Reality Check

It’s hard for me to see anything to envy in most people who travel. Because deep down that is what they are doing. Fleeing themselves and the lives they’ve created. - Ryan Holiday

If this is true, then coming home was like sprinting headlong into a glass window that I didn't even realize was there.  I was very fortunate to land a job less than two weeks after landing at SFO, but there are times when I've wondered if it was all a bit too soon.

It's not the hours, although I'm still adjusting - in at 4:30 am, out by 1 pm. My friends were collectively horrified when I first told them but, honestly, fresh-baked croissants don't grow on trees. Someone has to bake them. In the morning. Before the store opens. Besides, I knew what I was getting into when I entered the F&B industry.

The challenging part is the culture. As an intern in Paris it was kind of a given that I would be doing all the bitch work; that in the big scheme of things it didn't make a huge difference whether I showed up or not (although I always did); that I would make mistakes and that one of my superiors would step in and fix the situation, generally with many colorful uses of the words "putain" (fuck) and "merde" (shit).  Being a full-time employee in the new-wave foodie metropolis of San Francisco is different. I have real responsibilities. And no one has cursed me out for the occasional mess-up. 

But even though working in a French-speaking kitchen made me disciplined, obedient and somewhat impervious to harsh words, there are disadvantages. Some tools, for instance, I only know by their French names. I never thought it would be problematic to work in my native language but, there you have it, sometimes I don't know which items my co-workers are referring to.

While job hunting may have been a cake walk, so to speak, finding a place to live was much harder than it was in Paris. (I suppose I should use the present tense, since my current place is a temporary sublet). 

"It's all part of the process," my brother said sagely as he passed by the spare bedroom in his house that was my previous home. I barely glanced up from my afternoon/evening ritual - a full glass of wine (or two, or three...) and the housing section of the SF Bay Area Craiglsist page open on my laptop. The last time I drank so much so consistently was as a pastry intern, only then the stress was due entirely to work. 

I begrudged clicking on the rooms/shared subsection, because I knew I couldn't afford my own place, and I couldn't help but think about all the things that I would rather be doing than writing to complete strangers based on vague descriptors (hardwood floors! walk-in closet! great location!) and blurry photos, trying to convince them how awesome and responsible I am and that they should ask me to move in.

If my initial email was deemed sufficiently appealing, I might get a reply with a request to meet in person. But these were worse than job interviews. At least the latter is based, at least in part, on objective credentials. Interviewing to be someone's housemate is all about personality and vibe, so it's hard not to take it personally when I get passed over for someone else. I get it; I wouldn't want to let just anyone come live with me either. But I'm also an introvert, so by nature I make terrible, unmemorable first impressions.  

My family owns an apartment in Chinatown, but the most recent resident, my late uncle, was a hoarder. I've been told that I can move in if enough space is excavated from his vast media collection but, surrounded by a labyrinth of books, VHS tapes, CDs and vinyl records teetering in stacks piled higher than I stand tall, it seems an impossible task.

Riding Bikes with Boys

The following incident occurred on my second to last night in Paris, according to the best of my memory. Italicized dialogue was spoken in French. 

*** 

Stumbling out of the bar at 3:30 am, approximately three-and-a-half hours after I was planning to be in bed, I set off in search of the nearest public bike-share station. Bikes were my preferred method of getting home after a night out, because taxis were expensive and I always got too tired to stay out until the metro re-opened at 5.

After passing several empty stations (I'm not the only one who favors drunk biking, it seems), I finally found one just up the street from my apartment. As I swiped my card and dislodged the bike from its post, I sensed someone behind me. Turning, I came face to face with a twenty-something bearded hipster who looked like he came straight off the set of Portlandia (denim cut-offs, plaid button-down shirt, tattoo on his forearm - I think it was an animal - you get the idea) - except he was French.  

He was trying to get home too, and asked if we could share the bike. I knew what he had in mind: one person (me) sits on the seat, legs held out to the side, while the other (him) stands and pedals. What the hell? I only had a short distance to go. 

"Okay," I consented, inching back on the seat to give him more space. 

Although I had seen this done many times, this was the first occasion I'd ever actually tried it. It is probably not the best idea, even when sober. I'm not sure whether my co-pilot was just really intoxicated or whether he expected me to steer, but I recall a lot of swerving and me yelling, "You're going to kill us both!" There may also have been some screaming on my part. Thankfully the early hour meant that the street was empty.

With my face pressed against his back, my field of vision was limited to the narrow gap between his torso and arm braced against the handlebars, but shortly I came to recognize my building.

"Stop!"  

Dismounting from the bike, I realized two things. Firstly, I had no idea where he lived. And, secondly, because the rates are dependent upon the time elapsed since checking out the bike, I could not, in good conscience, leave it with a drunk stranger. But I figured it was worth a shot...

"Can I trust you?" I asked.  

"This bike is under my account. Will you return it to a station?" 

Despite the fact that we had gotten along just fine with Franglish, he decided at this moment to pretend that he couldn't understand me. Fuck. I tried again in French. Still, nothing.

"Ah, you are a tour-eest?" he said, mockingly. 

"I've lived here for a year," I snapped. Adding, for good measure, "I'm not a fucking tourist."

By this point I wanted nothing more than a shower followed by bed; getting into an argument when my money was on the line was the last thing I needed. So, seizing the open bottle of liquor he had placed in the bike's basket, I shoved it into his chest.

"You - take this," I said. 

And, grabbing the handlebars, "I - take this." 

I could tell this was unexpected. 

"You're so aggressive," said hipster boy as he took his bottle and stepped away from the bike. 

By the time I had parked it at the nearest station and returned to the scene of the confrontation, he had disappeared into the night. Probably, I assume, to con someone else into a free ride.