We’re walking in San Francisco and it’s getting late. I’m here in The City and it has been such a long time. A lot of time has passed. A lot of heavy time. It weighs on me as I return to familiar places and I feel aged, but you have to pronounce it as two syllables because it makes him laugh. Age. Ed.
We’re here for America’s pastime, which becomes baseball and rented electric bikes and gummies and legendary Irish coffees enjoyed for 75 minutes maximum only please. Someone at the game says it’s his birthday so I buy him a beer. He’s from Cambodia and he’s a nurse and I wonder if this is a god sent to remind me about survival. We share a beer and a selfie because we’re here in The City and it’s been a long time.
We’ve been walking for hours, searching for food. This happens to us on trips—a few weeks later we’ll be tearing apart a Reno room service cheeseburger in bed at 4 a.m. I’ve been on the receiving end of a rug-pull a few too many times to make plans, including reservations. On this night, we cross the Financial District and reach Chinatown’s lanterns. We find a miniature 7-11 filled with so many different kinds of exhausted people.
At one point we turn a corner and see a sparkling storefront, like a metropolitan mirage. This tiny building is tucked between the formidable, charmless structures that characterize a Financial District. I remember the windows were slightly steamed on this June evening and my heart leapt. In my mind, the only thing that could possibly exist inside is served with potatoes.
I read the marquee and the name of the cigar lounge means “WEST” but it looks like “MISTAKE.” I announce to my partner there’s no way it’s actually operating, but we pass and jazz music and nostalgic tobacco air spills out onto the street, carrying the laughter of the dozens of people pressed inside who are reveling in the hazy oasis of their decisions.
It’s June 2021 and we’re in San Francisco after so much time and the only establishment we can find is a small, tightly sealed and poorly ventilated room where people trade breaths in semi-darkness with repeated intentions. I remember the Survival God from the night before and wonder if he prefers justice or forgiveness.
Caitlin SLH Fillmore is from America’s Dairyland but currently lives in the Golden State. A former nonprofit executive, Cait is now a freelance writer and founder of “Effervescent” a violently sparkling newsletter, and caitlinslhfillmore.com.