When I returned home at last from my underground misadventures, I discovered that due to the vagaries of babysitters and parental logistics, a friend who hoped she could, would not, after all, be able to join me at the theatre the next night. I sent a confessional "I just got on the wrong train" email to my MoMa companion and inquired whether, if he had not yet grown sick of me, he would like to come to the play.
He would, he said.
We planned that I would come meet him immediately after work and we would walk to the theatre together. He knew of a restaurant along the way where he suggested we have dinner. He even offered to let me park in his garage to avoid being ticketed since he lives in the huge swath of San Francisco that allows only for two-hour parking between 9am-9pm. This was as tidy a plan as I could have hoped for. I like having a plan.
I had never been to his house, but it was only a dozen blocks from my school and I could picture the corner very clearly, having turned there innumerable times. There is a very large block of new(ish) condos there, converted from what used to be a university extension campus. I don't much care for these condos, much as I do not care for any of the new condos that are proliferating all over the city, looking both identically "modern" and, to me, cheap. Mind you, in terms of rent, they are the opposite of cheap, which is exactly why I think they ought to look better than they do. When my friend told me he lived on this corner, I felt a pang of disappointment, in fact, as if keeping my friends from living in it would somehow cause this building to cease existing.
The complex is so large that it has addresses on three different streets. I assumed that the parking garage would be similarly baroque, so I parked temporarily on the street until I could get the lowdown from my friend. I walked down the block of my friend's street and was baffled to discover that his address did not exist. The door that I assumed would be his turned out to be #155, but his address is #200.
Here are things I knew from conversation the night before:
1. He had lived in the building a comparatively short time.
2. The building had a roof terrace.
3. The building had a garage.
Here are the things that meant he must indubitably live in the building at 155 even though his address was 200:
1. The building had only existed for a short time, so there was no way he could have lived there a long time.
2. The building had a flat roof.
3. The building had a garage.
I walked up and down the block growing increasingly bewildered. The next building after #155 is, mysteriously, #65. I walked back toward the complex and up the huge flight of stairs between its various buildings. The addresses got farther from 200 and swiftly attributed to another street altogether. I asked a passerby for help, but he didn't live there. I walked back to #65 in case it had become #200 in the last four minutes. A girl with a yoga mat asked if she could help. I repeated my mystery and we walked back up the block together as she peered hopefully at the same buildings I had recently peered hopefully at myself. She was sympathetic and wished me well. I approached a lady sitting with her laptop on her tiny porch. She didn't know either, but suggested I go ask the attendant in the parking garage. I was very heartened to learn that there was an attendant in the parking garage. He would solve all my problems.
I walked the half-block back to the garage and found the attendant. "I'm sorry to bother you. I'm supposed to meet my friend at #200, but I can't find the address and I don't have his phone number. Do you have some kind of tenant list? Could we call him?" "Hmmm," he said. "There may be a list, but I don't know where. It's my first day. We could page my manager! ...But he probably won't call for like an hour." He suggests we ask a lady who was just getting out of her car. "Excuse me?" he says. She glares at us. "Sorry," I say. I'm looking for #200." "This is #155." she says, as if reciting her own address is the most unreasonably taxing thing she's been asked to do all day.
Since the attendant and I already knew that this was #155, we are not all that encouraged. He brightens, though, and suggests that he look up the address on a map. We walk back out to the sidewalk and he points out that if this is #155, then #200 would have to be on the other side of the street. While this is in keeping with the logic of all city streets, it is completely at odds with my unwavering certainty that my friend lives in these condos. Nevertheless, we both peer at the buildings across the street, none of which look like condos with accessible roofs. What's more, the numbering of their addresses includes even more erratic leaps than from 155 to 65.
He inputs the address into his phone and we share what is both a Eureka moment and a total dismantling of everything I think I understand. I am in the wrong block. He points up the hill and diagonally across the street. "It should be that white building," he tells me. I thank him profusely and make my way toward my new, un-condo-looking, garage-less destination. There is a small side door at #200 directing delivery people around the corner to a completely different address on the intersecting street. I stare at this sign for a longish while, willing it to say something else. Something like my friend's name or maybe building regulations regarding the roof terrace.
I walk up and down the block a bit, just in case a condo suddenly materializes and then I give up. I'm already a half an hour late and all I can think to do is go back to work and send an email admitting defeat. I get back in my car and on the seat is the scrap of paper on which I had written the address which is, in fact, #201.
And there, right on the corner where it is meant to be, across the block-dividing street from the new condo complex, is a respectable San Franciscan-looking building, all bay windows and contrasting trim, whose Italianate facade disguises the secret flatness of its roof.
I panicked anew looking at the bank of unmarked doorbells, until I saw one helpfully labeled with my friend's name. When he came down to open the garage for me I uncorked a babbling stream of apology, concern for my obviously rapidly diminishing sanity, and self loathing for not having had the tiny fleck of intelligence required to have asked for his phone number. "Oh." he said when I finally paused to breathe, "I put my number in the last email I sent you."
He stood by his open garage while I went to get my car. But as I turned into the driveway, the parking space directly outside his front door opened up. According to the street sign, unlike the vexing 9pm cutoff on every other block in the neighborhood, this one required a residential permit only until 6pm. By this point profoundly skeptical about my ability to park in a garage and later find my way back out. I snagged it.
As we walk to the restaurant, my friend explains to me that when hikers or other outdoor adventurers do what I've been doing for the last two days, that is, deciding that their own certainty about direction trumps all evidence to the contrary, it's called bending the map. Generally, of course, this happens on an unmarked trail, where every step in the wrong direction may be leading you closer to your untimely death. But I like to think it takes someone special to do it at home in a well-mapped metropolis where each false conclusion radically increases the likelihood of two perfectly good theatre tickets going to waste.