On the way to the coffeeshop…
I need a cup of tea. I could walk across the street to Starbucks, but I figure hey, why not walk for a minute in the sun and go to the new Peets Coffee that opened up? Never mind that this morning I went to the other new Peets that recently opened up, which is less than a half block from where I live. I am sure that THIS new Peets will be amazingly different, and delicious.
Steeling my nerves for this quest, I head out of my office and down the stairs – down the stairs mind you, not down the elevator, as recently they discovered a week-old body in the elevator shaft of someone who apparently got stuck in the elevator and decided that climbing out of the elevator shaft Diehard-style would be a good idea – anyway, dodging the incredible array of Christmas spirit in the lobby, and nodding to our friendly doorman, I quickly head out the front door and spin to the right, seamlessly merging with the sidewalk traffic.
Almost immediately I run into a fellow with a white binder straddling the stream, facing oncoming traffic – that white binder, that’s the tip off – who inquires don’t I want to save the homeless in San Francisco? Clearly I don’t, I mean, obviously I’m a heartless bastard who just wants his cup of tea no matter how many bodies on the sidewalk he has to step over to get it. I mean, I live in San Francisco, don’t I? Fortunately I have mastered this level and I know that the proper technique to defeating the white-binder-wielding-homeless-advocate is to not look in his eyes but to continue staring at the sidewalk, seemingly unconcerned, to mumble yes, and continue walking forward at a high rate of speed. The binder-wielders have low dexterity and high intelligence and will remain fixed in place when presented with this array of obviously bewildering activities. Achievement one: unlocked!
50 steps later, I pivot to the right, around the corner and onto Market Street. With a keen eye I scan the sidewalk before me, knowing that this can be the most treacherous span of my quest. The bank security guard watches me suspiciously from behind his dark sunglasses but doesn’t make a move. The businessman on his blackberry stares at me as if he’s never seen someone with red eyes and twitchy fingers roll out of an office building before, and he is easily passed. I dodge to the left to avoid some construction, and then back to the right to avoid some shoppers, and suddenly find myself surrounded by four… tourists? This was unexpected.
One of the tourists lunges forth with… a camera. No, a box. In his hand, he proclaims that it holds the secret to life, and of course, don’t I want to see it? His three friends hang back, possibly as reinforcements in case the demented and tea-starved San Francisco office worker were to steal his box of secrets and make a run for it, or perhaps they hang back simply to record this mischief for youtube as tourist number four opens the box of… ink? powder? in my face? or maybe anthrax? But the tourist hangers-back give it all away with their massive grins. Clearly this outgoing box-wielder is just having a bit of fun. So, continuing to stroll slowly forward so as to encourage the charade to move through its design arc at a rapid pace, I engage the man and inquire about his NIXON box.
After a few waves of his hands, he succumbs to the charm of this seasoned San Franciscan, throwing open his box to reveal… nothing! Nothing but air, which I am quite enjoying as it is a really nice day outside at the moment. He laughs, his friends laugh, I laugh, gulping more of the delicious air, and then I quickly return to my quest after achieving this simple sub-goal. Achievement number two: accomplished!
Another quick dodge to the left to avoid yet MORE construction, and ANOTHER dodge to the right to avoid a pair of suspiciously-game-programmery looking fellows who may be out here after a round of Kongregate. We engage knowing glances as I hear them mumble about Kongai. Yes, my friends, we are from the same tribe here.
Suddenly from my right however appears a slender black man, looking quite dapper dressed in a suit and holding a big easter basket full of candy. I’m no sucker for this play though, I’ve gone through this one before. He asks whether I’d like to contribute to the school fund for his children. Of course, he has been asking this very same question on the streets around my office for nearly three months now, so being the grizzled veteran that I am, I know that I can safely ignore him – and not only him but sure enough his… daughter? Interesting, last time he had two sons, but it seems that this is just a simple patch to his algorithm and it is no more effective. Hmmmm… in any case, spying them both there, it is easy enough to avoid their gaze and after a quick two-step get back on my quest for tea. Level three, complete.
Reminding myself that one of the many joys I get out of living in San Francisco is being around so many like-minded individuals, people so full of interesting causes and demands, and creating so many compelling products and services, I glance upward to verify that my destination is just ahead. But that quick glance verifies my one concern, that between me and the gleaming new sign of Peets stands… the shoe shiner.
His altar stands before me, a full ten feet wide and covered with souvenirs of his profession – shoeshine, rags, newspapers, a radio – he is hard to avoid. And today I have worn the Nice Shoes… the ones that could be shined, perhaps should be shined… they are no sneakers, and they are black, and they have laces. It could be a day for a shine, but NO! I need, at this moment, a tea. I shall not forgo my quest.
Fortunately the shoe shiner is facing away, bending over to retrieve a rag that has blown off the altar. I carefully evaluate his rotational momentum – how quickly will he be able to spin around and focus his eagle’s-eye gaze on my clearly-needing-attention Nice Shoes? He is older, he is moving slowly, he may spot someone else’s shoes… if only I could give him a nudge from behind to push him into one of his own seats. But no. I pick up my pace just a measure.
Suddenly I recognize that he has his altar craftily parked directly in front of a crosswalk, where traffic gathers and gives him time to survey the crowd for his next mark. The crosswalk’s red light beams down at me, flashing with an evil red hand and the number 7… 6… 5… as if to count how many seconds I have left to complete this level, how long before I am forced to stand with the shoe shiner for minutes and endure his knowing gaze… it is the amount of time I need to defuse the bomb, or rescue the princess, or perhaps get my marble through the goalposts. Quickly now, I direct my eyes away from the shoe shiner, ignoring the Frogger-like vehicle traffic that is stacking up around the busy crosswalk. 4… 3… I jump off the sidewalk and skip across the intersection, when suddenly I hear a booming voice, “Hey boy…!” calling out behind me, but I am from another country, I’m not from around here, I don’t understand English very well, and besides that I am in the middle of the intersection and moving quickly and it is 2… 1…
Across the river of traffic and back up on the banks of the sidewalk I spy the gleaming countertops and steaming mugs of coffee ahead that signal the entrance to the promised land. Swinging the door open wide I stride forward and bellow forth… “a large cup of jasmine, please?”
But now… to get back home?