The Value of an Hour

I covered a lot of territory last night while I was flying home from San Francisco — not only literally, but thought-wise, as well.

It’s amazing how much the mind can think about when it’s not at rest.

The skies looked turbulent and threatening as we took off, and as I was blankly staring out the window while going back over the day in my mind, my eyes focused on the tiny beads of water speeding across the window just after take-off. Around 15,000 feet, I realized how much it was raining outside; the engine just beyond my window was shiny and wet, and when you’re flying at a few hundred miles per hour through inclement weather, you feel somewhat off balance when you realize the rain appears to be blowing perfectly horizontally across the sky.

I did a quick rewind and remembered staying up in South San Francisco a year ago with a friend and my parents for my cousin’s wedding in the city. The night before the celebration, he and I found a restaurant with a water view just south of the airport and enjoyed extra dirty martinis and beef carpacchio while watching the planes on their approach into SFO. I have a gray, typically Northern California photo of the green foliage just outside our restaurant window that seems to disappear into darker gray water. The clouds above were a lighter gray.

Everything was gray.

Everything was beautiful.

I thought back to last summer when I spent a few months interviewing at an agency adjacent to the Embarcadero, and I remembered — when I thought I might get the offer — how torn I felt to potentially be leaving Orange County and the part of Southern California I couldn’t wait to get home to each semester during my years at Michigan State, and when I was living briefly in Connecticut.

Still, I scoured the area for apartments. I crunched numbers, trying my best to replicate my living situation in Orange County in the Bay Area. It was difficult. But I kept crunching.

When I didn’t get the offer from that agency, it was the best feeling in the world — yet also the most disconcerting on a personal level. Did I really know so little about myself that I wasn’t aware of my true feelings until I had the decision made for me? Being told I didn’t get the job made me ecstatic. Not because I got to stay where I was working, but because I was able to continue building my life in the area where I was living.

I told my six-weeks-new boss the story as we flew up yesterday, and we decided that sometimes we just get so involved in the interview process because we’re in need of something different; we simply go through the steps and hope to come out the other side unscathed and happier. In my case, the excitement and prospect of something new was reverberating within me. At the same time, however, it was covering up my spirit’s true feelings.

I continued to stare out the window at the streaky, shimmering rain and remembered that everything last summer was about the Bay Area for me. I’d see Under the Tuscan Sun on TV repeatedly, and would stop to watch it each time it was on. I remembered that Diane Lane’s divorced character was from San Francisco and that she had the Fog City Diner cookbook. During my interview process, my mom had secretly ordered that same cookbook for me — it’s a restaurant that actually exists.

(It is charming, and I highly recommend you — yes, you — visit it.)

When I was up there in person for the interview, it’s where they took me to lunch.

And when I didn’t get the job, my mom gave me a congratulations card saying as much; it accompanied the cookbook I didn’t know she’d ordered. It was one of the best gifts ever.

One of the flight attendants came around to take drink orders, and I gave him my coupon for a free cocktail. I was surprised when he brought me a gin and tonic that he’d made, since I was hoping to have control over the liquor/mixer ratio. Secretly, I was bummed that I didn’t get a mini bottle of Tanqueray, but I decided to be OK with it since driving home was in my near future and I hadn’t had much to eat most of the day.

I continued looking outside and remembered my brother’s years in flight school, as well as our family trip in a four-seater Cessna to Fountainhead (?) for dinner when we visited him in Tulsa.

The flight attendant was back and noticed I’d only taken a few sips of my cocktail. He asked if I needed more mixer. I absolutely declined. It was the strongest gin and tonic I’d ever had, and suddenly I was glad he’d made it for me. I decided his pouring hand was the equivalent of a lead foot and, in keeping with this blog, I was thankful for it.

I pondered marriage and my thoughts about it.

I thought about my best friend living in New Jersey, and how much my heart misses him.

Because the clouds were so thick, I wondered if we were passing anywhere near Monterey’s Laguna Seca track, or if we were over the ocean or too far inland.

I eavesdropped on conversations. I discovered that our flight attendant can fly for free on any domestic flight, and when he flies abroad, only has to pay tax.

I learned that the man in seat 1F was forgettable; he got up to use the bathroom just after take-off, and nobody missed him. He came back after the drinks had been handed out, after the peanuts had been consumed and as the trash was being collected.

I was considering using the restroom before we landed, but I suddenly had no desire once we all realized how long he’d been gone.

Before I knew it, we were descending and the clouds instantly broke to reveal that we were low over the ocean and just beginning to bank towards land; three oil platforms glowed in a sea of blackness, their amber lights bouncing off of waves and their structures standing proud in the night ocean air.

I realized that the company I work at now is just under the flight path of planes making their approach into Orange County’s John Wayne Airport, and that if I was inside our agency’s kitchen, I’d be able to look up and see my plane overhead.

I tracked our route as we continued our descent; clouds filled my view once again — big, white, billowy clouds only a few thousand feet above the ground with nothing but the night sky overhead. I was sitting on the right side of the plane and should’ve been able to see Saddleback, but there were some cottony puffs in the way. Just as I gave thought to it, a cloud perfectly shaped like the mountain began to break apart and gave way to the dark outline of our two familiar peaks within the Santa Ana mountains. Saddleback was in view.

We landed, I got to my car and it began to rain as I left the parking deck. The weather had reached Orange County just as I had.

Last night when I walked in the door, my eyes fell upon my baker’s rack and the shelf of cookbooks which greets anyone who enters the house. The Fog City Diner cookbook was front and center, and its visibility made me smile. Who would’ve thought that almost a year later I’d be returning to the area that I thought for sure I’d be living in, but that I was now visiting because of a new job that has kept me even closer to the home I didn’t want to leave (but never knew)?

Tonight I am thankful for the value in an hour, for the reflection that it brought and for the exhausted yet happy heart that helped me fall asleep quickly last night. I would never have guessed last summer that I’d be where I am today, and that I’d be back to San Francisco once again but with a whole new perspective. The value in an hour is that it brings exactly that — a new angle at which to observe life, a new lens to look through and a delightful cocktail that makes the hodgepodge of thoughts go down that much more easily.

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