Saturday, August 4, 2012

18 Hours in San Francisco

San Francisco, Taxis in San Francisco

"No city invites the heart to come to life as San Francisco does.  Arrival in San Francisco is an experience in living."  ~ William Saroyan

I recently spent 18 hours in San Francisco on a quick business trip.  I've been to the city many times before and always enjoyed it as a tourist - this time, I was here to give a quick presentation to Directors of the company, then turn around and head back home with no tourism involved.   I landed at SFO and hailed a cab to my downtown hotel.  As I climbed in the back and gave the address to my driver, he politely nodded and navigated us out and onto the freeway, quickly exiting the airport and entering the rush hour traffic.  The driver said nothing and for a few minutes I didn't either, but as the traffic grew thick and we slowed to a crawl, I leaned forward and asked my driver if he was having a good day.  He looked up into his rearview mirror in surprise, staring at me as though I had asked a very bizarre thing.  Then he nodded.  "Yes," he said in heavily accented English.  "And you?"  "I am, thank you!  Where are you from?"  I asked.  He paused, focusing on the tangled standstill traffic around us.  Again, he slowly raised his eyes to meet mine in the rearview mirror and said quietly, "Russia".  His eyes dropped back to the traffic and he said nothing more.  I pondered his reaction for a moment.  Had he experienced prejudice from other customers upon admitting the country of his heritage?  He seemed uncomfortable at having to answer this question.  I smiled brightly.  "I've never been to Russia," I said.  "Tell me more about your home town."  Immediately his eyes met mine again and this time, a smile played at the corner of his mouth.  He launched into a story about the beauty of his hometown on the shores of the Baltic Sea and for the remainder of the trip downtown, we discussed his family in Russia, his desire to return and raise his children there and the many things he has seen and done during his time in San Francisco.  When I exited the cab at my hotel he was beaming and pleasant, moving quickly to carry my bag to the entrance and thanking me for my patronage of his cab. 

It was dinnertime when I checked in and I was starved, so I quickly unpacked in my room then headed downstairs to the lobby to inquire about nearby restaurants.  After a quick visit with the concierege I selected an Italian restuarant three blocks away and headed out into the busy street in search of dinner.  I found the restaurant with ease and was greeted by a pleasant waiter who seated me near a window and served my dinner with a flourish.  I noticed his name - Emiliano.  When he returned with my check I inquired where he was from.  Emiliano straightened a bit and beamed proudly as he declared his hometown to be San Gminagno, Italy.  I smiled.  "I was just there in December," I told him.  "It's a beautiful village."  Emiliano's smile widened and he quickly inquired about my recent time in Tuscany.  "Did you visit Volterra?"  he asked, and when I replied that I had, he touched his fingers to his lips in a flourished kiss and proclaimed that Volterra was, to him, a most lovely city.  I couldn't help but agree.  We spoke for a few more minutes, sharing stories of our favorite places in Italy and he gave me ideas of new places to visit.  I left the restaurant smiling - my conversation with Emiliano had brought back such pleasant memories of my recent trip.

The next morning I checked out of the hotel and moved quickly to the curb to hail a cab to my meetings.  An elderly cab driver picked me up and again, I noticed the heavy accent as we pulled away from the curb.  "Where are you from?"  I inquired.  "Armenia," he said proudly.  We talked for a few minutes about San Francisco, the tourists and the busy streets, and when we pulled up to my office building I handed him the fare and a generous tip.  He turned and smiled broadly at me saying, "I like you, lady.  You have treated me so well.  I hope all goes good for you."  I thanked him and hurried into my building, thinking of the different people I had already met in San Francisco and the different stories of their lives each of them shared with me.

I had one cab ride left, from my downtown office back to the airport.  The concierge at the hotel had arranged for a car to pick me up at noon and return me to SFO and as I exited the office, my car and driver were waiting.  I grinned to myself - I felt so special!  The driver was very kind and quickly loaded my bags into the trunk and offered me a cold bottle of water for the ride.  "My name is Sandro," he said as we pulled away from the curb.  "My name is Sandra!" I exclaimed and we both laughed.  As we talked I learned that Sandro was from Brazil but his father was Italian, from Milan, Italy.  He was a proud Brazilian and we discussed his country's recovering economy and the beautiful cities of Sao Paulo and Rio De Janero.  I asked if Sandro had plans to visit Brazil again soon and he emphatically shook his head.  "I have three year old twins," he said.  "I would not like to spend 18 hours on an airplane with them!  That would be too much!"  He quickly pulled his iphone out and handed it to me.  "This is a picture of my twins, Lucca and Faith," he said proudly as I looked at the picture.  "They are adorable," I said, handing the phone back to the proud parent.  "I can understand your reluctance to take them on a plane trip to Brazil.  Perhaps in a few more years they will be ready."  Sandro agreed and we had a pleasant conversation as he drove me back to the airport for my return trip home.

I sat on the plane, thinking of my 18 hours in San Francisco.  I had met four people from different parts of the world and there were many others that I passed on the street that I did not get to meet or speak with.  It never ceases to amaze me that our world is so large yet really, so very, very small.  And each person, no matter where they were from, spoke lovingly of their families and their countries of origin.  We are really not so different, are we?  

What did you see today?