly until I was faced with a fork not far past the tollbooths. The sign was no help, so I just stayed with what seemed to be the main route. This turned out to be the wrong way since, within moments, I was spit out on Lombard Street headed in some direction I might have known in 1969, but was clueless about now. I saw Lyon Street, which intersected with the street my boyhood home was located on at a distance of one house. I went further. I saw what appeared to be a drug deal going down on a street corner. The two young men may have been swapping recipes or waiting to donate vital organs to those less fortunate, but I didn’t care. Inside my now-fevered brain, they were drug dealers. Having been lost for much of the preceding twelve hours, I decided to cut my losses and just turn around. Maybe I could zip up Lyon Street and take a gander at the place I regarded as my true home.
I’ve since calculated that I was about one-half mile from the intersection of Washington and Lyon, from my childhood and a cargo load of memories, however, that path was blocked. Lyon Street was egress-only at Lombard.
I continued and was almost immediately greeted by a sign for Route 1. Within moments, I was back on track and retracing my steps to the airport. This time, there were no delays, no rerouting. The flights were less densely packed, and I could stretch out a bit. My calling card refused to work, so I bought some long distance so that I could keep in contact on my way. And none of it mattered. As the fifth flight I had taken in about thirty-six hours landed, the only thing that mattered was that I had finally gotten home.