“Seriously. If you think you know what’s going on and why, you might be wrong.” – Martha Kennedy
My friend Martha wrote of “a bizarre concatenation of events” and reminded me of how often what happens has nothing to do with our plans. Bob Ross (the painter) says there are no mistakes in painting, just “happy accidents”. Everyone who has ever lived with anyone else has roommate horror stories. Together, those reminded me of a story…
Most of the roommates I have lived with were friends (before, during, and after). I lived with strangers after returning from Nicaragua. I left my car with a friend in Los Gatos, CA while I spent 6 months studying in Mexico, working in Nicaragua, then traveling in Guatemala and Mexico. He generously let me stay with him while I figured out what was next.
I found a job plumbing in San Francisco. That being 50 miles from Los Gatos, I had to find a place to live – and fast. I went to a place called “Roommate Referral” and collected some numbers to call. As it was nearing dinnertime, I decided to eat first, then call a few places. I ate in a Chinese restaurant in the Haight and, after eating, opened my fortune cookie. It was oddly specific – “You will be married in less than a year.” That seemed weird enough to stick in my wallet for future reference, or at least to laugh over with friends.
There was a phone booth right outside. I spread out my stuff in the booth to make a few calls. The first one was not someone I moved in with. It was someone I married and raised two children with. We missed the cookie deadline by a few years.
The someone I moved in with was charming. I learned that “charming” is often a synonym for “sociopathic”. It was a very cool house, atop a steep hill overlooking Market Street. When the 49ers won the Super Bowl, we had a bird’s eye view from our deck of the impromptu parade and party below. I lived in a garage – not a room above a garage – an actual garage. There was a bathroom and tiny sleeping loft in back, so the bulk of the garage was a sitting room, with a futon couch that I could use as a bed if someone slept over. The night I looked at the room, they offered to let me stay in it so I wouldn’t have to drive back to Los Gatos and then back to SF in the morning to continue my house hunting. They even laid out towels. It was the only place I’ve ever been evicted from. The story is not worth retelling. Suffice to say I think my rent money went up that charming person’s nose rather than to the landlady. I won a judgment in small claims court; but that and a few bucks will buy you a cup of coffee.
I found a new place in answer to an ad that I misread as “we are women in our 40s with a toddler”. I figured I was moving in with a middle-aged Lesbian couple. They were offering reduced rent in exchange for maintenance work. Being a plumber and former maintenance director of a large housing project, I figured I fit the bill. The house was a beautiful Victorian. My bedroom ceiling was 14 feet high. The first floor ceilings were higher. What does 14 feet mean? I hung my bikes from hooks in the ceiling. I needed a system of ropes and pulleys to get them up and down. I hung one bike over my bedroom door and the door swung with feet to spare.
It turned out to be one woman and a toddler, but I got to live with a delightful child with whom I continued a relationship after moving out, and I visited them again when he was 20 or so. It was also the experience that convinced me that I did not want to raise kids in San Francisco.
We lived around the corner from the Castro Theatre, which featured old movies with a majestic theatre organ. Each night, the organ would rise from the floor for a pre-film concert. As the lights went down and the film came on, the organ would slowly sink back into the floor as the organist played “San Francisco (Open Your Golden Gate)” with a rousing sing-along. Since much of my work was in the Castro, it was perfect.
When our child was born we decided to move (back, for me) to Wisconsin. I called a friend to tell her and she asked, “Do you remember M’s house?” I didn’t really, but it was across the street from my friend. I called the landlady and she was highly skeptical of a “young couple” (we were in our 40s) with an infant, moving from San Francisco without jobs. It was looking bad until she took down my name and asked, “Are you related to G?” [my father]. When I said yes, we were suddenly okay. She had known (of) him 50 years ago. Clearly we were not fly-by-nights if we were related to someone still in town after 50 years. We rented the place sight unseen. When I arrived with the truck, towing the car on a trailer, my neighbor met me with a beer and said “Dinner is in ten minutes.” We lived there for two years until another neighbor, tired of shoveling snow and here it was only November, put her house up for sale. It had been in the family for 80 years. We moved out the back door of one house, across the street, and into the front door of the other. We’ve been here for 25 years.
MBFA (Make Bicycling Fun Again)
Since last Sunday’s fiasco, in which I cramped nearly every muscle in both legs, I’ve ridden about 150 mostly hilly miles; and I had fun doing it. It helped that it’s 20 degrees cooler. We climbed about 5000 feet today. Between Wednesday night and today, we hit most of the hills that make people tremble. Again, I let the fast group go, and fell in with a group of 10-15 heading out of town. After a few climbs, I didn’t see most of them until we stopped to refill bottles about 40 miles in. Once we left the rest stop, I saw two people the rest of the way. That’s what being half-fast does to you – too slow for the fast folks, too fast for the others. Since I’ve ridden mostly alone since the pandemic, it was pretty normal. I didn’t get lost until heading into Middleton, which has grown so much in the last 10-20 years that I can never find my way in or out of it. Luckily I found someone to follow.