Saturday afternoon, my sister is driving us east on California St toward the Embarcadero so that E and I can check in at the Hyatt. My uncle M is already checked in and at the hotel, having caught the BART from the airport after flying up from Los Angeles. He’s in town for only one night – enough time for a nice dinner and a quick visit with us.
There’s a bit of traffic when we hit Chinatown but we don’t think too much of it as it’s always pretty busy with tourists and locals going about their business. Soon enough, we get dropped off at the hotel and check in. My sister heads back to the Richmond with plans to meet us at Sociale – a slightly hidden, northern Italian inspired restaurant in Presidio Heights, where we have dinner reservations for 6:45.
After settling into our room and relaxing for a while, I leave to go meet my uncle, as it had been a while since we’d last seen each other. “Did you see them setting up for the Chinese New Year Parade on your way here?” my uncle asks, telling me about how he’d gone to the LA parade a few weeks ago and connecting the dots for why we hit traffic on our way to the hotel. We continue to catch up and trade stories with each other before it’s time for me to go back to my room and get ready for dinner. The plan is to meet my uncle in the lobby at 6:00 to catch a cab over to the restaurant.
Running a few minutes late, we exit the building at about 6:10, figuring there’s still plenty of time to get over to Presidio Heights. A line of folks, waiting at the hotel’s cab stand, greets us. Noticing that there are no cabs coming in to pick up passengers, we decide that it might be better to head to street and hail a taxi ourselves. Except that there are no cabs or cars on the street either. The Financial District is eerily void of vehicles, the soundtrack a sad cacophony of echoing, unrequited whistles being blown by ineffective bellhops. We’re completely blocked in by the Chinese New Year Parade route and the thousands of spectators watching the celebration.
Pressing on in our futile attempt to find a cab, we finally find a street filled with cars. Cars that are not moving – completely gridlocked. I call my sister to let her know what’s going on. “So… we’re not going to be able to make the reservation.” She thinks I’m joking but I’m not. “We’re kind of trapped because of the parade. We’re going to try and get past it and we’ll call you once we know where we wind up”.
Passing a 10 person Chinese dragon and a horde of onlookers, we duck down into the Montgomery Muni/BART station. We hop on the J and text my sister to pick us up at the Duboce Triangle where we’ll regroup and figure out our dinner. M scoops us up shortly after we arrive at the station. She lets us know that she cancelled the reservation and since it’s a Saturday night, couldn’t get us another – though Sociale does have a non-reservable communal table that we can try for.
M pulls over near the restaurant to let me out so I can talk with the hostess about our situation with getting stuck on the other side of town because of the parade and find out the wait time until spots on the communal table will open up. The hostess estimates about 20 minutes or so until the seats will be available and that we can have them. M and E go park the car at M’s apartment and walk back to the restaurant while my uncle and I wait for the spots to open.
The 4 of us enjoy a fantastic meal – from appetizers to entrees to desserts, all while managing to indulge in 3 bottles of wine. The conversation and love overflow at the table as we get progressively livelier and louder with each finished bottle and course. Afterward, the 3 of us staying in the Embarcadero eventually make it back to the Hyatt. E goes to bed while my uncle and I meet in the lobby bar to have a few more drinks and talk later into the night, contemplating and analyzing our personal histories, experiences and existential quandaries.
To be continued…