You Can't Go Home Again
San Francisco International Airport
Ali arrived in the middle of the night. He was strangely tired, so he stayed in a hotel near the airport. It was 11:00 a.m. when he heard the maid knocking on the door and saw the sun streaming through the window. "May I clean your room?" She asked as he opened the door a crack.
"No, I'm just getting up. Give me an hour and I will have checked out.”
Ali took a leisurely shower, gathered his things, caught the last of brunch in the restaurant, and checked out. He rented a car. When he got behind the wheel, he didn't realize how things had changed. His observation of the cabs in Virginia had given him a clue, but this was a whole new experience. With a little help from the guy who brought it over, he ordered the car to go to the address of his father's house in San Jose. He hadn't called him because he wanted it to be a surprise--the prodigal son returns.
It was a good thing that the car was programmed because 101 had changed. It was a double decker now, something that Ali thought strange, since it was built on the shifting fill of the Bay in an area prone to earthquakes. There were several designated lanes that he did not fully understand. Although he could still drive it, the car automatically took control when he got to the freeway and soon drove up a ramp to the upper level that appeared to be an expressway to San Jose. A strip along the wall now provided power. The car was silent except for a whirring sound that followed the vehicle's various accelerations and decelerations. Ali guessed that the primary power source was either a fuel cell or hydrogen. From the positive nature of the drive train he guessed it was electric. Driving was extremely easy and smooth. Any abrupt move on his part, and the vehicle would take over. For now, whizzing the along the Bay at about eighty miles per hour, he relaxed and enjoyed the view of the Bay, the lavish freeway landscaping, and the heavily populated coastal mountains to his right. He reached his exit in about twenty minutes. After that, he was driving again on strangely familiar streets. The sun-faded pastels were still there, but familiar landmarks had changed. He hadn’t remembered so much vegetation. Even parking lots were heavily wooded, houses, less crowded together.
The old house looked the same, somewhat faded and shabbier, but the same. The trees are much bigger, providing shade where there hadn't been before. Ali parked in the drive and bounded up the front steps like he did when he was a teenager to the door. He pushed the doorbell impatiently; hearing it ringing on the inside, ready to throw his arms around his father.
"OK, OK, I'm coming!" Ali heard an unfamiliar voice with a distinct accent and his footsteps coming across the hardwood living room floor to the door. The man behind the door didn't open it. He just stared through the peephole and questioned, "What do you want? I do not want to buy anything. Go away!"
Ali yelled through the door. "I am Ali Jaheed. My father lives here. Where is he?"
The man opened the door a crack. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know who you were. Your father sold the house to me many years ago. He moved to San Francisco--Sutter St. Wait! I have his address and phone number here somewhere. Let me go get it for you.”
The door swung open, and Ali stepped in, closing it gently behind him. Ali recognized nothing in the room. He remembered that it was carpeted and rarely visited by his father and him after his mother died. He heard the man rummaging in the den off the kitchen, and then he heard a printer working. Finally the man returned with a piece of paper with his father's address and phone number on it. Rashid Jaheed, 1435 Sutter Street, Apartment 206, San Francisco California 94109-5087 Telephone 415-689-4525.
Ali thanked the man and bounced down the steps toward the car. He had thoughts about giving his father a call. But decided that a surprise was better. He read the car his father’s Sutter Street address. As he drove off through the old neighborhood, he thought about Mrs. Johnson--only for a moment--and then headed back to the freeway.
The drive back to San Francisco was similar to the one down from the airport. When he reached the 101, the car once again took over. In about thirty minutes, the familiar, but changed skyline of the City appeared as 101 crested the gap leading into South San Francisco. There were many new high-rises and towers gleaming amid familiar buildings of his youth. Instead of dropping into the city streets, 101 soared overhead, inevitably to cross the Golden Gate into Marin County. At the appropriate exit, the car left the freeway, and Ali once again, assumed control. Within ten minutes, he found a parking space about a block from his destination. 1435 Sutter was a beautiful location with a stunning view of the Bay. He entered the marble lobby with its century-old chandeliers and appointments and marveled at the quiet style of its Old World elegance. Everywhere he turned, security gates blocked his entry. Near the mailboxes, there was a video intercom. He walked over to it, pressed 206 on the keyboard, and waited.
