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Living on empty

Started: 2018-08-13 20:31:19

Submitted: 2018-08-13 23:21:06

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator spends the first week of July living in an empty house

After returning from our week-long vacation to the Central California coast in June, Kiesa had just under a week to finish packing the house before the movers showed up on Thursday. I tried to remain out of the way: Our arrangement was that Kiesa wanted to move so she would attend to all of the logistical details so I didn't have to do anything. As the week progressed more and more of my stuff was packed away, except the things I marked to be carried by hand. Kiesa ended up staying up all night Wednesday night before the movers came.

The movers swept through the house like locust on the last Thursday in June, picking up most everything that wasn't nailed down and carting it off to storage in Burlingame. I returned home from work to find the house empty, bereft of the furnishings of home.

Empty dining room and kitchen at Louisburg
Empty dining room and kitchen at Louisburg

"My house is empty," I wrote on Twitter, "and so is my heart."

My children were running around the now-cavernous main level of the house, screaming as children do, their exuberance echoing off the walls unimpeded by furniture or carpeting.

I pulled up a tiny step stool to the far wall of the living room, where the TV used to sit, and fashioned a makeshift table out of unused packing boxes, which was good enough to eat supper that night.

Kiesa left on Friday, packing herself, our kids, and Sasa into the van to drive to Walla Walla (where our kids spent the next two weeks staying with my mother) and then Seattle, with an overnight stop in Bend. Kiesa ran out of space in the car and called me, in a bit of a panic, late in the morning to figure out how to put the small car-top carrier on the car for extra cargo space. I walked her through it, then told her to grab the extra set of van keys and give it to Sasa for safekeeping during the drive (with an SRE keychain -- because of course it is the N+1 keychain). I didn't want her to leave, to drive away and abandon San Francisco forever; but neither did I want her to lock herself out of the car somewhere by the highway in the middle of Oregon. (I still didn't have a job in Seattle, though by that point I had a verbal agreement with the manager of the team I'd eventually join.)

I got home from work on Friday evening and realized that I had nowhere to sit. I drove to REI and picked up a camp chair, which I expected would be relatively easy to stuff into my car whenever I left, and would presumably be useful in the future.

I rescued from the garage the second-hand carpet I bought when I first moved to Seattle (which ended up with a weird musty oder and had been banished to the garage for the past two years) and ended up with a passable living room.

Mostly-empty living room at Louisburg
Mostly-empty living room at Louisburg

I slept on a "Japanese futon", a thin sleeping mat lying directly on the floor, with plastic bins for my dresser. The mat was hard enough that it took some getting used to, though I did come to appreciate it.

Mostly-empty master bedroom at Louisburg
Mostly-empty master bedroom at Louisburg

I traded away my Saturday shift on-call and took an introductory kayak class at SeaTrek in Sausalito. In the morning we practiced paddling, drilling on different strokes for different situations. In the afternoon we practiced rescues from a flipped kayak, including self-rescue using a paddle float (which I wouldn't call precisely fun but it was satisfying to do it on my own) and an assisted T rescue with someone else still upright in their kayak.

After the class, I felt like I knew at least the first thing about kayaking -- enough to know that I do want to keep following this rabbit hole to see just how far it goes.

Matthew Turner and SeaTrek Kayak dock
Matthew Turner and SeaTrek Kayak dock

The kayak class was immediately in front of the Bay Model Visitor's Center (which I'd visited last year), so I nipped in for a quick walk around the model before returning to San Francisco.

National AIDS Memorial Grove
National AIDS Memorial Grove

While driving home through San Francisco, I dropped by the National AIDS Memorial Grove, a section of Golden Gate Park dedicated to honoring the story of the AIDS crisis in America in the 1980s, with the help of a mobile-accessible webpage that provided interpretation and context. (This was on my list of "stretch goals" on my todo list before leaving San Francisco; when I had less than a month left I stopped adding to my official list and started adding to the stretch goals list.) I was young enough in the 1980s that the only thing I remember was reading about Ryan White, the teenager who contracted HIV through a blood transfusion and later died of AIDS -- who put a sympathetic human face on the crisis. I can't begin to imagine what it would have been like to feel the crisis in my chosen community. I was moved by the gardens, and I was pleased that I had a chance to visit the grove before leaving San Francisco -- especially on the last day of Pride Month.

Redwood forest in the National AIDS Memorial Grove
Redwood forest in the National AIDS Memorial Grove

On Sunday, the first day of July, I was on-call but I still wanted to leave the house, so I took BART to the newly-opened station in Antioch -- way in the East Bay, an 80-minute ride on the train from my house. The ride took me into the smoke from wildfires burning across the bay (fires that, a day later, would drop ash on my deck and on cars parked around the neighborhood); I could smell the smoke and see the pale sickly-yellow tint it gave to the sunlight.

The newest expansion of BART runs on a standard-gauge DMU shuttle from a cross-platform interchange just beyond the Pittsburg/Bay Point station to the brand-new Antioch station. It was a little weird to see the brand-new DMU sitting across the platform from the 40-year-old broad-gauge third-rail electric stock I've come to know and appreciate in my time in San Francisco. The new DMUs purred as they zipped down the highway median to the brand-new suburban stations at the end of the line, waiting patiently for development to follow.

I went to work on Monday and Tuesday, where the biggest excitement was discussion about the release and what to do about a series of crashes and other weird behavior. I exercised my judgement as SRE on-call and rolled forward with a cherry-pick, which didn't end up magically solving the problem I hoped it might, but at least didn't break everything.

Wednesday was the Fourth of July. Since it was a holiday I didn't have to go into the office, but I was still on-call. I grew bored picking up the detritus left over around the house and (with both phones in my pocket and my laptop in my bag, so I could (theoretically) respond to any page within five minutes) took BART to the Mission and got ice cream at Bi-Rite (where I was somewhat surprised to see that the line was only down the street, not actually around the corner), then sat on the lawn in Dolores Park to eat the ice cream, surrounded by thousands of people enjoying the summer holiday under perfectly-clear blue skies.

Fourth of July at Dolores Park
Fourth of July at Dolores Park

Karl the Fog stayed away for the evening fireworks show: I joined the crowds at Pier 39 and watched a perfect fireworks show (though I couldn't help but wish that some of my fellow spectators would put their phones down and watch the show, rather than try to stream the show live on social media). The show ended a few minutes before 22:00; I sent my handoff e-mail while sitting on the steps in front of the pier.

Waiting for fireworks at Pier 39
Waiting for fireworks at Pier 39

Back home, from my balcony on the hill in Ingleside overlooking Excelsior and Mission Terrace, I could see a dozen ersatz firework shows erupting from streets and alleys, all celebrating our own versions of America on her birthday.

if this were a type of made-in-a-can spaghetti sauce, it'd be called
"Classic Style Ken"
- Scott J. Galvin, 08 March 2000