I was a few minutes late, but she wasn't there yet either. I waited a few minutes and then poked my head into Max's to see if she'd maybe gone directly there. She wasn't there, so I went back to the lobby and waited some more. I asked the guy at the desk whether there was another Union Square Plaza Hotel and checked to see whether Sarah was staying there. She was, room 309. I called up using the courtesy phone. No answer. I went up and knocked on her door. No answer. I waited some more. I walked outside. I sent her a text. I waited some more. The guy thought she was avoiding me. Finally, over half an hour, I gave up and went home.
As it turned out, she had been in Max's! But sitting inside at a table! Goddammit, I should have been crazy enough to check inside. She'd waited for me for even longer than I'd waited. She had a grilled cheese sandwich. Her cell phone wasn't getting signal, so she didn't even receive my text. Meeting up with international travelers is harrowing! We decided to attempt to meet up on Thursday, and this time she would meet me in the hotel lobby at 6:30.
Meanwhile, I called ariiadne to see whether there was any possible way to satisfy Sarah's desire to have pumpkin pie, which she considered quintessentially American. She recommended Mission Pie, but I had already called and been told that it was not in season. Jess noted that pie in general was pretty American. And then, when I mentioned that Sarah was vegetarian, she recommended taking her to Papalote, home of an excellent marinated tofu burrito. I'd once had a pretty good soyrizo burrito there. It sounded like a plan!
Since this plan required added travel, I got to the hotel early, around 6:00. I went up to her room and knocked despite the Do Not Disturb sign. She opened the door. "I'm early," I said. She let me in and started talking in her adorable Kiwi accent. She was just getting ready.
It's funny, because of her screenname (ora_wai) and her default icon—
—I had imagined her to be this tiny little bundle of cuteness (with her head against the wall and flapping her arms all the time). When, in fact, she was a regular-sized person of cuteness. She expressed the requisite bewilderment at meeting an online person in the flesh. "You're real!" she said.
As promised, she gave me some New Zealand chocolate!
I'm a little scared of the pineapple lumps. And the chocolate fish. At least the Cadbury is normal.
The hotel was kind of crappy; she said it was not what it looked like on the website. International travel is harrowing!
As we walked down the stairs, I asked her whether she liked Mexican food. She said there was one Mexican restaurant that had good margaritas. And that was mostly what she knew about Mexican food. I wasn't sure whether she knew what a burrito was, but that's what we were going to get. Our original plan had been to go to Osha for Thai food, but, as I suspected, New Zealand is closer to Thailand than we are and so they have lots of actual Thai people running many Thai restaurants. Mexican food it was! She was very excited when I told her it was vegetarian-friendly. Everything seemed to have turned out for the best; the Papalote/Mission Pie combo was a much better idea than simply Max's.
One of the things Sarah had mentioned that was different was that you had to flip light switches up to turn them on rather than down. That seemed perfectly sensible and natural to me. "Up is good and down is bad," I said, gesturing. "Heaven is up and hell is down!" I also noted that New Zealand was down! On the way to BART, I continued to make fun of New Zealand for being upside-down. "You'll notice," I said, "that New Zealand is below the belt." She claimed that they'd recently redrawn the globe to be the other way around. No, sorry, we're on top, and you're on bottom.
We missed the train by a few seconds, so we had to wait a whole four minutes or something to catch the next one. We got out at 24th and Mission, where it was much brighter, if still a bit chilly. Sarah was worried because her guidebook had said the Mission was a bad area, but I said we'd be fine.
I found Papalote at 24th and Valencia, right where it was supposed to be. I showed Sarah the displayed menu. She asked me whether there was any trick to ordering. For instance, what were black beans? What were pinto beans?
Black beans were beans that were...black. And pinto beans were...brown? And refried black beans were...black beans that were refried? I didn't know how to describe them. They just were. It's strange the things we take for granted. I recommended she get black beans. Jess had recommended the marinated tofu, so I passed that on, along with a plug for the soyrizo. She did order the tofu, but with...pinto beans. I don't know why. Maybe she'd misheard me. Or she was deliberately ignoring my recommendation! Since Jess, a meatatarian, had spoken so highly of the tofu, I decided to give it a go as well, with refried black beans because I didn't know you could do that. I also grabbed a bottle of Coke. A bottle! Of Coke! Imported from Mexico and made with real sugar and everything. Even though I prefer my Coke with HFCS. Sarah had one of our Cokes, and she said it tasted syrup-y. Or perhaps some other adjective.
We grabbed a table, and I showed her my VM S2 yearbook. She was surprised at how many people it took to make a television show; she'd never really thought about it. And they all had faces!
A man brought us chips and salsa. "What's that?" she asked.
