TUESDAY 23rd August 1988
Seattle was always going to be a hard act to follow. Visiting with John Berry and Eileen Gunn had been pure holiday. Lounging on their back porch in the sunshine, drinking microbrewery beers and Washington wines. A leisurely trip round the Cascades. Plenty of swimming. All so much more relaxed than my image of life in an American city.
We flew out to San Francisco late in the afternoon. This time we had a window seat, but all we could see was the glare of the sun and then the colours of sunset and a dark sea moving against an even darker shore.
The plane was in slightly late, but there was no sign of Lucy. Had we told her the wrong day? The wrong time? But no, there was Lucy, all in black, hair dyed blonde, rushing up to hug us. I made the usual mental readjustments to my image of her, catching up as she whisked us along the moving pavement towards the exit. Lucy and Lilian seemed full of energy, and Lucy, eager to do the right thing by us on our first night in San Francisco drove us up to Twin Peaks (Nothing to do with the TV show, which anyway was not to hit our screens for another two years) where we could overlook the whole city. Lucy enthusiastically pointed out landmarks, while Lilian admired the pretty lights and I tried to take an intelligent interest.
Back at Lucy's flat we were given the guided tour. The shoes in pride of place on her bookshelves, the cuddly penguin collection, the girly pink phone, the unpacked cardboard boxes, evidence, she told us, of her unsettled lifestyle. Then there was John s TV room where John hung out (the subtext being that he needed somewhere to retreat from our incursion), the living room, which Lilian and I were to share with John's gerbils and a large poster of three chickens in dark glasses (presumably a tribute to the chicken brothers), the bathroom with its shower curtains depicting the world in plastic and a copy of "Is Elvis alive?" on the window sill. Apparently we had hit America at the height of Elvis-mania, and there had been as many reported sightings of Elvis Presley back from the dead as visions of the Virgin Mary, Lucy told us with great enthusiasm. Lilian looked unconvinced -- not so much by the news of the sightings, but by the whole concept of anyone caring enough to take the subject seriously. But Lucy, with her interest in kitsch culture, simply loved it.
WEDNESDAY 24th August
Lucy and John both had to go to work, so we were left to fend for ourselves. How will we cope? I wrote anxiously in my notebook. Will we even find the subway? (Sorry, tram, I amend later.) Will we even know which way downtown is? Fortified by one of the gorgeous cinnamon pastries that America is so good at, the answer was yes, but only with some difficulty. We went downtown as far as Powell where the jazz bands played and the cable cars were supposed to start (but didn't as there was some snarl-up further down the line). At the tourist information centre we asked how to get to Lombard Street, without the cable cars (which I still envisaged as suspended above the city like a ski lift. I was soon to be disabused by the earth-bound reality of carriages pulled by wires running through the streets.) They suggested a bus. The guy ahead of us was asking where he could buy Star Trek stuff. This really freaked us out. Especially as the dude at the desk didn't know the answer. Lilian stepped in to suggest "Comix & Comix" on Lombard Street. Hah, we thought, you can't say we TAFF winners don't provide a service to the whole SF community.
By the time we finished battling with the transport system, it felt like time to eat again. We reckoned we were somewhere near the restaurant Lucy had recommended for lunch. We even found the right intersection, but not the Hunan. Eventually we settled for Hong Kong (cuisine or restaurant name? Maybe both) where they served three courses, if you count jello as a course, which on the whole we didn't, for $3.50. We then wandered round Chinatown, looking at the tack, trying to sell each other stuff. Lilian sold me a purse for holding jewellery, but then sold herself several more of them (I have a built-in advantage at this game) and a map of the world in Chinese (little realising that one day she would have a boyfriend who was a lecturer in Chinese, who could supply her with all the Chinese junk she could ever want! ) We also watched a man finger-painting (how does he get the line so fine?) and freaked out over Chinese computer books, with the explanations in Chinese and actual programming stuff in English. After a while, it began to seem like there was no escape from Chinatown. We kept coming back to the same little park full of China men (and, bizarrely, a statue of Robert Louis Stevenson) and it was only by a real effort of will that we made it into the Italian sector (Italytown?) where we spent an hour mastering a peach sorbet (or, if truth be told, resting our poor tired touristing feet).
After all this wandering around it was time to navigate ourselves off to Lucy's office to meet up with her and Rich Coad. If Lilian found it a strain meeting up with Rich, whom she had once been married to in a fanzine, she didn't let it show. Lucy was taking us to the infamous Tonga Rooms, which she enthused about lovingly. "It's really over the top. They even have fake thunder storms! " The whole place was done out as a kind of subterranean Polynesian theme bar, with Polynesian rigging and bush umbrellas. Every so often, when they were feeling generous, they would run the storm sequence and we would get a tightly focused rain storm complete with thunder and lightning in one corner of the room.
After getting ourselves cocktails, we were joined by "Denise Rehse's niece Therese", Denise herself and Sonya (Rich's real wife). Therese was dark and languorous, Denise sharp and energetic, and Sonya was calm, though she did keep eating everyone's fruit from the cocktails, especially the cherries. Therese gave Lucy a late birthday present, mainly consisting of fish in some form or other. What did it all mean? Was it connected to Joe Wesson being the fish deity? And why was Joe Wesson the fish deity? But the crazy theme park world of the Tonga Rooms did not seem the right place to ask for sensible explanations. Instead, we all went to grab the free appetizers, piling up our plates with breaded zucchini, battered mushrooms and chicken pieces (rather reminiscent of that Cheers episode where they all desert Sam's establishment to go to the trendy cocktail bar with the good munchies -- but that too was to be in the future.) Every so often there would be another rain storm. After two cocktails this almost seemed natural.
