And just like that we saved thirty bucks.
The place was adorable, a white Tudoresque cottage tucked down a narrow road. It had a shingled roof and warped windows lined with flower boxes and a chimney whose smoke curled romantically through the mist, windows softly aglow as we pulled into the parking lot.
For two days, we moved between the beach, the redwoods, the inn’s cozy library, and the dining room with its dark wooden tables and blazing fire. We played UNO and Hearts and something called Quiddler. We drank foamy beers and had big English breakfasts.
We took pictures together, but I didn’t post any of them. Maybe it was selfish, but I didn’t want twenty-five thousand people descending on this place. I wanted it to stay exactly as it was.
Our last night we booked a room at a modern hotel that belonged to the father of one of my followers. When I posted about the upcoming trip and asked for tips, she DMed me to offer the room for free.
I love your blog, she said, and I love reading about Particular Man Friend, which is what I call Alex when I mention him at all. I mostly try to leave him out of it, because he, like the Blue Heron Inn, isn’t something I want to share with thousands of people, but sometimes the things he says are too funny to leave out. Apparently he’s bled through more than I realized.
I decided to try harder to keep him out of it, but I accepted the free room, because Money. Also the hotel has free parking for guests, which, in San Francisco, is the equivalent of a hotel giving out free kidney transplants.
We dropped our bags as soon as we got into the city, then headed back out to make the most of our only day in downtown San Francisco. We left the car and took cabs.
First we walked the Golden Gate Bridge, which was amazing, but also colder than I’d expected and so windy we couldn’t hear each other. For probably ten minutes, we pretended to be having a conversation, waving our arms exaggeratedly and shouting nonsense at each other as we power walked over the crowded walkway.
It made me think about that water taxi ride in Vancouver, how Buck kept vaguely gesturing, talking at an easy clip like one of those orthodontists who can’t stop asking you open-ended questions while his hands are in your mouth.
Luckily the weather had decided to be sunny; otherwise, we would have probably gotten hypothermia on the bridge. We stopped halfway across, and I pretended to climb over the railing. Alex made his trademark grimace and shook his head. He grabbed my hands and tugged me away from the railing, leaning in close so I could hear him over the wind when he said against my ear, “That makes me feel like I’m going to have diarrhea.”
I broke into laughter and we kept walking, him on the inside, me closest to the railing, resisting a powerful urge to keep messing with him. Probably I’d accidentally actually fall over and not only die but traumatize poor Alex Nilsen, and that was the last thing I wanted.
At the far end of the bridge, there was a restaurant, the Round House Cafe, a round, windowed building. We ducked inside to drink a cup of coffee while we gave our ears a chance to stop ringing from the wind.
There were dozens of bookshops and vintage stores in San Francisco, but we decided two of each should be enough.
We took a cab to City Lights first, a bookstore and publisher in one that had been around since the height of the beatnik era. Neither of us was a big beat person, but the store was exactly the kind of old, meandering shop that Alex lived for. From there we stopped by a store called Second Chance Vintage, where I found a sequined bag from the forties for eighteen dollars.
After that, we’d planned to go to the Booksmith, over by the Haight-Ashbury, but by then, that big English breakfast from the Blue Heron Inn had worn off and the Round House coffee had us both feeling a little jittery.
“Guess we just have to come back,” I said to Alex as we left the shop in search of dinner.
“Guess so,” he agreed. “Maybe for our fiftieth anniversary.”
He smiled down at me, and my heart swelled until it felt so big and light my body could float away. “Just so you know,” I said, “I would marry you all over again, Alex Nilsen.”
His head tipped sideways. He affected the Sad Puppy Face. “Is that just because you want more free wine?”
It was hard to choose a restaurant in a city with this much to offer, but we were too hungry to pore over the list I’d compiled, so we just went classic.
Farallon is not a cheap place, but on the second day of wine tasting, when we were both slaphappy, Alex had ordered another drink, crying, “When in Rome!” and ever since, whenever one of us had waffled about buying something, the other had insisted, “When in Rome!”
So far, this had been limited mostly to enormous ice cream cones and used paperback books, and lots of wine.
But Farallon is gorgeous, and a San Francisco staple, and if we were going to spend too much money, it might as well happen there. As soon as we walked into the building, with its opulent, rounded ceilings and gilded light fixtures and golden-edged booths, I said, “No regrets,” and forced Alex to high-five me.
“Giving high fives makes me feel like my insides have poison ivy,” he murmured.
“Might as well get that out of the way in case you’re about to find out you’re allergic to seafood.”
I was so enraptured by the over-the-top decor that I tripped three times on our way to the table. It was like being in the castle from The Little Mermaid, except not animated and everyone was fully clothed.
When our server left us with our menus, Alex did that old-man thing, where he opened it and reared back from the prices with widening eyes, like a startled horse.
“Really?” I said. “That bad?”
“It depends. Do you want more than one half-ounce of caviar?”
It wasn’t the kind of expensive that the upper middle class of Linfield would avoid, but for us, yes, it was expensive.
We split a two-person platter of oysters, crab, and shrimp along with one cocktail.