10th June 2017
Just a few days after Gregory posted out podcast conversation online, he messaged me to say that he would be in staying in San Francisco with a guy named Jason from the LLI group within the next few days. I asked him to let me know if he would be around when I had a couple of days off, which was this last Friday. That morning, I had a look at my transportation and hotel options, and decided to just go for it and try staying in a hostel for the first time!
By the time I arrived at 200 Folsom Street on the Greyhound, it had been decided that we would meet up somewhere near my hostel. I decided to walk the several blocks instead of waiting for transit. While I was walking, Gregory messaged asking if I could meet them at the Pause Wine Bar. I said sure, I’ll look it up.
I arrived at the hostel, provided my bank card for the $32 stay, and gave the little Philipino guy $10 in cash for the room key. It read “307.” He handed me bundled red sheets, and I headed up the winding back stairs. The place was dank, but kept well enough for one night. I found my room at the very end of the hall on the third floor and walked in to find a rotund woman in her mid 50s sitting on the bottom bunk nearest the door. I returned her greeting, and asked if she’s ever stayed in a hostel before. She said she’s stayed in one in Ireland as well, thanks to her three daughters, who had been there with her this time for the previous three days.
I took the valuables out of my backpack, left it and my sheets atop the mattress, and found an available bathroom before looking at the map Gregory sent to set a course for the wine bar. It was just a few blocks away. I passed a reeking tent city on the way there, tucked back into a quiet alleyway. The roads all stank like piss and beer, and the pedestrians were all fiercely avoiding eye contact with the homeless, but nothing could spoil my positive mood at being out on my own again!
I arrived at the wine bar about 12 minutes later and immediately spotted them sitting at a corner table. They had already ordered a flatbread pizza. I greeted them, sat down beside Gregory, and formally introduced myself to Jason. I asked what led him to the LLI group, why he never spoke, and about his work.
I ordered a glass of bold Zinfandel and munched on a slice of the flatbread pizza.
Jason said that he and Gregory had only encountered one source of conflict. He feels emotions very deeply but can’t explain all of them, while Gregory doesn’t feel as much, but he can explain them in great detail. But Jason was frustrated because Gregory was only able to describe the most basic emotions without what he felt was depth. He asked me about my thoughts on the matter.
I told him that he’s describing the difference between affective and cognitive empathy. I told him it was obvious to me that he feels emotions around him easily, and I pointed out his nervousness and general anxiety. I then suggested that Gregory has likely developed cognitive empathy to understand emotions he doesn’t feel, or feel strongly, so that he can interact with other people more easily.
I explained the difference between me and a few people I know well: they feel everything intensely and deeply, while I feel everything except most forms of fear, but it dissipates quickly. I told them it was basically the same issue because I could objectively analyze an emotion they were feeling, which is exceedingly difficult to do while they’re feeling it. I described how I’ve been developing my understanding of emotions via cognitive empathy throughout my life because I’ve always felt very alien, and I wanted to be able to get along with any and every sort of person.
Jason said he’s a software engineer working for a small startup, and before that, he worked for Twitter for a few years. I asked him why he left and he said Twitter was going downhill, the stock tanked as a result, and everyone he knew when he worked there has now left.
The bar was getting unbearably loud, so we all agreed to find greener pastures, preferably which provided tequila. We walked a block, stood around awkwardly for about ten minutes, and finally decided to catch an Uber to the Cigar Bar.
There was a $10 cover because they had a live band playing salsa music. When we pulled out our IDs, Gregory showed me that he’s a citizen now of three countries, and is working on the fourth. Neither of them was interested in dancing, so we hung out, had drinks, people watched, and talked.
We found a relatively quiet table in the back corner of a room open to the courtyard, where everyone was sampling cigars. I offered them a mini cigar each and we lit up, then realized that we were under an emergency sprinkler head. We decided against temptation and stepped out of the ceiling to floor open window into the courtyard.
We went and checked out the dancing in the next room, which was painfully graceless, then went to the bar. Gregory had mentioned Pisco at the wine bar, which I’ve never had, so I ordered it in a cocktail. He settled on the same, and Jason bought a neat scotch. We went back to our little corner table.
There was a couple on a date at the next table. I had been watching them since they arrived maybe twenty minutes earlier. The girl was showing increasing disinterest, and the guy was desperately trying to force an intimate feeling. I pointed out the details to the guys and asked how these things wouldn’t be obvious to anyone. She was leaning away from him, kept looking at her phone, and when he scooted in next to her instead of staying sat across, she started flicking her eyes around toward the exits.
This led to a discussion on attraction and sexual orientation. Gregory basically described his relationship style like mine: A decision beyond basic instinct to be with someone for more than sex. Jason described a few facets of his relationship journey, and intimated that he wants to find someone with whom he has a deeper connection.
Gregory talked about meeting his current girlfriend in a club in Spain. They’ve been staying together in Ecuador for a while now, but she’s going back to her home for an unspecified amount of time. I asked him how he felt about being thousands of miles away from her. He said it’s difficult not to have the physical intimacy, but it’s good to have time away to grow individually before coming back together again.
They were both showing signs of being tired at this point, which was just after midnight. Jason decided to leave us to it, and wandered off for a night cap. We landed in an Uber.
We had a rideshare with a talkative Philipino couple. Gregory allowed me to have the front seat and squeezed into the back with them. He told them about his travels there, where he apparently stayed to explore several months. They got off at the Holiday Inn on Market Street, which was near my hostel, so I got out there as well. Gregory and I shook hands through his window, and he invited me to visit him in Ecuador.
I walked back to the hostel, tried to make my bed quietly and failed massively because it was so unstable, and finally fell asleep in my day outfit. I woke up just after six in the morning, waited for seven to check out, and went exploring the city alone for the first time in my life.
Most of my exploration occurred at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. If you haven’t ever been, it is definitely worth $25. I spent nearly five hours exploring six floors and dining at their café. I recommend the curry soup.
After I finished drinking in all of the art and culture my mind could process, I walked to Pier 14, where a newlywed couple was becoming more and more agitated at their failed effort to have photos taken professionally without interruption. Passersby didn’t seem to care about being in the way, and neither the couple nor the photographer and his assistant were attempting to communicate their intentions. I watched them and a drone a boy was flying about for a little while, enjoying the sea breeze, then headed off to peruse the nearby market. There was a woman there selling mini cheesecakes, so I tried a butterscotch one.
As I walked over to the Greyhound station, I realized that most of the frustration I’ve been feeling lately had vanished. Apparently, I needed to travel again more than I realized! It may not have been a long journey, but now I can say that I’ve truly seen San Francisco, and had the hostel experience.