"It's a...salsa, of some sort," I said. I had no idea how to explain these things! It's salsa. YOU DON'T ASK WHAT IT IS. IT JUST IS.
She commented that we had very big utes here. I looked out the window and saw a pickup truck.
"Ute?" I asked. I had never heard the term. Wikipedia informs me that it's because they call them utility trucks. Those weren't the only vehicles she was interested in: she was delighted to discover that yellow schoolbuses were real. Yellow schoolbuses! Just like on TV! And black-and-white police cars, too!
She asked me about my pesceducation and said I should come to New Zealand when I ran out of things to try. For instance, they had paua, which was sort of like a clam, and kina, which was a sea urchin you ate raw. I was skeptical. And what was those names? Did New Zealand have a...language? Ah, Maori.
Then Sarah went off on a long tirade about all the animals she hated, like wallabies, kangaroos, koalas, kookaburras, and pretty much everything else.
She was off to New York the next morning, so she asked what she should see in two days. "My awesome friends?" I said. But she said that would be weird. So I said there was some statue thing. And the Strand. And I couldn't think of anything else. So I called jeeperstseepers.
"If you were from New Zealand and you were in New York for two days, what would you see?" I asked. I confirmed with Sarah that this was actually her first time in the States ever. She had marveled at seeing the other side of the Pacific Ocean.
Tiffani suggested the Empire State Building. Of course! And the Statue of Liberty. The Staten Island Ferry. Did she like art?
"Yes, there's the Mint?"
"Oh, the Met!" ACCENTS, MAN.
If she liked making fun of hipsters (she did), she should go to Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, on Saturday evening. Brooklyn?! But that was on a whole different island! Well, no, it was not on an island. I explained New York to her.
Tiffani also suggested Rockefeller Center because there was a glass elevator that took you to a place called Top of the Rock where you could get a nice view of the city. And, of course, there was Central Park, but Sarah was afraid of Central Park because she'd seen Law and Order; she knew what happened in Central Park. That was how she knew about American cities, after all, from their portrayals on television.
Our burritos came, laid flat on plates. Sarah looked at hers.
And asked me how to eat it.
I laughed and demonstrated. She defended herself, saying she'd eaten enchiladas, and this sort of looked like an enchilada!
She dug in daintily. Another month, another foreigner eating her first real burrito. She said she'd once tried to make a burrito at home but failed. Nothing like this, though. It was so big! She couldn't even finish it all. The tofu burrito was very good, mostly due to the beans and rice, though. The tofu gave the whole thing a different, softer texture than if it had been meat.
"Do you want some pie?" I asked when we were done. WOULD SHE.
We walked down 24th toward Mission. I pointed out a Philly cheesesteak place.
"What's a Philly cheesesteak?" she asked. "Does it have cream cheese?" Haaaaaa.
I tried to explain Philly cheesesteak. It was steak (or chicken) in a hoagie-type bun with cheese...although the "authentic" thing was to use Cheez Wiz. "Do people actually eat that?" she said. "Cheese should not come out of a can!" She asked again to confirm that there was no cream cheese involved.
She apologized for asking so many questions, but I told her to ask away! I thought it was fascinating, these cultural differences. The worlds we're brought up in are the worlds we know, and it's hard to fathom someone being so unfamiliar with things so familiar to us. I cracked up when, during our dinner planning e-mails, she asked what Jack in the Box was. When she saw it, she understood. But she was getting such a kick out of silly things like that; she really wanted to go to Wal-Mart, for instance. I said that if I went to New Zealand, I would probably be freaking out and taking pictures of really ordinary stuff too. Sarah said that I could drive from one end of New Zealand to the other in a couple days, see it all in a week. And there were only a million people there.
Mission Pie did not have pumpkin pie, but they did have pear-ginger, apple-rhubarb, Shaker lemon, walnut, and banana cream. I told the guy behind the counter, "My friend Sarah is from New Zealand, and she's never had pie in her entire life." In New Zealand, "pies" were meat pies, what we here call "savory pies" as opposed to "sweet pies." Now she was in America, land of pie. She had wanted pumpkin, I said, but it wasn't in season. The guy said that all the pies were made with locally grown products, so pumpkins weren't so much available at the moment. The rhubarb was new.
She was intrigued by the Shaker lemon, and the guy cautioned that it was very lemon-y; it had the peel and everything. If you loved lemons, you'd love the pie, but if you were on the fence about lemons, it might not be the pie for you. He explained how it was made. Sarah settled on pear-ginger, and I went for apple-rhubarb. I paid for her, as it has become a Thing to buy out-of-towners local dessert.
He asked if we wanted whipped cream. "Do they eat it with that here?" Sarah asked, wanting the authentic experience. He said it was a nice addition. He put it on the side. I got it on the side as well when I saw that was an option.
