07-16-06: 366 days to John

This past weekend, I headed to San Francisco to meet up with John. Our goal for the weekend was not just to catch up (it had been a whole year since we'd seen each other), but mainly to practice pinball at the California Extreme, in preparation for the World Pinball Championships happening in August. If John and I were going to win the title, we had to practice, right?

To refresh your memory, John and I broke up in May of 2005. The last time we saw each other was July 4th, 2005. He moved to Austin from San Francisco in August of 2005 and got a radiology job, according to The Plan.

Lately, he and I have been talking more and more on the phone, and it's funny: I think we like each other a whole heck of a lot more now that we've learned to relax around each other. I still am not sure why I'm so relaxy-loosey-goosey around everyone I meet (new friends, partners, business associates), but I was always so uptight around John. It's amazing how much easier things are when you're not busy being your own firewall, monitoring every inbound particle and only letting certain packets out. But in this John/Jill version 2.0 thing we've got now, I am just entirely me, without a second guess. It feels good to finally show him all of me, as opposed to a rough approximation of myself. It was awesome. I'm so happy we graduated.

Anyhoo, we agreed that it'd be cheapest to just share a hotel room and a rental car in San Francisco. We got clearance from our significant others, but probably raised a few eyebrows among onlookers who couldn't believe that our SO's actually gave their approval. None of their business, frankly.

As my plane descended into San Francisco, I saw the office complex in San Mateo where I almost took that job with Enterpulse/Visa. That was kinda surreal. I thought to myself, "At this moment, had things been different, I'd be thinking that I'm going home right this moment, as opposed to flying here for a visit." Nuttay.

I landed and BARTed up to the supremely cool Hotel Triton, and was met shortly thereafter by the fabulous Mike Schulte. It is always so great to see him-- he lights up the place, you know? We walked to dinner at Café Claude -- it was absolutely amazing -- and then had some espresso at the patisserie next door to the hotel while we waited for John to drive up from the airport.

I admit I was a little nervous. Would it feel weird to be back in "our" old city, visiting old haunts and playing tandem pinball like we used to, but this time with no smooching? Would I accidentally slip, just out of some Pavlovian habit? When John pulled up to the hotel, my heart almost leaped out of my chest-- I was so happy to see him! It felt great to hug him-- and I must admit he looked cute with his goatee. :-)   We brought his bags up to the room and started to plan our evening.

First off, we headed out to Soren and Kathryn's place to drop off 8 pounds of Amish Bacon (which sounds like a euphemism for something, but I assure you, it really was 8 pounds of smoked bacon purchased at an Amish farmers market in Dover, Delaware) on our way to Thieves Tavern. There, we watched two guys playing Attack from Mars -- these guys loved pinball seemingly as much as us. They were awesome. They told us of The Legend of Woo: apparently there is this guy who makes high scores all over the city using the initials "WOO." We stood in awe of his high numbers and hoped we wouldn't run into him at the World Pinball Championships next month.

The guys asked John and I if we wanted to play a 4-player game, but we said we'd play a 3-player game, with John and I playing tandem as one person. They thought it was cool. I was nervous-- we hadn't played in over a year, and our first game was competitive-- albeit playful and buzzed.

When John and I walked up to that machine to play, the adrenaline was screaming in my veins... this was the moment of truth. What if we sucked? What if I psyched myself out? What if I made a bonehead shot and I spent an hour flogging myself and feeling small? Good thing: None of that happened. We played great -- I think better than we ever have -- and I think it's largely because I didn't feel like our entire relationship was in jeopardy if I didn't hit a ramp just right. We both made idiot shots, and the good news is, it didn't matter. It was all good.

The next morning (Friday), we had brunch at Zazie, and hopped next door to our old haunt, Finnegan's Wake, to visit our favorite Attack From Mars machine. It was in terrible, terrible disrepair; like, visually damaged. My heart sank; it was like seeing a sick relative or something. The adjacent machine was Road Show, and we did so well on that machine that we left it with 4.5 credits remaining because we were pinballed out.

We farted around the Haight for a while and went shopping at John Fluevog, where John bought a sweeeeet pair of square-toed shoes, and I salivated over the pretty things; but I held my wallet firmly. Afterwards, we went to the new DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park and beheld the magic there; I loved the black and white photography (surprise, surprise) and especially the glass sculptures. I also got a kick out of the totally pretentious pieces that I didn't understand (which is, of course, why they're pretentious... haha). In the DeYoung tower, we enjoyed the view of SF from way up high, and spent a goodly amount of time checking out the GIANT aerial map of SF, finding John's old house and other landmarks. We became peckish so we went o'er to Naan and Curry and saw the hot, singing Indian guy who works there. With a belly full of chicken and rice (and thankfully no lactose), we went back to the hotel for naps and woke up rejuvenated and ready for our night in Alameda.

We headed down to John Patrick's, a dive bar where Pirate expertly tends bar. Lucky for us, there was no band scheduled to play that night, so we were able to talk and catch up a bit. We had a beverage and then headed to Ujuju to get our clunkies on,and enjoyed the new room they added to house some early 80s machines (Black Knight: yay!). I also enjoyed Captain Fantastic; I hadn't played that table much before, but I really had fun with it. Once the place closed, we went back to Pirate's bar let him test out his drink mixing skillz on us, while we all seranaded each other to the tunes in the Internet Jukebox. It was especially delicious to belt Billy Joel tunes and watch John squirm. Good times.

The next morning (Saturday) we got started on the main reason for this California trip: to attend California Extreme, which is a pinball and classic video game expo in San Jose. We wanted to get some practice time in for the upcoming PAPA 9 World Pinball Championships in August, which are happening in Pittsburgh. John and I want to compete as a team, so we had to work on getting our tandem magic back.

The place was mobbed, but so chock full good pinball and great classic arcade games that I didn't care. We played a lot of Dr. Who, as well as a lot of this old vector game, Quantum. I had never heard of Quantum before, but it rocked my world and I could see myself becoming addicted to it. We also met up with Soren and Kathryn, as well as a bunch of their friends-- it was great to finally put the names to the faces I'd heard so much about (Tobias, Sandwich, creepyanonymous and magpiebofh) plus we grabbed some lunch with Kim and RonE at Original Joe's or whatever the heck the place was called.

Anyway: John and I played a ton of pinball, and I was very happy to have shown him the two-player table Joust pinball that I'd been kvelling about for the last year. Also got to play some Berzerk, though sadly my skills are so far below my 5th-grade Florham Park roller rink standards, when I'd get to SuperFast on my first guy. Damnnnnnnn, I'm getting old, yo.   We ate dinner at some cheezy (but tasty) pita place and we played pinball until they kicked us out at midnight. We wound up back in San Fran around 1am-ish, so we finished our evening at Bobby's Owl Tree with an adult beverage or 4, and basked in the bobble.


Here's John's recap of Saturday.

On Sunday (7/9), we met Soren, Kathryn and Jahne at their place and sauntered over to the Atlas Cafe for some boys-against-the-girls brunch. Tasty treats were had, and we said our goodbyes as John and I headed back down to San Jose for Day 2 of California Extreme. All in all, we played a ton more pinball and felt pretty good about how we'd do once we got to Pittsburgh.

John drove me to the airport for my red-eye flight, and I couldn't help but think how different this felt from all the other times he dropped me off at the airport during all our visits the previous year. Smiles and hugs abounded.

We are going to kick some metric arse in Pittsburgh, I can feel it. I can't wait!

Good times. Good times.