Tales of the cities

San Francisco City Hall

I suppose I knew three US cities in ten days would be tiring, and just for good measure, there was the tiny matter of squeezing in the Fanning gay wedding. I’m back home feeling like a poolside inflatable with a slow but steady leak.

This whole blog piece will sound boasty, but so little ever happens in my writerly life, I hope you might allow me a pass. Just this once.

So good they chilled it twice

We jetted to New York in the full knowledge August makes it the city that never sleeps because of the heat and humidity. The heat slays like a bucket of newly made steam. The hotel boasted climate control – a fancy word for air conditioning, not the answer to a problem that will leave the world gasping for oxygen in fifty years. It translated into a blast of chill aimed at the pillow-end of our bed. Like having an ice cream headache without the joy of dairy. The Fannings formed a tag team, taking turns to switch from chill to warm throughout the night. We opted for the cheapest room to allow swank in later destNew York at nightinations. The bathroom fitted snugly into a modular glass wardrobe, meaning side-saddle toilet-riding and showers taken floodlit behind a sheer net curtain looking out onto the room.

We rode to the top of the Rockefeller Center by night to stare down on a billion twinkling lights. We got roundly screwed by Google Maps in a quest to find The Met, circling Central Park three times, and paid eight Yankee dollars for a sugar-filled ‘healthy’ smoothie from a van.

But I love the city. More than any other. It needs to star in one of my stories.

Fear and loathing

Away we went to Vegas. Jetting once more, though this time domestically … and that was an experience. American Airlines certainly have a way with their ‘First Class’ passengers. A way that makes me determined to never spent a cent with them again.

Las VegasEveryone should see Vegas once. Even if you think you’ll hate it. I expected to loathe the place and find myself holed up in a gaudy room with gold-plated taps, fending off despair.

Spot on.

We escaped the bright lights for a breathtaking trip in a toy plane that saw us swoop around the Grand Canyon, but otherwise, Vegas was room service all the way. Gay wedding prep. I did a lot of ironing.

At least I now know. It’s not my city.

The wedding planner

A short hop to San Francisco and everything changed. The power of New York, the tack of Vegas and the stress of 15 hours (so far) in the air faded to reveal a shimmering city. Perched on Nob Hill (I did the gags – made all the stronger when I spotted an area on the map called Tender Nob), we stayed at an iconic hotel where the wonderful staff upgraded us to a top-floor room with a city view. Within  minutes, every Vegas stress bubble popped when a bellhop (I’m sure that’s what they call them) appeared with cake, champagne and chocolate dipped strawberries.

Did I mention it was Mr Fanning’s birthday? I probably didn’t.

San Francisco - perfect for a gay weddingIt would have been the perfect start to our golden stay, except …

At 8am the next morning, a concerned dentist set to work on a root canal to cure the pain that kicked off in that Vegas hellhole. She was up against the clock: we had to be at City Hall for 11am to apply for a marriage licence. Time proved to be on my side. Swollen and woozy (and determined not to let on how much pain remained), we made it.

A few short hours later and our marriage happened. I’d expected a production line. Everything I read on line warned three couples would share the same time slot. I should expect little in the way of special. Except that’s not what happened.  Our officiant, Claudia made us feel unique, as we spoke of the reasons for being proud this part of society allows two men a gay wedding. I grew up in a time when that seemed impossible. A time of Section 28, of gay bashing, of prejudice. Behind us, the face of Harvey Milk recalled darker days.

Together, we spoke of hard-earned freedom and rights and the dangers that still lurk and threaten. Not just in Russia or Chechnya, but on our own doorsteps, in our liberal home cities. Of how we may never take our existence for granted, because someone can snatch it away with a single second of hate.

I wobbled. I’d expected to snigger when the vows bit came, and yet the weight of words took me by surprise.

Bay life

The rest of our time was a whir of boat trips, a fabulous dinner, hikes up hills and a memorable afternoon hearing pseuds analyse Warhol.

But for me one thing must linger.

How can a city be home to 74 billionaires and yet fail to address a humanitarian disaster? This isn’t mere homelessness, as any politician will have you believe. As if mere is an appropriate word. The streets of San Francisco offer a glimpse into hope gone to hell.

I am friends with people who drink too much. I know people who take drugs. Some of them are walking addicts, keeping their lives together and a roof above their muddled heads. Every single one of us is a banana skin skid away from the gutter. Mental illness and community care ranks low in our materialistic value systems.

They should pull up their socks, try harder, enrol on a programme. There’s work if they want it.

As a society, we give money. To the crying babies or the dying elephants. And yes, that’s a good thing, but we neglect our own because their skin is the wrong colour, or because we tell ourselves they chose to take drugs and got themselves into this mess. We assign blame. Something we’d never do to the babies or the elephants. We make it someone else’s fault.

And we allow this spiral downwards to continue.

The wedding was over. It was a lovely afternoon, and we walked uptown. Once again Google Maps took charge, directing us through the Tenderloin. A part of town that every guidebook warns against.

We didn’t come to any harm. We saw things that turned us inside out.

And that’s the memory I have of my happy day.

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