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A Few Nights Before Christmas

It’s about eleven when I drop my buddy off at his apartment on Bush and Fillmore. There’s a light rain falling and I’m not really tired yet, so I decide to take a short spin. Gas is under two dollars a gallon now, its price having halved since I visited California in September. I don’t get to drive much anymore and I like pointing this old white sedan through the sleepy, pre-Christmas streets of San Francisco. Water beads on the hood and drips down the window shield. Polk, Larkin, Hyde, Leavenworth. There aren’t as many hookers in the Tenderloin anymore, perhaps another sign of the stalled economy. Nobody is laying on the horn Manhattan-style and the crosswalks are largely empty, save the occasional stutter-stepping pedestrian in Santa hat, exiting a bar and scaled-back holiday office affair.

I make a right on Geary, noting the ample street parking. A spot right in front of the Edinburgh Castle seems too choice to pass up. Just the chance to practice my parallel parking on such a damp, unhurried evening is worth the stopover. I kill the engine and go inside.

The place is a third full and Alan Black is behind the bar – the only authentic Scotsman on staff. He pours me a Baileys without recognition, though he’s been on that side and me on this many times before. I prefer it this way, being allowed to take it in without talking. A group of eight female coworkers sits behind me at a large table, pushing the volume with each subsequent round. I stare straight ahead and watch them in the bar mirror. The heaviest takes the conversational lead, emboldened by the drinks and speaking brashly of an apparently desirable male colleague as though she has intimate insight. Her tone shifts from playful awe to bawdy condescension, his status no match for her boozy courage. Nervous laughter from the others ascends and amplifies, shedding restraint. One of the group – a more elegant woman with angular features – smiles politely and makes eye contact with the others as not to alienate herself, occasionally checking her wrist watch below the table.

An older gentleman to my left continues his conversation with Black. “Didn’t you work at Vesuvio a while back?” he asks. “Yeah” Alan answers in mild brogue, tapered from his time in this country. “That was eighteen years ago.”

I finish my drink and scan the interior – tables, chairs, billiards, darts, balcony – all exactly as it was eight years back. Eighteen years back. Outside, rain continues to fall softly and my ride looks like something from a magazine cover under the street lamp. The group’s laughter, still audible on the other side of two swinging wooden doors, dies nicely with the vacuum seal of car interior. I make a right on Polk toward Broadway. California, Sacramento, Clay, Washington. Midnight in the city. Thank God for the rain.

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One Comment

  1. dick wrote:

    what happened to the San Francisco piece?….
    I thought it was good and a lot of my conservative friends would have agreed with you…..It sure isn’t like it was when I was a kid….Still like it though!!

    Saturday, January 3, 2009 at 12:26 am | Permalink

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