I didn’t mean to go shopping on Friday; I had thought that I might go out and get a few fresh vegetables, but my main plans were to write for a few hours and then to do a bunch of cleaning. Between work and writing and the basic rounds of parenting, including Martin’s visits to the psychiatrist and his blood tests for one of his medications, there hasn’t been a ton of time for cleaning.
But then on Thanksgiving, Pete asked me if I could help him meet up with his girlfriend who lives pretty far from here. He hasn’t asked in quite a while, and seeing her usually involves driving five hours each way, so I was willing to do anything within reason. The plan had started out a little bit complicated. Because our house is both tiny and a mess, he wanted to meet her at my boyfriend’s house, which is bigger and much tidier than our apartment. He also doesn’t have neighbors like we do at our apartment. Our apartment has two floors, but the other units in the building are on one floor. So the first floor of the our place is next to a guy who spends part of his time yelling really loudly at his computer and another part having even louder sex with one or more girlfriends. I think most of this noise is directed at his upstairs neighbors, our second floor neighbors, who have two dogs: one big and one small, who spend a lot of the day growling and yelping when people approach the building. Recently, they had a baby, so now there’s a two month old baby’s crying added to the mix.
None of this bothers Martin and Pete too much most of the time, because there’s a wide hallway between their bedrooms and the neighbor’s apartment. But when they became old enough that I thought that they each needed a room, I moved out onto the landing that extends beyond the staircase. It’s just wide enough that my bed fits with one end on the wall of Martin’s bedroom and the other end on the wall next to the neighbor’s apartment. This was years before the neighbor had dogs or a baby or even the current girlfriend.
So anyway, Pete didn’t want to take her to our apartment…but after he’d gotten himself thoroughly wound up about the planning and missed a few hours of sleep and before the plan to take her to my boyfriend’s went into effect, he got another text that said they should meet in San Francisco and then he could Uber back. Now Pete is getting close to 18. Perhaps some boys his age would have taken off on the train, and I would have heard about the adventure later, but Pete is really anxious like me, so he didn’t want to take BART, not even with me. He wanted me to drive him. My boyfriend’s son and his girlfriend were at the house, and they were trying to tell us that it was crazy to drive in to SF on Black Friday, but I understood Pete’s feeling, so we hopped in the car and took off. Having a lot of extra people around would have made things just too much more intense. We needed to be alone with this new plan.
“So where are we going?” I asked.
“I’m not quite sure yet,” he said, fidgeting madly with his phone. This is the sort of conversation we always wind up having when the two of them are making a plan. Finally he said, “It’s someplace called Union Square. Do you know where that is?”
“Union Square? I know where that is…I’m driving to frickin’ Union Square on Black Friday?”
“Sorry, Mom. I’ll get you the directions if that’ll help.”
“Oh my God, Pete, this is some sort of nightmare. She’d better be really, really wonderful.”
“Uh, yeah. Uh huh. You’re going to exit the bridge on the right.”
At least we had a really nice time together, driving across the bridge and then driving in circles through the one way streets to get him to where I needed to drop him off. And then, right after I dropped him off, I saw a parking garage that miraculously was not already full, even though we’d arrived past noon, and the huge lot on Fifth and Mission was full already. I pulled across an entire empty street of the financial district to get to it.
So that’s how I wound up, an hour and some later, walking southwest to the shopping district of San Francisco on Black Friday. I was looking for a bathroom, and the one in the coffee shop where I had been writing until they kicked me out, saying they were closing, said “Employees Only.” So I started walking down Market Street toward the huge mall at Fifth. I knew they had bathrooms there. The first couple of blocks were pretty empty, inhabited on Black Friday mostly by homeless people and smelling of urine. Starbucks and Bloomingdale’s weren’t going to welcome them in to use the facilities. As I’d come up from the garage, I’d found myself in the Galleria, one of the fancier sets of shops in the financial district, but most of them closed today. As I walked toward the opening on Sutter, I’d started to notice a bad smell, which did and didn’t register as I stopped to use my phone to look up directions. Someone had not only left a gigantic mound of feces right by the front signage, they’d left their underwear as well. Just a mess, or a protest of what this day did to the poorest? Where would they normally go?
I kept going, and the crowds grew thicker and thicker with more and more stores open, at first just all kinds of drug stores side by side: CVS, then Walgreen’s, then Dollar Store. Then the stores started to run rapidly upscale, and I started to see police lounging around the sidewalks. I could smell the pot in the air, along with the sausages that were being sold by vendors every few feet. There was a band playing loudly at the corner of 4th and Market, and people were crowded around to listen. Across the street was the intersection where people stood in line for the cable cars.
I had to really push to get into the mall, and I had a few moments of real anxiety, thinking that this was probably not the smartest place to be. If there was someone who wanted to make a statement about their hatred of consumerist American culture, this would be a pretty perfect place to strike. Perhaps that was why there were so many police in evidence everywhere. Even if I hadn’t been nervous about that, I think I would have wanted to get out quickly. I used to like to shop in malls when I was younger, but it was so loud and flashy in there. I just went upstairs and found a bathroom in the Bloomingdale’s and then I left. I was sort of amazed that I didn’t even want to go into one store, but all I wanted to do was leave.
Pete texted me an hour later, and I managed to drive around in circles, very slowly this time, until I saw him on the curb and honked, and he was able to come over and jump in, and we drove (still very slowly, the police working at each intersection to prevent total gridlock) to a place where we could turn and get out of the shopping district. His girlfriend’s family had taken him to the Modern Art Museum, which the young people had all hated. I should have thought to go there too. It was three or four blocks from the coffee shop where I’d been sitting. I would have liked that a lot better than Bloomingdale’s. Still, it was fun spending time with Pete; we stopped on the way home and had Peruvian food for dinner.
Photo by Andrea Cau on Unsplash