Mission and Third

30 Nov 2012

There's never any doubt that I'm going to do it. While I have to fight myself to shamble out for a morning run in London, I have lots of mornings in London, and I've only got one shot here. So I jog out of the flat, hop the metro to Golden Gate Park, and go for a run. I feel great.

With so few hours, I'm having to make the most of each of them. The thought crosses my mind: why don't I do this all the time? Travel is nothing but artificial scarcity, the time limit that means you see everything and everyone for the first and last time.

Energy is contagious and this place is wired. Everything is geared to speed, to getting things done. The assumption is always that you know what you want and you want it right now, and the default reaction to anything is "let's DO this!". I wandered up to the bike shop, expecting a conversation around rates, routes, and possibilities and instead was greeted with "Ready to ride?". When I returned it, cycling across town from the ferry terminal, they cheered me like a race winner at the garage entrance and told me to keep riding to the finish line at the back of the store. Bagel stores have pre-shaped cream-cheese sheets. According to the radio, if you don't have time to pick up what you need, Ebay Now will bring it to you - in an hour.

It's clear from the speech, too. Every speaker is "absolutely thrilled to be here". Everyone tells me to "have a great day". Every half-baked business idea is "exciting". Everyone is.. well, perky. And this no longer seems like madness, an irritating accident or a meaningless affection. Your speech leaks into your mind. I'm now much more careful than I used to be, but my own overcombative phrases - "battle stations", "blood on the carpet" - tend to stress out the people around me, and make life more dramatic than it needs to be. These guys are using that, and it works.

Act the way you want to feel. Or, maybe, the way you need to feel.

It's not just the tech segment and retailers. In Sausalito, I got talking to a homeless guy, who'd been playing guitar in the distance while I was comparing notes with a Spanish traveller. He had a plan: moving up from begging to busking to selling CDs. It's easy to dream, so I poked him for specifics. I don't know if he'll actually pull it off, but I can confirm that he knows where in town you can get a CD mastered and how much it'd cost ($600) to do a small run. Everybody here has optimism and hustle.

This is a goldmine. I'm always looking for people who react to ideas and challenges with disproportionate enthusiasm. They're rare and precious: in six years in London, I've found a handful, and most of them are now involved in Fire Hazard in one way or another. I think I just found an entire city of these people.

Directness is part of that energy. While I was cycling along what I thought was a bike lane (but which turned out to be a sidewalk), a random passerby opened a conversation with "You're in violation". Not aggressively, but also without hesitation. It's refreshing.

It's a travel cliche that "the people are so friendly". I've always thought that that's more about the traveller than the destination, but here there's little ice to break. When a bus I was riding braked hard to avoid T-boning a car, a passenger responded with "thanks, Darren!". He'd asked the driver's name when he got on board. Try that on a London bus.

A couple of people warned me that it's all shallow. An expat Aussie even called this place an "industrial town", and I think she might be right. Even so, it's incredibly energising to be in a place where the highest calling of all is to get shit done.