As part of our odyssey in San Francisco, the little dog has had to adjust to life in the big city. This means expanding her willingness to pee on basically any outdoor surface. SF is a dog friendly city and it’s rare to walk anywhere without encountering canine friends. Fiona is not really a dog person. When our grand-dog Hudson is around she favors me with pained looks that clearly ask who let the dog in. On SF sidewalks she approaches other dogs with deceptive shyness, ducking her head and wagging her tail, but she doesn’t mean it. If another dog invades her space she growls in a way that sounds really mean and a little crazy. Most of the dogs we encounter look surprised, and dismiss Fiona with an expression of tolerance. Unless the other dog is small. Then it’s a case of diva meets diva and the metaphorical gloves are off the paws. After mutual mean girl growling and obligatory butt sniffing, the dogs back off, nod austerely and go their separate ways, confident each has cowed the other.
None of this acknowledges the stress that changing residences has on Fiona. Or me for that matter. For instance, grocery shopping is even less fun than usual. There’s nothing like driving around for 20+ minutes, finally finding a parking space, and then enduring the visual onslaught of shopping at Whole Foods. Somehow we left that fancy store without the bone-in, skin-on chicken I needed for a recipe or the saffron which came with an easy payment plan. Whole foods don’t carry no high fat, low class chicken, no indeed. This experience and the resulting cost at check out- $45 for half a pound of Spanish cheese, La Croix sparking water, a dozen tulips (only $6) and some olive bar olives– was not as traumatizing a the trip to the Safeway close to where Mike gets treatment. I’ve never been in a grocery store where the toothpaste and q-tips are under lock and key and require concierge-clerk services to access. We got out of there pretty quick and, as usual, without everything we needed. We had better luck at Trader Joe’s where parking was relatively easy and the presence of familiar items was soothing. The embargo on chicken with bones and skin continued but the saffron was affordable.
Basically every expedition that involves our car is stressful. And that brings me to parking in the underground garage at the flat we are renting for two months. This gorgeous three story Victorian was a single family home at the turn of the 20th century. Now it’s three spacious condominiums in a lovely, quiet and very clean street in lower Pacific Heights. Pacific Heights proper is for the uber rich baby boomers like Diane Feinstein and Nancy Pilosi and (in the past) romance writer Danielle Steele. I imagine our place once housed a wealthy businessman, his wife, seven children, four servants (cook, maid, nanny, and valet), and a poor relation or two who helped with the children. The area under street level probably initially held a carriage with horses stabled nearby. Whatever the original intent for the space was, it was never intended to house three vehicles. The first weekend I stayed here, Mike was in Redding so I rented Enterprise’s smallest compact (a Corolla) and wished a smart car or a meter made cart had been available. With a pounding heart I pulled in, next to the ubiquitous gray Prius ( they are literally everywhere) belonging to the second floor couple. Getting out involved moving the mirror on the neighbor’s car and edging out, pulling up (don’t hit the bike in front of you), turning the wheel slightly (don’t scrape the shelf of paint cans) and jockeying back and forth until finally behind the Mercedes owned by the couple on the top floor. Then all I had to do is back straight out. And not scrape the wall (so pull in both mirrors) or hit the bush just outside the garage or gun the engine too much to get up to street level and shoot across the sidewalk into the street. Every time I see someone backing out of a garage in SF I watch. All of them are narrow, dark, and scary and I see lots of people edging out as I do. The truly brave or crazy back into their garages. Insane.
So all of this shows me that contrary to my fantasy of myself as natural born city dweller, I’m truly a suburbanite. I guess playing in the dirt with the Spanish kids in Zaragoza when I was five didn’t really make me a savvy urbanite. Still, for years, this fantasy of being someone whose ideal milieu was the big city has persisted. And I admit I love mornings like this where I walk the Little Girl to the patisserie and leave her tied up outside while I purchase scones and croissants. Fiona, however, doesn’t enjoy waiting for me and seemed pretty anxious by the time the three people in front of me spent an inordinate amount of time deciding which pastry to buy. “That one, no the one to the right, I mean left,” etc. For a city nationally ranked 7th for worst (impatient speeders) drivers, there are certain rites where lallygagging is expected. This is a town where everyone is a gourmand so all food-based decisions are approached with solemnity and caution. It is not unusual to hear a server breaking down a dish into each ingredient and then assuring the patron that yes, the sauce can come on the side, the pasta will most certainly be al dente, and no meat product will come within hailing distance of the quinoa. In other words, everybody is Meg Ryan.
Nowadays, Fiona and I walk Mike to a UCSF facility 6 blocks away and watch him board the shuttle for Mission Bay where he will receive radiation therapy. The little dog does not like this and stands on her hind legs, straining to see Mike as he disappears. Fiona also doesn’t care for the wind, but she’s adjusting. We all are. And in a few more weeks this medical odyssey will be behind Mike and we can go home where the little dog can access her safe place under the bed.