It was lonely for a day or so until one morning some man, more recently arrived than I, stopped me on the road.
“How do you get to West Egg village?” he asked helplessly.
I told him. And as I walked on I was lonely no longer. I was a guide, a pathfinder, an original settler. He had casually conferred on me the freedom of the neighborhood.
– Nick Carraway, The Great Gatsby
“There she is,” Jeff said, pointing to the Golden Gate Bridge, hazy in the distance. “Unfortunately, this might be the best view we get.”
I had confessed earlier in the day that, despite our unspoken agreement not to behave like tourists, I did, in fact, want to see the Golden Gate while we were in town. This was Jeff letting me down easy. We were driving back down to LA in the morning, and had a few people to meet up with yet—getting to the bridge before dark didn’t look good.
I pulled down my new hat—black, emblazoned with the flag of California (a steal at $3.50 from a Chinatown flea market). We had climbed into a clearing at the top of Buena Vista Park.
“We should get a picture of us,” Jeff said. He approached the nearest person with an expensive-looking camera and handed her his iPhone. We swapped stories with the girl and who I suppose was her mother (or I should say Jeff swapped stories—I was trying to find the best direction to point the bill of my cap to make myself the most sunburn-proof). They were from Sydney, Australia, on the tail end of a cross-country sightseeing trip.
After a few minutes we parted ways, and maybe that’s where Jeff got the idea. He must have smelled my disappointment. “What if I go meet this guy, and you go down to the bridge on your own?” It took me a second to remember that I no longer needed an adult. “Alright,” I said. We descended, then split.
I walked a couple blocks and got on a crowded bus heading north, toward the bay. Beyond that I didn’t really know what I was doing. I hopped off as soon as the bus turned in what seemed to me the wrong direction, and started walking north and west. I cut across some parking lots and through some alleys I wasn’t sure I was supposed to be in. I could see the red crowns of the bridge above the tree line. I couldn’t quite figure my next step. I was here. The bridge was there. It was at about this time a friend texted Jeff and I, sparking this brief conversation:
Mike: How’s sf?
Jeff: great. lost Greendonner tho.
I kept walking. A few times I made it to a spot where I could see the whole bridge, only to look around and find distant bodies with a better vantage point. The straps of my backpack were cutting into my sides. I stopped in a cemetery to use the bathroom, then took some pictures of it all so I wouldn’t have to say I stopped in a cemetery to use the bathroom.
I hiked a little farther, until down the hill I saw a dock jutting into the water that looked like the best of all possible worlds. And after a few more twists and turns: a set of ramps that led there. On my way down, a couple (also Australian) stopped me to ask for directions.
“Sorry, I’m not really from around here,” I said.
Honest mistake. The hat probably threw them off.
David Greendonner (’12) is an MFA candidate at Western Michigan University where he teaches writing and is the managing editor of the literary magazine Third Coast.