Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Sketchy Bill 3: The Arrival

I was due in to San Francisco at about 11:15 on Friday night, which was promptly moved back til midnight upon my landing in Phoenix, for reasons unknown. Once this was ascertained, I found a payphone and called Bill, to alert him. I found him to busy to talk, so he handed his phone to his girlfriend, who sounded a lot like Phyllis Diller.

This sort of confirmed my idea of Bill as an aging ol' dude who could still party with the best of them, but when he was back at home, acted pretty much like the rest of the guys I know. Obviously the 23 year old Armenian girlfriend of Burning Man had been a sort of second tier fling, and his "true love" was someone more his age. She sounded like she'd spent most of her life shouting at people while smoking menthol 100's.

So, by this I'm somewhat encouraged. Obviously Bill has a semi-stable family life, if he's got 2 kids and a girlfriend that's his age. Right?

After a few minutes of small talk, Bill gets back on the phone and assures me this delay falls into his plans perfectly. He's currently winnowing out the "hot women" from the "party trash," and the former should all be gathering at his house at around 1am.

Furthermore, he just wasn't able to get away from this big party, which was all the way over at his yacht club, but he'd call his limo people and see if one of them could pick me up. Upon arrival at SFO, I was instructed, I should look for either "a hot blonde Brazilian chick in a chauffeur's outfit," or "a Filipino guy named Miguel." The sign, of course, would read "Burn Baby Burn." Almost as an afterthought, he said, if neither of them were there, I should call him and he'd give me directions for a cab.

My flight was delayed, then delayed again. We didn't land at SFO til about 1:30, which was of course 3:30 for me.

No one was there to meet me.

This was not alarming at first, and I just sort of hung back and watched everyone pair off and leave...searching my pockets for change. After it was plain that I was alone, and no one was there to take me by the hand and lead me to my 72 virgins, I slipped into a phone booth and dialed Bill's number.

No answer.


I dialed it again. No answer. Hmmm...

I wandered around the airport, looking and listening carefully for any sign of a wild mobile party looking for me. Nothing. I wandered back upstairs, almost put my quarter in the slot, then walked back downstairs to make sure.

Yup, nobody there. It was approaching 2am in San Francisco, and most of the airport was closed, and the people in uniform there were plainly unhappy that I was still around. I doubt that my mere presence made a difference to them, except inasmuch as I might actually ask one of them a question. I obviously was Not From The Bay Area.

About 2:30, I slipped a quarter into the payphone slot, bedraggled, betrayed, and distinctly uncomfortable withe situation.

Here is everything I actually knew about the guy I was visiting:

1) His name was Bill, and he was sketchy.

2) He had a cellphone, which he wasn't answering.

3) He lived in San Francisco, or its environs.

Not a whole hell of a lot to go on, right? But it was San Francisco, and I had a fucking credit card. If the dude wound up ditching me, for whatever reason, there were any number of things I could spend two days and two nights doing.

Quarter in slot. 2 rings. The voice of Sketchy Bill, very quiet but very, very intense, spoke the following words in my ear:

"Bad time, brother. Call me back later {click}"

It's nearly 3 in the morning, in a city I've never been to, and a guy who's been acting very suspiciously suddenly cuts through the fog of my exhaustion with six words that strike fear into my heart. Because, kids, I had come loaded with LSD, and I'd seen his Rate of Ingestion of some of the DEA's least favorite drugs.

I was in a bit of a quandary. On the one hand, I felt like the guy was nutty enough to freak out this way if, for instance, he ran out of his favorite chardonnay at a party. On the other hand, there was a very good chance it could be some sort of...raid...on his house, or boat, or whatever. Or, it could be anything in between.

But that did me no good. The tone in his voice made it clear that he was a) not in a position to talk to me, and b) not interested in negotiating a). So I was in a quandary. WHEN to call him back, considering his cellphone might be in the hands of god knows what federal agency? Then the paranoid's corollary: SHOULD I call him back? The LSD was taped into my left boot, and not exactly easy to extract. If someone got 'hold of that phone....

See what happens when you take lots of drugs, kids? It makes you think weird, unlikely things. But upon reflection, those endlessly recycled paranoid fantasies are probably what saved me from getting busted, back in the day.

I finally decided that I should probably just spring for a freakin' hotel room. It was late, very late, and I was entirely too fucked up on adrenaline and lack of sleep to make too many rational decisions. After studying the posters at the visitor's bureau (long closed), I realized that I had absolutely no idea where I was in relation to any of the hotels advertised, and in fact could only really focus on the pictures. Fuck it, I said, this is what cabbies are for.

Shortly thereafter, I was in the back of a cab, saying suicidally ignorant things like "I have no idea where I am," or "I don't care what hotel, just one that's close." Thankfully, the guy was a decent sort (I've been fortunate in that regard for my whole adult life), and he dropped me at one that was both close and reasonably priced.

Unfortunately, it was full.

The manager was kind, though, and called around to a couple of ones which were within walking distance (my cabbie, of course, had fled the moment my feet had hit the asphalt). He gave me directions, and even walked outside to show me the sign.

It was approaching 4am when I walked into the front door of the hotel with room. The night manager was extremely friendly, and genuinely seemed interested in helping me get some sleep. No later than 4:15, I was ensconced in a room that didn't smell and had its own phone. With the last of my energy, I called Bill again.

No answer. But by that point, I didn't give a shit. I left a message, giving the phone number and the hotel. Then I fell asleep, with one booted foot still on the floor.


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