Glimpses of Shanghai

“When the day is done”

I meet a friend in front of Jing’an temple. Looking around at the intersection I recognize no buildings save the one behind me that names this intersection, ancient and partially re-built in concrete decades before. Towers of glass and neon spring out of corners that once held parks, that once held nothing. My friend finds me looking lost in one of the city’s most familiar places. I hold tight to the back of his scooter as we speed down Nanjing Lu, dodging police and taxis with equal caution.

“And I lay me down,”

I am sick in the afternoon at the edge of a grass field, almost to the river, almost to the sea. A man on a bicycle outside the fence who is watching the soccer game behind me pretends not to notice my squatting form. I appreciate the gesture. My stomach turns. On the way home I am sick on the Nanbei Gaojia, out the taxi window in the sun. Traffic, moving at a brisk walk, politely does not crowd our cab, and I am grateful. Home again on a friend’s borrowed couch I hunker down with Gatorade and warm blankets. A day goes by as I heal.

“I think about the day we had”

I visit new shopping complexes with old friends, talking of change and plans. I have one constant thought, that we have grown up from the youth who first learned this city’s streets. The streets too have matured, and this old block now recreates a Shanghai that once was and yet has never been. Microbreweries occupy lane houses recreated to a degree Disney would be proud of. In my first days back I hear tales of rental car adventures and clear explanations of domestic regulations on electric engines. One did not exist eight years ago and the other was obtuse, unintelligible. Deep local knowledge, smart phones, and an ever-improving sense of business characterize all my meetings. We are no longer English teachers and Shanghai is no longer the edge of the world. Friends who once saved for bicycles have offices and employees, worry about adoption rates and customer growth metrics. Vacations are no longer home for Christmas with parent’s help but to Hokkaido, to Cambodia. Indonesia, I hear twice in the same week, is the new wild west.

“After all, I’m married to the wandering star”

Quoted lyrics from Polica’s ‘Wandering Star’ off of 2011’s Give You the Ghost. Incredible live version available on Youtube here:

Out late

In the evening Fillmore is a strange conduit. From Lower Haight it runs downhill to the McDonalds on Golden Gate in all senses. In the drive-through the rims are more important than the car, and a former self recognizes the mood. In Poughkeepsie in the year two thousand we’d walk to a drive-through like this. Open all hours, unlike the interior, it served fifty nine cent cheeseburgers on Tuesdays. In the dark we’d surprise the staff, catch them chatting to each other. Without headlights we were invisible, though rarely quiet.

“Twelve cheeseburgers,” we’d request, having pushed the button and counted our change. Some days twenty five.

In San Francisco at two am I wonder what the staff of this McDonalds would say to a walk-up drive-through customer. And I wonder how much cheeseburgers cost on Tuesdays.

Fillmore heads up again, into a neighborhood of concert halls and Karaoke boxes, of Asian chains and bars I’ve never heard of anyone going to. Jazz and hip hop alternate, and on the corner women in shiny dresses complain about their heels to men in suits. Other groups of women complain about men to their friends in similarly spiked shoes. The men wait for cars, or wait in their cars, stereos adding to the neighborhood’s dull background throb. To the right a Panda Express sign winks out, the last workers shutting down.

Up still farther Fillmore runs into Geary, destroying any pretense of the small livable avenue. On the corners sit The Fillmore, famed venue to moderate stars of a likable nature. Ani will be back later this year the posters tell me. I will be in Shanghai. Opposite an establishment called the Boom Boom Room sounds correctly named. This is the end of my walk, this is where the 38 stops on its way out of downtown towards my foggy neighborhood.

Here at the top a hill and of Fillmore’s rise, just west of Geary’s peak, we wait for the bus and watch women doing likewise try to avoid the bus stop’s permanent tenants. Each time here I wonder about the Boom Boom Room, which doesn’t seem unappealing. At two am the club may perhaps have worn out the evening’s excitement, covered it up with cheap vodka, and pushed it out with continuous beats. I ponder this and watch silently, content to let the dapper post-club crew make large of their status as the most appealing conversation in the vicinity. A woman in heels is grateful for their attention. Behind her the man who’d been extolling his history with the piano shoves off, slightly too hard, from the bus stop’s shelter and staggers into the wall. From its exterior decoration the Boom Boom Room’s brick is accustom to this treatment.

On the bus out I am surrounded with chatter and games, the joy of the evening made mobile in small groups of friends. I hear stories of skateboards and girls, I hear stories of boys and first dates. The city is alive on late night busses, everyone slowly separating out into the neighborhoods of quiet housing, separating at the end of the evening.

This, I think, my companion asleep on my shoulder, is why we live in a city, why we love walking home late at night. Because we aren’t alone, and our stories may not be the best.

Wheels down

Heelys are wonderful things. Unfortunately I’ve been remiss updating on my actions in them. I’ve owned my current pair pretty much since my post three years ago. I’m less skilled in them than I was at twenty four. I also don’t wear them every day. I wish I were still so bold.

The shoes haven’t changed. They may be a bit bulkier, in more of a skater style. They may ride better, the bottoms more durable during braking. I may just not be riding them as hard. 

In our new neighborhood I wear them to get coffee on weekends. The clomp clomp doesn’t seem to wake Tara, though the wheels echo on the wooden floor. Once on the street though their versatility is on display. Step step push and I’m off, riding the solid sidewalks of the 17th Ave on their gentle slope down towards Clement and California. It’s nice, living somewhere with good sidewalks. This is why I loved these shoes in Japan, where everything is paved so perfectly. This is why I gave them up when moving to Shanghai. Houston was pretty good, flat and level. The Sunset for the last two years was too rough, slightly hilly, plus the three flights of stairs. 

This new house, in the Richmond, with the gentle slope to each street, seems perfect Heely territory. Walgreens across the street is big enough for the linoleum to really spread out before me. 

And always, the best part remains true. Walk past like anyone else, and then a quick hop, a slow whoosh, and away. Nothing beats Heelys for disguised travel. I was right at twenty four, and I am slowly regaining the skills. Next on the list is spinning in circles, ice skating style. 

Yes, this is something of a shoe blog. I’m realizing that slowly.

Wheels up.