Up at 4am. Feels like I’m headed to work. This sucks ass. Even worse I had to bid farewell to Shelley who is sleeping naked and wonderful and beautiful and awesome… I brush my teeth while mostly unconscious, pack the last of my things and jump back into bed for ten minutes. It’s astonishingly difficult to climb out of bed and grab my luggage, keys in hand, and walk out that door.
Traffic is sparse in Newport but picks up on the 405. It could be 4pm in Vancouver given the traffic levels as I approach LA. Even with the traffic I make it to Hertz to drop off the car in about 45 minutes. Epic. I leave the car at the lot and hop the shuttle to LAX where my Amtrak ticket states a bus will take me to Bakersfield. You see there are no direct trains to SF out of LA. As I get off the shuttle I’m thinking, Where the fuck are the buses that would leave from here? I mean I don’t know LAX all that well but what it lacks in character it makes up in efficiency. There are a number of shuttle and cab pick up points but in my experience no buses other than a few city routes.
So, no bus here, it must be leaving from Union Station downtown. No problem. Flag a cab…
I go to flag a cab and a Supershuttle pulls up. “Where you going?” asks the fellow in the passenger seat. “Union station,” I reply. It’s sixteen dollars – not bad – but they can’t pick me up. I have to go to the stand. I go. A shuttle pulls up. “You got a reservation?”
“You need a reservation.”
Fucking Christ, I think. Back to the cab stand. I call a cab. It arrives and I pile in with my gear. “Union station please.”
“What train?” mumbles the driver. I can’t place his accent but it’s irritating. Somewhere between Russian and Israeli. He says “buddy” too much and I don’t care for it. I tell him I’m taking a bus to Bakersfield to catch my train.
“The bus? Buddy. You need to go to the bus station. Greyhound.”
“No,” I say, Amtrak, but first I need to transfer to Bakersfield.
“No, buddy. No buses there.”
“What? There aren’t any buses at the train station?”
“OK,” I say, genuinely confused as to what to do… “Take me to the bus station then.”
We drive. And drive. And drive.
Fifty six dollars on the metre later we arrive at the greyhound station.
“You go in and check,. I will wait for you buddy,” he drawls.
“Stop the metre then…”
He sighs audibly but stops the metre.
“One minute buddy.”
I go in and am duly informed I am in the wrong place.
Back to the cab I freak out a bit at him as my stress levels reach new highs.
“Just take me to Union Station…”
He starts going off about how it’s a train station and all this nonsense about what I should have done etc etc. I curse at him and say, “Just take me to the fucking train station.”
We arrive. Final meter: $65.
The goddam train to San Francisco cost me $58. I am not impressed.
Luckily I have no problem getting my ticket and the information provided by the attendant at the information booth is useful. Indeed there are a number of inter and intra-city buses that leave from here. I grab a coffee from Starbucks and try to calm down. The Starbucks counter girl is super friendly and her calm demeanour and smile help shift me back into a more easy-going state.
I drink my Americano on a central outdoor terrace where myself and an assortment of drug addicts and ne’er-do-wells shamble about. I’m asked by one fellow if i have a “weed pipe” and I tell him, “No. I do not.”
I get on the bus. I sleep.
Waking up in Bakersfield. It’s a hot dry dessert shithole of scrub-brush and bungalows; it’s existence defies logic. Why do people live here and what sort of benefit is derived from it’s existence. I try not to strain myself thinking about it.
The train arrives.
6 hours later I’m trapped on a bus on the side of the freeway. It seems we are unable to drive more than a quarter mile without the engine cutting out and the bus dying. During rush-hour. On a busy ass freeway? No es bueno.
So we sit… Waiting for a new bus to arrive. 3rd world problems in the first world. This is new.
Our bus arrives and drives us into the city. We stop outside he Hyatt in what seems to be a financial district. Many people get off, some I suspect don’t realize there are multiple stops. That said I have no idea where to get off. I have no map and have my hostels address but as per my call an hour previous I suspect they are full as my rezo never went through. I figure, I will head there and see if I can connive my way into a bed and if not expand my search outward from there.
I hop off at the next stop and incur some serious roaming debt as I turn my phone on and use the power of the internet to orient myself. Sacramento Street huh? OK. 12 blocks west and 6 blocks south. No problem. Half hour tops.
I seem to have forgotten that San Francisco is built on small mountain peaks. Nob Hill challenges me and I drag my suitcase up its 20 degree grade over 5 blocks. I’m sweating and gross. I hit Taylor and take a left heading… down. Fuck. I realize that if I had known the geography of the city I could have easily avoided the hill and circumnavigated around it. I reach the alley within which resides my hostel, above a, what I’m sure is legit, massage parlour by the name of Les Nuits de Paris – classy – there are two strung out masseuses sharing a smoke out front they don’t acknowledge my presence as I stroll past. Up a small flight of stairs and into The Union Square Backpackers hostel. I’m looking to keep SF pretty cheap as I know Portland will bankrupt me. $35 a night gets me a bed, washroom, a roof and free breakfast. Now each of these things on it’s own demonstrate what $35 get you in a big city. The bed is one of 4 bunks (8 beds) in a shared dorm, the mattress is spring-shot but I suppose if I drink enough I won’t notice. The sheets are indeed clean and in a first for me I have to make my own bed as I arrive. They lost my reservation but I lucked out that there’s a few beds left. I will have to move in the morning. The whole thing is one big Thai Operation to quote Sean Fidler and I believe the entire 3 floor building is help together by hope and duct tape. The washrooms are clean but ramshackle, the knob in the shower long gone, a screw has been twisted into the receptacle and you have to pull on it to turn on the shower. A high pressure stream of tepid water, no shower head per say, more like a hose nozzle. I know people who would hold their noses up at the thought of staying in a place like this. For me, it’s a great chance to meet some people and I will proudly call it home for a few days.