Saturday, June 21, 1997

Side Routes

There is no non stop between Hangzhou and San Francisco - you either go to Hong Kong or the Shanghai to Tokyo and then SF. Twelve hours of flying, but only two movies not including the animated fasten your seat-belt videos which I think had the same cast as Gobots (I kept waiting for Ultra Man to jump out when the overhead oxygen supply fell). I did the Shanghai route which meant I spent the night in Shanghai and then flew out the next morning. The hotel which was booked here in California was across the street from the baggage claim. I made my way there despite a Chinese roper who was determined to get me to his hotel at a much better price.

As I checked in and went to my room on the third floor, I noticed that there was a bar at the end of the hall. A little tired from my trip I went to the bar for a good night drink. The staff quickly sat me down in a booth. A waitress came into the booth lit a candle and looked up at me from waist level"

"Do you want something to drink?"

I quickly looked at the drink menu and feeling a little patriotic ( or possible to get rid of the smelly tofu, a food that violates some primal taboo) I said "I will have a Budweiser".

The waitress smiled and then asked the second question "Do you want a girl?"

Now this was a little tougher question. I know my company has a lousy 401k program, but I did not think this was part of the overall compensation plan. I was not really in a hurry to join the viral frequent flyer club. I said "no."

I did finish my beer in the place and was impressed with its mood. I could see a little into other booths where business men had two girls a piece. Cigarette smoke poured over the top of the paper walled booths and sank into the carpet. A Mandarin version of "House of the Rising Sun." played on the stereo. It was hypnotic. After settling up for my beer I went down the hall smiling, and wondering about the house in New Orleans.

When I told a few people after I got back to San Francisco, they mentioned that I should have at least gotten a price check. Asked about group rates. Dollars to RMB currency conversion. Perhaps it was a moment that I will look back to and pause. But that was the point of the following weekend.

After getting back to San Francisco and spending just enough time to mess with my body clock, I got on a plane to Philadelphia for the wedding of a girl who got away. Equal parts plump and perky, she was a fellow intern at Bellcore specializing in the psychology of user interfaces. At her heart she is a conversational babbler (a property I also hold) which follows the principle that if you say enough eventual you will stumble into the truth.

I blew it.

That hot New Jersey summer she was dating a cartoonist who she left behind at Carleton. I didn't feel that I should have made my "move" which usually comes across as slightly less subtle than the inflated male frigate bird. There is a point when looking back at the horizon where nobility collides with stupidity.

Halfway through that summer, she struck a conversation with some one waiting for the bus. A graduate student a Rutgers specializing in molecular biology. He was on the periphery - only occasionally joining the intern pack for important discussions on whether "Batman" was a better movie than "Dick Tracy" - nowhere to be seen into our trips to Harlem and the Jersey shore.

The summer eventually ended. She went back to the cartoonist. I went to New Hampshire. The cartoonist wanted to draw someone else. The grad student didn't like grad school and went to Minnesota (where she was) to probably get as far as away from mitochondria as he could. It was their wedding.

There were five interns in our mini group, but she was the only one with whom I have kept in touch. As a group we all tried to guess where we would be in ten years - the cotton candy dreams of youth. So many possibilities. I was going to be a work-a-holic computer programmer. She was not going to get married until she was 35.

The wedding lasted an hour. The reception had a good music battle between her mom's music (see Chill, Big) and the Greatest Hits of the Eighties. And even though I loved dancing once again to "Come on Aileen", the whole thing stung just a little.

Perhaps both things (the hotel and the wedding) feel like the missed exit signs that in the rear view mirror - slightly larger than they appear. Frost's little side routes. I too will wonder.