2002 A San Francisco Odyssey

“Jessie, where the fuck are we?”

“I’ve been lost since the Presidio.” Broken glass littered the sidewalk, and Scott had just stepped on a spent shotgun shell, its ruffled blast end an unmistakable sign of what had happened to the mason jars around our feet.


Kelly at the Presidio

Scott’s friend Kelly, who had joined us willingly enough after lunch, said “The Presidio. That was awhile ago.”

“How long have we been walking?”

Scott checked his watch. “Four, five hours, give or take.”

“I’m starved.”

Kelly said, “That’s pretty low on the old priority list right now.”

He had a point. What had started as a ramble along the waterfront to reach the Golden Gate bridge had delivered us to a neighborhood of thinly spread houses. A few blocks ago, this had meant large yards and fancy fences. Now, it meant broken windows and detritus in the road.

“I should have climbed up on those rocks to get to the bridge.”

Scott studied the hotel map, tracing our route with a finger. His finger fell off the page.  I had assumed he was mentally tracking our progress all along. Turned out, he and Kelly were too busy talking Native American relics and the plight of German Americans in World War I. And since we had walked off the map, he was as confused as I was.

Although it was a sunny day, we had been in shade for some time as the sky changed from blue, to orange, to twilight gray.

Kelly said, “At least there’s no fog.”

Yes, these are pictures from the exact day we were lost, earlier in the day. You can't see the San Francisco on my jacket. But I still own and use that jacket.

Yes, these are pictures from the exact day we were lost, earlier in the day. You can’t see the San Francisco on my jacket. But I still own and use it.

Yesterday, I had walked alone through Chinatown while my new husband and his friends genuflected at the altar of research. Today, my Fisherman’s Wharf jacket with “San Francisco” emblazoned above the breast branded us tourists more completely than even our hotel map and bewildered huddle. It had been sixty five degrees when we left the hotel and the annual historians’ convention.  It felt much colder now.

“Hey, there goes a bus!”  Kelly sprinted after it, Scott and I in his wake.

Even Kelly’s lanky legs and athletic build weren’t fast enough to catch it.  We waited ten minutes before trying another stop. Four hikes and three fast trots later, we finally caught a ride. The driver jotted notes so we could remember what transfers and streetcars would get us back to Union Square. A homeless guy sitting in back added two stops in the middle for routes he assured us the driver had forgotten. Kelly tipped them both handsomely.

When we finally pulled up to the hotel, from exactly the opposite direction as the one I had expected, the city was dark. A history subgroup was hosting a wine and cheese reception, so we changed out our tourist togs for slightly nicer attire. Soon, we were holding appetizers like the afternoon had never happened.

Kelly asked me, “What are you going to do with yourself while we’re in sessions tomorrow?”

“Don’t know. But I still haven’t walked on that bridge. I’ll probably start there.”


My friend Alex over at No Defective Ducks wrote a post about how technology helps her manage the transit anxiety caused by Seattle’s public transportation system. Hers is a story of the ways the world is moving forward. It demonstrates that the nation my children will someday inhabit may be a little better geared to treat autism as one of many degrees of normal.  But her description of public buses, routes, and timings reminded me of something from my own life. I’ve already told you I have no sense of direction. But back when we were newlyweds, in the dark ages before Smartphones, Scott didn’t really understand how ‘lost’ I could manage. (This was even after the fiasco at Niagara Falls, which I shall recount at some other time.)

About jesterqueen:
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.


2002 A San Francisco Odyssey — 48 Comments

  1. San Francisco is one of the hardest cities in which to get around. The bus system is impossible to decipher, even though they have an online guide. Cabs are still next-to-impossible to get without a hotel. I once got stranded just like this, and it was so, so frustrating.
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    • It is very cool to me that someone as well travelled as you should have experienced this. Makes me feel a bit less like Homer Simpson.

  2. Have you been back to San Francisco since? I hope you do give it another chance. I live an hour south of the city and, yes, it isn’t easy to navigate, but it holds such allure – the fog, the bay, the charm, the other-worldliness, and the grit. Thanks for sharing your experience. Love, love, love your writing.

    • Oh! I adored it. I have not been back, but even lost as hell, I loved every minute of the adventure. Also, I got lost the next day again, so I never made it to the bridge. So it’s still calling me to walk on it. I spent the better part of two days on Fisherman’s Wharf. I never made it to anything cultural, I was a merry little starstruck tourist.

  3. I have gotten lost pretty badly in San Fran before! And have people I know who live there! Glad you made your way back – eventually
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  4. I’ve been all over southern cali but never to the north. I want to see SF so bad. I will solicit you and scott for advice.

    Look at that picture! I like the long hair.

    great story all things considered, well told, that is.
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  5. Mark and I walked all over SF for two days at the end of our honeymoon. Maybe it’s hailing from the convoluted streets and alleys of Boston, but once I got my head around where all the water was, I felt right at home there.
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    • I think if you stick to the touristy spots you’re OK. I dragged us off the beaten path, around several corners and into the briar patch, so to speak.

    • We were more frustrated than scared. I spent at least an hour and a half assuming Scott knew where we were while he assumed I did. (WHY he would think this is beyond me. I get lost in my own back yard.)

  6. Thanks, Jessie…thanks for the trip back to where I once lived. And yes, my heart is still there, somewhere in the Pacific Heights area. It’s been years but I probably still know my way around; next time you go, call me!
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  7. Getting lost seriously makes me twitchy. (read: bitchy) I HATE IT. Kudos for keeping your cool and making the best of it. 🙂
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    • I’m sure it was, and I’m sure the people who fired it were bored teens looking for something do to. “Hey, what would happen?” “I bet you couldn’t hit that from a million miles.” “Oh come on, it’s a shotgun, how could I miss?” And so on.

  8. Its so funny because about a month ago, I got a little lost in downtown Detroit, trying to find where I was interviewing. But I simply pulled out my phone and used the GPS app. You forget what it was like to be lost before technology!

    • Indeed! I only gave in and got a smartphone last year. But we got a GPS a couple of years before that. Scott still goes everywhere without either, but he never gets lost. Knock wood.

  9. I’ve often romanticized the idea of getting lost with my husband or friends in a big city – adventure, discovery, perserverance – just like the Amazing Race television show. Now I’m thinking I’d be a grouchy bitch after being lost for so many hours. Sounds like you held up well. Great story!
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