The San Francisco Treat: Part One

"For God's sake, Alcatraz, prisoners. Prisoners, Alcatraz."


It begins, innocently enough, with a Facebook message. STC’s boyfriend, Matt1, wants to surprise her with a birthday weekend a thousand miles away, and he wants you and The Onion Juggler in on it. You think this is a fantastic idea, because STC is one of your oldest and closest friends and deserves nothing less; you haven’t seen The OJ in more than a year, because she lives in the godless north (or Ohio, whatever); and Matt1 is quickly becoming your hero. Yes, you say. Count me in. And so the planning commences.

Here’s the thing: keeping a secret is hard. It’s especially hard when the secret involves plane tickets, hotel reservations, time off work, four people in three cities. You will almost spoil the surprise approximately thirty-seven times. The others will too. You and The OJ will call each other and giggle about the close calls. There will be a panic one afternoon, the three masterminds frantically Facebook-messaging each other back and forth, when it looks like STC can’t get the necessary day off work and everything is ruined; luckily, this will be a false alarm. You should win an Oscar for all the IM conversations you have with STC, not to mention that time you had coffee with her and Matt1, mere weeks before the trip, where you managed to keep a straight face while she complained about missing The OJ and hoped to see her soon, where you managed to avoid knocking over your coffee and shouting “WE’RE TAKING YOU TO SAN FRANCISCO.” Seriously. You’d like to see Meryl Streep top that shit.

And suddenly, after months of planning and secrecy, it’s The Big Day and you’re driving to the airport, squinting against the early-morning sun. It feels like you’re getting away with something, because you know at that moment your coworkers are eating breakfast or sitting in traffic on their way to the office, while you’re barreling east on Peña Boulevard with your carry-on in the passenger’s seat, rocking out to…to…what is this song, anyway? The hell, iPod? You didn’t think you even owned any rap. Whatever. You will gladly listen to all the rap in the world, because you’re headed to the airport. You have a ticket to a city you’ve never seen before, and you’re going in the company of some of your best friends, and the sun is shining and you’re so young and cool and it feels like someone else’s life, someone else’s story, and you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thanks to some stealth texting, you discover that Matt1 and STC are running late. You might have to scrap your elaborate text message/phone call/“it’s coming from inside the house” plan to surprise her with your presence, which is lame, but somehow, she STILL doesn’t know that her boyfriend isn’t, in fact, taking her for a romantic weekend in the mountains, and she doesn’t know that they’re going to have company. Oh yes, this is going to be good. Once you get to the concourse, you get a coffee and hide behind a column and hope that when they arrive, STC is too freaked out by the fact that she’s in the airport to recognize the back of your head.

Your flight starts boarding. You sit gripping your cell phone, anxiously awaiting text-message updates from Matt1. “Found parking.” “In line at security.” You wonder, vaguely, whether STC is getting suspicious about all his texting. You wonder how long that damn concourse train can take. You regret drinking that coffee, because you have to pee, again, and they could be here ANY SECOND. You pee anyway. They’re still not here. Your flight’s still boarding. You start to sweat.

Finally: there they are THERE THEY ARE quick FOLLOW THEM. STC looks so confused. Hee. This is exactly as excellent as you’d hoped. Matt1 and STC get in the boarding line for the flight, and you sidle up behind them, grinning ear to ear, completely forgetting the clever lines you planned, and say something lame like “fancy meeting you guys here.” It doesn’t matter. STC squeaks and, by pure reflex, hugs you.

She doesn’t get it, quite: “What are you…doing here?” You stare at her. And gesture vaguely to the line the three of you are standing in. Her expression as she figures it out is adorable. You wish you were quicker on the draw with your camera.

The flight itself passes uneventfully enough. Your seat is on the opposite side of the plane from STC and Matt1, so you sip your ginger ale and read your fancy architecture magazine and hope that the other passengers in your row are duly impressed with your worldly, designerly ways. Ha. You’ve never flown west of Colorado before, aside from a trip to Seattle in high school, and out the window you watch the wondrous, alien landscapes of Utah and Nevada scroll past. After the veritable troop movement it took to organize the trip, it’s at once strange and satisfying to be stuck in this air-travel limbo. The OJ is due to arrive in San Francisco twenty minutes before the three of you, and you will fret, when you land, about how she’s planning her Big Reveal, and whether it will work, but for the moment, you can’t do a thing about it. Just put the iPod on shuffle and imagine living another life in the desert below.

As the plane starts its descent, you look out the window again. The ground looks, in places, just like Colorado, all dry hills and junipers, and for a moment you are displaced from your displacement. (Meta, dude.) You remember that The OJ is waiting for you, probably, and the second the plane’s landing gear touch earth you turn your phone on to see if she’s texted you. She has: “In position.” You wonder what that means, precisely, but you figure she’s got it under control. Waiting in the aisle to leave the plane, you look back and exchange a knowing glance with Matt1. And then—wait, how did STC get so far ahead of you? She’s booking it up the jetway, leaving you and Matt1 stuck in a chatty, slow-moving group of Chinese tourists, and you panic that you’ll miss the next crucial part of the surprise. It mustn’t be.

On the concourse, you catch up to STC just in time. She steps out into the main walkway; she looks to the right, around a shop corner. She turns left. You hear The OJ protest “HEY,” and see her step out from around the corner—STC looked right at her. Didn’t even register. STC double-takes, laughs, and: starts crying. Heeeeeeee hee hee. “I hate you guys!” she wails, and you and Matt1 can’t stop laughing, and it’s so good to see The OJ, and somehow, perfectly, the four of you are in San Francisco.

You did it. You pulled off the biggest, best surprise you’ve ever been a part of, except maybe your mom’s 50th birthday party, which still lives in family-history infamy; you made an avowed anti-crying friend cry in public; you’re in a beautiful city with three excellent people. You will be tempted to rule that the planning of it, all that work and skullduggery and tingly anticipation, was the best part. But that’s only because you’re just on Day One of the weekend.

Part Two: coming soon.


4 Responses to “The San Francisco Treat: Part One”

    • 2 Colin September 12, 2010 at 7:23 pm

      I just realized how unflattering the abbreviation “The OJ” could be. Hee. Sorry, hon. Hey everyone: I DON’T MEAN SIMPSON.

      …Or orange juice, for that matter, although that’s not quite as unfortunate an association.

  1. 3 pianola September 12, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    This made me laugh out loud several times and grin for the rest of the time I was reading it. You guys are all awesome. Can’t wait to read about the rest of the trip! XOXOXO

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