I got us some San Francisco water, and she got us some spoons. And then it was time for pie!
Sarah asked if there were a lot of places like this here, with "locally grown" products. I said it was San Francisco, so yeah. Everything's organic! Locally grown! Good for you! Eat more pie! Like the magnet said.
We discussed our international travel, which she kept referring to as "ohwie." I eventually picked up that she was saying "O.E." for "Overseas Experience." I laughed. In New Zealand, you had to go overseas to go anywhere! Whereas there was still so much of fucking America I hadn't seen, let alone the rest of the world.
She said the pie was "syrup-y." Well, it sure was made of sugar. She asked when people ate pie. Only on special occasions? I tried to think. There was pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, and, well, pie was just a...dessert. Like if you were out at dinner, you might have some pie afterward. But it wasn't something you ate every day. Unless you did that. I am a bad American who doesn't know our pie-eating habits. Oh, I didn't even tell her that we have pie-eating contests.
I did mention Pi Day, though.
"Pie Day? Like a day for pies?!"
"Pi Day, P-I." I told her about Jess's Pi Day party, where she made some pies, and there was a quiche, and there was pizza pie.
"Pizza pie?" she asked. "Like a half-pizza, half-pie?"
"No," I said. "It's just another name for pizza. Pizza pie."
"Like in that Frank Sinatra song," she said. "I always thought he was talking about a pie with pizza on it."
Oh my God, cultural differences are pretty hilarious.
She chided me for laughing. Because apparently in New Zealand, they had a pie with pizza on it! It was like a pizza pie! I mean, it was a meat-and-cheese pie kind of thing, but it was a half-pizza, half-pie monster.
We BARTed back to Powell. I decided to show her the Westfield food court since we were there because it would blow her mind. We could play the Can't Find This in New Zealand game. I pointed out all the different ethnic restauants, from Vietnamese to Korean to Mexican to Japanese to American. She said that they had some restaurants, but you wouldn't find them in food courts. She wanted to see an Orange Julius. That's what she thought of when she thought of mall food courts.
We walked up Powell St. I pointed out the Burger King, and Sarah said she'd seen one of the terrifying commercials last night. She found our commercials very interesting, especially the ones for prescription drugs. She couldn't believe we could do that here!
Tiffani's mention of the glass elevator had reminded Sarah of Willy Wonka but me of the glass elevators in the Westin St. Francis. I took us up to the 31st floor so she could see the city at night from up high. She identified a few buildings she'd seen or heard about on a tour. We looked down on Union Square as the elevator went down. "Macy's, that's not for regular shopping, right?" No, it was expensive! I didn't know what the New Zealand equivalent was.
Back in her hotel room, she showed me New Zealand coins. Nearly all of them had Queen Elizabeth on them! "She's our monarch," she said. That's when I discovered that New Zealand WASN'T EVEN A REAL COUNTRY. It's a commonwealth! Like Guam! Man, I am woefully uninformed about New Zealand.
There was one coin that had a Maori spirit or something on it, and I said it looked like a butterfly, and Sarah was very taken aback and said the spirit was going to eat my soul or whatever.
The coins were such weird sizes! The two-dollar coin was tiny, and the fifty-cent coin was huuuuge. And the dollar coin was the only dollar there was! They didn't have dollar bills! OTHER COUNTRIES ARE WEIRD. EXCUSE ME. OTHER COMMONWEALTHS MASQUERADING AS COUNTRIES. Hey, Wikipedia seems to think New Zealand is a country. Maybe Sarah was just confusing me. It's still bizarre that the Queen of England is the Queen of New Zealand too, though.
She didn't like our plugs. I thought our plugs were awesome and their weird slanted ones were dumb.
After various conversations, she turned on the TV. Grey's Anatomy was on, followed by She was entranced by the fact that she was watching it live (well, three hours late) on TV. Not downloaded, not two months later. On time! With American commercials and everything!
During the show, I commented on her accent again, which led to her, of course, declaring that I was the one with the accent. And apparently, I had a much thicker American accent than she'd expected! She compared it to the difference between a New York accent and a Bronx accent! I was shocked. I motioned to Ellen Pompeo on the screen. "Does she have an accent?"
"Did you have a voice coach?" Actors had very flat American accents compared to mine, she said. This was news to me. I don't have an accent! I don't!
Grey's Anatomy was followed by Private Practice, which contained no fewer than three controversial subjects. I could only take so much melodrama, however, so I captured photographic evidence that we had met each other before leaving.
She walked me out. I reminded her about Pinecrest down the block, as it was open 24 hours. If she wanted a diner experience, she could go there before her early flight the next day and order pancakes or blintzes or whatever she wanted.
Sadly, she did not provide me with the perfect way to end this post, which would have been a response of "What's a pancake?"