The screen flickered, and momentarily, the face of an elderly woman with red hair and green eye makeup appeared in the monitor. "What do you want, young man?" She quipped. "I didn't order anything.
"I'm Ali Jaheed. I'm looking for my father, Rashid Jaheed. Do you know where he is? This is supposed to be his home."
"Oh yes, Rashid. Please come up and I'll tell you.” The monitor flickered off and there was a loud buzz at the security gate. Ali rushed to it, and pushed it open just before the buzzing stopped. Since it was only one floor, he decided to take the stairs. Two minutes later he was knocking on the door to 206. He heard the sound of chains being removed from the door and saw the lady's face again through the crack of the door as she slowly opened it to let him in. He walked past her toward the couch in a room filled with Old World charm. Ali couldn't believe that his father could ever have lived in a place like this.
"Would you like some cookies and tea? I was just making some tea for myself when you came. I'll only be a moment.”
"Yes Ma'am, I will.” It was obvious to Ali that he wasn't going to get what he needed from this woman quickly. He sat down on the couch and waited. In due time he would know.
Five minutes later, the woman returned with two silver trays: one with two cups of tea and the other with cookies. She placed them on the table in front of him and smiled, waving her hand for him to take some. Ali reached for the tea and added both cream and sugar. He sipped from the cup. It was delicious. He reached for a cookie, ...
"I met Rashid Jaheed when we were both in the hospital with our heart attacks. Thanks to the wonderful doctors at St. Francis, we both recovered quite nicely and had therapy together. He said he got his heart attack when he learned that the patent that he had on some software he wrote many years ago was good, and that the government had to pay him millions for it. The stress of the legal battle was just too much. Finally, just before we left the hospital, he told me that he wanted me to have this flat because he was going to buy some land at Lake Tahoe and live there year-round. His doctors told him that the peace and quiet away from the city would be good for his health. He said that he chose Tahoe because he knew that you loved it in the Sierras. Said that you would call him any day and he would surprise you with it. As you can see, your father was good to his word. I left that run down house of mine that I couldn't even pay taxes on and moved into this beautiful apartment. My social security wouldn’t even cover the maintenance fee, so he bought the rent out for my lifetime—a terrible sum! He even gave me money to shop for antiques to furnish it. Isn't it nice?"
Ali shook his head, "Yes.” but didn't quite agree with her assessment. "My father, .... Are you still in touch with him?" He couldn’t remember his father ever being generous.
"No, in the beginning we corresponded lot. Juno, you know. But then like all things, it tapered off. It's been almost a year now, ....” There was a wistful look in her face and a tear she was trying to hide.
"Do you have his e-mail address? His snail mail address?"
"The old computer he got me is on the blink again. Don't have much use for it when it doesn't work right. But I think I've got an e-mail that I printed out of his. And I still keep an old address book just in case these confounded computers quit on me like they always do.” She got up and wandered over to an old roll top desk in the corner of the room. Lifting the cover, she rummaged through the papers on it, and came up with one. She brought the e-mail to Ali.
It was two years old. It was an e-mail from his father to the lady, firstname.lastname@example.org. His father's e-mail address, email@example.com, was familiar. At least some things hadn't changed. Ali was tempted to send an e-mail to him right away. But then, the lady's computer was broken, and he was spending all day trying to find him to surprise him. "Do you have that address?" He asked.
"Oh yes, where was I?" She wandered off to the desk again and pulled out a drawer. Reaching in, she retrieved a worn brown leather book with a gold tassel bookmark and began to page through it. Ali couldn't believe his reaction. He had half rose from his seat, prepared to move quickly, expecting her to pull a gun from the drawer. It would take him some time to learn new ways of reacting. "Here it is: Rashid Jaheed, 756 West Lake Boulevard, Tahoe City, Calif. 96145-0756.”