Eventually even the wonders of the Tonga Rooms began to pall and the others went home, while Lucy took us up to the Starlite Rooms overlooking the city where we had one of those really good conversations about parents, life, love, and maybe even fanzines (though I wouldn't guarantee it).
THURSDAY 25th August
As old hands at this business of navigating round San Francisco, we headed out with confidence to Fisherman's Wharf. This time the cable cars were actually running, and needless to say, crowded with tourists. It was a bit like going on a very slow roller coaster ride. Fisherman's Wharf turned out to be infinitely tacky. All the museums looked like amusement arcades and all the stalls sold cheap trash and take-away seafood. But what else should we have expected? At least the marinas round the piers were quite pretty. Eventually we found a lido and a beach, and I proved that I was more of a fool than Lilian by going swimming. I think she was put off by the fact that the only place to change was a very public toilet with no lock on it! This was one of those very rare days for San Francisco when it was completely clear and sunny, so I was subsequently able to freak people out by claiming, truthfully, that I had got my sun tan on a beach in San Francisco. In fact, we soon retreated from the beach to a nearby park where we got to know the repertoire of the busker by the cable car stop extremely well (Stray Cats was his best and Yesterday his worst!). Lucy's bread ticket (whatever that was!) entitled us to a half price tour of the Bay which of course, no self respecting visitor to San Francisco can do without. So, it was under Golden Gate Bridge (hold on, it's choppy!), up to the Bay Bridge, round Alcatraz, cameras clicking all the way. Lilian kept telling me off for not taking enough pictures. It was true that I was still on my first film to approximately her third, but then I didn't know how to take the film out of the camera, so was not going to use it all up on the backs of the baseball caps of my fellow passengers. The commentary was pre-recorded and sporadic. Every time it stopped there was a ding! not dissimilar to that made by the cable cars as they picked up passengers. Lilian's theory was that everything in San Francisco was trying to sound like a cable car.
We dined Mexican on the famous Pier 39 -- half price with the ferry tickets, then to complete the tour of the famous bits of San Francisco went off in search of the famous wiggly bit of Lombard Street. More importantly still, we made it to the Comic Shop ten minutes before closing time, so that Lilian could restock on Omaha The Cat Dancer (the then trendy, but difficult to get through customs, comic).
Back at Lucy's there was consternation -- Greg Pickersgill was going to the Worldcon! Lucy was on the phone half the night to her network of friends, working herself into a pre-convention frenzy. "This time next week we'll be partying our brains out!" she exclaimed to Phil Palmer. There was even a call from Joe Wesson, her Alabama sweetie. Baby, baby, baby! Lucy was just real excited. In the midst of so much happening, Lilian and I managed to find it noteworthy that we were getting our first door-to-door pizza delivery. Clearly such things were unknown in our own home towns at this time. It seemed like a good system -- the pizza boy delivered the wrong type of pizza so we got an extra one free. This could really catch on, I thought.
FRIDAY 26th August
Another day of hectic tourist activity, this time spent at the Golden Gate Park, mainly in the Academy of Science, where we "did" the gemstone collection, the aquarium, the fish roundabout, the planetarium, and, of course, the shop. Lilian bought a T-shirt. I failed to buy another film.
Back at Lucy's, Lucy was busy cutting up fruit and John was out buying pie. The dinner party guests were some friends of theirs called Terry and Pam, and their kid Alex. Alex went mad playing with Lucy's Flying Penguin toy while the rest of us ate M&Ms (Lucy's party theory being that you should indulge in all the foods you can't justify normally.) Lucy's chicken was covered in hot Vietnamese sauce and was delicious. The chocolate silk pie was even better. (But what happened to the fruit? Was it in the Vietnamese sauce? Did she make fruit punch? My notes as ever are coy on these important points).
Soon after we had scoffed all the best food, more people arrived and we were swamped in fun and excitement. (That's what my notes say. Honest.) We met Brad and Wendy who had offered us accommodation (so I really ought to remember their surname) and Donya and Alan (ditto, though of course because I know them now, I find it totally unnecessary to mention their surname here, on the assumption that everyone knows them just as well as me -- which judging by their recent mammoth tour of Great Britain, they probably do!). Donya told me about Apanage, the children's fantasy apa -- which interestingly enough, if I had signed up for there and then I might by now be within striking distance of the top of the waiting list. Tom Whitmore offered to help out in the TAFF/DUFF auction, which immediately made him popular with Lilian and I. Alan Bostick wore a Godzilla T-shirt, which I doubt had a similar effect. Dave Clark handed out the Bay area listing which I dutifully used to tick off the names of the people at Lucy's gathering (but have long since lost!). So fascinated was I by the great variety of apas available in the States that I began to collect them -- a music apa, APA 50 (for people born after 1950, not people over 50, I believe). Then Jon Singer came in and we collapsed into back rubs. Photos were taken of what looks like mass orgies on Lucy's sofabed, wine was drunk, wine was spilt and we were drunk. Eventually Sharee Carton and her husband turned up much to everyone's excitement. (I think this note implies they were excited about Sharee who was a tall, beautiful looking woman.) When most of the people had gone, Sharee showed us her snake tattoo, which went all the way round her body. This was in some ways a bad night to stay up drinking to all hours, since we had to get a bus to Allyn Cadogan's house the next day, but needless to say we hardly gave it a thought at the time. Little did we realise that Allyn was throwing a party for us the next afternoon...
More to follow, in the next exciting instalment. Maybe next issue? I'll see what the response to this part is. If you're all bored brainless by the events of six/seven years ago, then I'll have to try and do something more exciting.