“Western Australia,” she said. “Perth?” I replied. “Perfect,” I told the stranger. “We were looking for Australians.”
We were looking for Aussies because our motley crew of travelers had already gathered an Olympic level of nomads: Irish, English, French, one Swede and a solitary American. The French had given up early—before we wandered the four blocks to Polk Street—but we strongly suspected the Aussies, if we could find them, would be a good time. Somewhere in the chilly San Francisco night, we found them.
It’s a strange thing to be a foreigner in your own country.
I came to San Francisco yesterday to meet a Tennessee friend for dinner and to help with a Photoshop project. With all of the nearby campsites booked (a shame because they’re on the bay with perfect views of the city), my friend recommended that I find a hostel. So, for the contextually exorbitant rate of $57, I grabbed the top bunk in the basement of an aging building in a San Francisco alleyway. A man with a heavy British accent greeted me behind the check-in counter, took a $10 cash deposit and sent me downstairs, “through the kitchen” and into the Golden Gate room at the Adelaide Hostel.
It was money well spent.
The Adelaide comes replete with a full selection of bagels, a few community showers and your assignment of nine roommates. At roughly 10:00 p.m., the place was bustling. The kitchen was full of like-minded, weary travelers from around the globe.
I was the only American, and perhaps a bit of a novelty.
“You all have guns!” exclaimed the Swede. “Why?”
“Bears,” I replied. “What if I get attacked by a bear?”
“You stand still and the bear doesn’t attack you!”
Until this year, the last reported fatal bear attack in Sweden was in 1902.
“I lost my phone in Vegas,” laughed a Brit. “You know what? I don’t even care! We only stayed three days but I want to stay forever.”
“Be careful! That’s a strong drink,” she said to the Frenchman. “I know what it is!” he scoffed, glancing sullenly at a notoriously weak bottle of Smirnoff Ice.
“Half Dome,” quipped the brown-haired Irish girl. “We’re going to Yosemite this week and we want to climb Half Dome. Do you think the mosquitos will be mad? They were awful in New York.”
And so the night rolled on. First in the kitchen under the stairs, then to Polk Street and after a few American interventions with panhandlers, safely back to the Adelaide—no bears, no guns. The group, by that point, had split up. I wandered in sometime around two. By 7:00 a.m., I was down the road at a suburban San Francisco coffee shop, busy at work, a little dizzy from the night before, and hoping, maybe, to meet the Irish at Yosemite.