"May I write it down Ma'am.”
"Of course you can, Sonny. I have some paper here somewhere.”
"Thank-you.” The woman found a pencil and paper, and he wrote down the address. They said their goodbyes, and he left as quietly as he had come.
It was late afternoon and he was hungry, so Ali left the car where he parked it and began walking. Within two blocks, he found a little corner restaurant that was starting to pick up for the evening. He was dead tired, but enjoyed the food and music. It was good to be back home.
It was dark by the time he left the restaurant. Not one to drive off into the night, he decided to see if he could stay at the Fremont Hotel. He didn't have a reservation, so if they didn't have a room, he would ask them to put him up in the Mark Hopkins or Francis Drake. With his debit card and a father who was a millionaire, he didn't have to worry about the expense of the room. Strange, he thought about what his friends from San Jose High would think of him staying in an elite hotel.
He drove the rental to the drive in front of the hotel. The doorman looked a little bit askance at him, but he ignored it and asked the valet to park his car. With his duffel in hand, he strode into the lobby and up to the counter. A beautiful blonde woman came over and Ali said, "Do you have a room for one for the night?"
She smiled that, well practiced, but leery, smile. "I don't know. Do you have a reservation?"
"No, but I'm willing to make one now. I'll pay extra if I have to. What do I need to do?"
"We don't accept visitors without a reservation. Besides, we're full.” She sighed. This time accompanied by that pitiful smile of a sorry hotel employee with total control.
"Listen, I could stay at the Mark Hopkins or the Francis Drake. But I'm too tired to walk across the street to the Mark Hopkins right now. You must have something?"
The blonde pursed per lips, raised her eyebrows, and took a look at her monitor for the first time. Her looked changed when she discovered something. "We do have the bridal suite. But that's way too, .... “
"Expensive? I'll take it. I'd take the custodian closet in the basement right now.” Ali was dead serious. She giggled.
The blonde's demeanor had changed. She began checking him in. Soon, she was laughing at everything he said.
"What time do you get off," Ali quipped.
"At 11:30 p.m. but were not allowed to, ....”
"Just stop in for a little champagne nightcap. No harm in that?"
She shook her head, "No", but her smile said, "Yes.” Ali took his key card and headed up to his suite. He was smiling and counting on the latter.
Once in his room, he called room service and ordered champagne to be delivered at 11:15 p.m. He took a shower and shaved. He was fast asleep when he heard room service knock on the door. He had barely crawled back into bed when he heard another knock. He opened the door to greet the blonde, her shoes in her hand and her purse tucked up under her arm.
“I’m sorry,” She said. “I’m not like this, but there is something about you that, ….”
Standing there in only his shorts, Ali opened the door wide to let her in.
Light was streaming in from the balcony windows and it woke Ali up. She was still sleeping, peacefully, at his side. He called room service for some breakfast. Before long, he was eating it, alone, in the drawing room amid the sumptuous decor leading to the balcony. It didn't take him long to eat. He was anxious to get going. When he finished eating, he returned to the bedroom, knelt down on the bed, and kissed her cheek gently. She stirred, opened her eyes, and smiled. She stretched, then fell back to sleep.
There was no time to wake her up, or even ask her name. There was breakfast waiting for her and she could let herself out. He grabbed the key and his duffel, and headed downstairs to check out.
As soon as he got in his car, he told it his new address for Rashid Jaheed, and the map appeared, reflected on the suddenly opaqued, windshield. His father's property was on the western shore. He figured it would take at least five hours to get there. When he reached the New Bay Bridge, the car took over again, and he looked back at the changed, but still familiar, skyline of the city he loved. Oakland, directly ahead, had also changed. But it was San Francisco that caught his imagination. He watched the skyline gradually diminish through the shining supports for the bridge. He would be back soon.