I was watching the movie “Bullitt” the other night, again, and thought of the last time I’d driven through the streets of San Francisco, around 13 years ago. KM, my wife, and I had planned that trip for years and it finally became a reality.
Our plane landed and I was hoping to get downtown and find our hotel before dark. I had reserved a Ford Fusion, which probably would have made Steve McQueen slap me. We made it to the Budget counter and I tried to hand the woman my credit card. She looked at me over her glasses and said, “I’m sorry sir but these people have been waiting.”
What people? I wondered, just as four bearded men walked up to the desk and began speaking something that sounded like a mix of European and English, with emphasis on the European. The Budget woman was having difficulty communicating with them, so she talked louder and slower, as if that might somehow magically translate her words. I looked out the window at the sky, and knew my fear of driving through the city in the dark, in search of the Hotel Rex, was about to become a reality.
The Budget woman was doing her best trying to convince the four men, who I was starting to think must be communists, that a Durango was every bit as good as a Caravan. One of them turned and looked at me, as if I would confirm it for him. Talking loudly and slowly I said, “VERY GOOD,” but he didn’t seem convinced and scowled at me. Looking down to my left I saw that the Hertz desk was open, and I told KM to stay in line with the luggage while I went and talked to them.
The Hertz clerk looked up at me and I told him what I needed, as his fingers began their nimble dancing over his keyboard.
“I have a Misubishi Eclipse you can have for $175 plus tax,” he told me in a “hurry up and decide” tone of voice. It was about $30 more than the Ford Fusion, which supposedly lay waiting for me down behind the Iron Curtain known as Budget. I wondered what Steve McQueen would do.
“You don’t have a 1968 Mustang GT do you? Preferably in black.”
He didn’t reply, staring back at me like I’d just swam over from Alcatraz.
“OK, I’ll take it,” I told him, and before I could say GPS he had snatched up my credit card and driver’s license, and his magic fingers were back at work.
When he handed me the key I walked back down amidst the growing international tension to retrieve my wife and luggage, so that we could begin our trip down the corridor, that would take us to the escalator, that would take us to a tram, that would take us to our Mitsubishi Eclipse, that would, God willing, drive itself to Union Square and our hotel, where a king-sized bed had my name on it.
We left the airport and were soon cruising north on Highway 101, towards downtown. The last time I had been in San Francisco was with my parents and brothers. Nixon was president. Bridge Over Troubled Water was the year’s best song and hangers-on from the “Summer of Love” still roamed through Haight-Ashbury. Thirty-six years later, I was looking at the darkness of the bay, as the nighttime traffic seemed like rush hour back home. Suddenly the sky lit up with a spectacular fireworks show and I told KM they were welcoming her to the greatest city in the world, which seemed to go over pretty well. At the next stop light I looked to my left and saw a white Dodge Durango. Inside were four scowling faces, which made mine smile.