Saturday, May 29, 2004
Special San Francisco edition
As I walked down to the new Embarcadero plaza at the end of Market Street, I stopped in at one of these Left Coast coffee places for some serious, snap-to-attention Left Coast coffee, and goddamn if Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” wasn’t on the speakers. And I really was sitting on the dock of the bay, too. I suppose they have the tune on 15-minute tape loop. If I start hearing Richie Havens’ version of “San Francisco Bay” in stores today, then I’ll know itÝs all about the tourism.
So what am I doing in San Francisco? Officially, it’s the convention of the American Literature Association, at which I appeared on a roundtable on teaching Don DeLillo’s White Noise. Unofficially, I’m hanging out with Bay Area friends and writers Joseph Lease and Larry Gallagher, reading about the history of affirmative action, and (at the moment) planning on taking a ferry across the bay.
The sun is out, the air is clear and crisp, and the bay is beautiful beyond belief. But I’m not blogging about those things. That would only generate envy and resentment at us jet-setting academics who flit from conference to conference having a grand old time. (Actually I’ve never been to the ALA before; I don’t go to very many conferences, now that I think of it.) And I don’t want your envy and resentment. I want your pity and horror!
Really. I’m serious. I have flown on exactly five occasions since October. On four of those five flights, including this one, I have arrived without baggage. Gainesville, Florida: a four-hour delay in State College, and no bags in Gainesville. Atlanta: no baggage. St. Louis: one-hour delay in Pittsburgh, and no baggage. San Francisco, no baggage. What the hell is going on?
On two of those flights, I knew perfectly well what was going on: my connecting flight was one of those Brazilian needle-nosed jets, the kind in which one crawls into the fuselage on all fours and is strapped into one’s seat in fetal position. They were full flights, leaving the northern climes in late winter, which meant that according to the laws of physics, the combined weight of the passengers and their bags would bring the plane down in some catastrophic manner unless my garment bag were unloaded from the plane and put on a later flight. (I’m not kidding˝ two different airlines actually told me they were doing this.) Well, I’m happy to be inconvenienced slightly if it keeps forty or fifty of my fellow beings from dying a most gruesome death. But on the St. Louis and San Francisco flights, I wound up being the only passenger whose luggage was mishandled. This I do not understand.
The irony is that the only reason I travel with a garment bag is to bring a suit for a public presentation. When the bag doesn’t arrive, I wind up having to speak in my travelling clothes, so that when the bag arrives the next day, I have no real use for it. I might just as well have brought a tiny overnight bag or small suitcase that would escape the attention of weight-conscious baggage handlers at hubs around the nation. Now, this isn’t a terrible thing in itself, because academics (yes, even those of us who teach cultural studies) are allowed to appear in public rumpled and disheveled to some degree. But when you fly for seven hours, arrive in San Francisco at midnight (3 am Eastern), and have no toiletries and nothing fresh to wear for your conference presentation the next day, it’s downright unhygenic.
I do want to acknowledge that US Airways took such pity on my abject state that it issued me a little overnight bag (razor, deodorant, toothbrush-toothpaste, etc.) and even a small clothing allowance. This allowed me to stop by the Gap yesterday morning for some lightweight˝ and clean!˝ summer clothing, so that I was not an offense to the sensibilities of my fellow panelists and conference interlocutors. I think the fact that this was my fourth bagless voyage may have moved even the heart of the lost-baggage clerk, who, of course, hears nothing all day except complaints about lost baggage. (My demeanor is this: I am not an angry airline passenger. I am merely abject and weary, especially at 3 am Eastern time.)
Anyway, things are all right now. My bags arrived in my hotel˝ the Hyatt Regency at the Embarcadero Center, which should be familiar to all you Mel Brooks fans for its role in the film High Anxiety˝ only 21 hours after I did, at 9 pm last night, and now it’s Saturday at noon, and it’s a beautiful day. When I get back to Pennsylvania, though, I will have to sit down and think this all out: as Freud (and, before him, folk tales) taught us, you only need three occurrences to establish a pattern. Four is just eerie. Maybe my bag is being flagged for a reason? Maybe, just maybe, I should remove all these stickers I put on it last summer?