When I moved to San Francisco in 2012, I lived out my first six months in a quirky, sublet apartment in Western Addition (North of Panhandle, colloquially), near the intersection of Clayton and Hayes Street. I met my roommate, Jim, on Craigslist, and some weeks later we were moving into the top-floor unit of a yellow, two-story, Arts & Crafts inspired house. Kitchen, two bedrooms, split bathroom and shower. No living room. A kook of a landlord (but we’ll save that for another story).
Jim had moved to the city at the same time as I—he from Melbourne, Australia, I from Vermont—and over the next months we each began life afresh; we had new jobs, new cities, new friends. We found time to catch up in passing but otherwise kept to our own routines and social circles. Jim threw himself into the San Francisco cycling community, later starting the SF Cycling Club. I immersed myself in startup life, bouldering and vegan potlucks. Our friendship was one of catching up at the kitchen table over burritos from Papalote and chatting about work.
In February, roughly three months into our tenure as roommates (Jim would have said “housemates”), he invited me to Lake Tahoe for a weekend. He was going with his then-girlfriend Erin (as I remember her name to be; the memory is hazy) and a handful of her friends. He and Erin would be heading up early for a couple days of romantic solo time, but if I was interested I could catch a ride up with her friends. I embraced the opportunity and said yes.
I don’t recall when or where I was picked up, but I remember there being an immediate kinship with the people I met. Five of us, two up front and three, myself included, hip-to-hip in the back, set out on the three-hour drive to Lake Tahoe. It was a Saturday morning and sunny.
I’ve observed over time that a shared sense of humor can accelerate friendship with astounding rapidity. That was undeniably the case this day. We drove across the Bay Bridge and up towards Sacramento, laughs piling on top of laughs.I couldn’t tell you a single conversation we had, even if you pressed me on it, but I remember feeling like I’d known these perfect strangers for years.
My sole memory of the drive to Nevada was our stop at a *BevMo!, *an excursion that served as both my introduction to the ubiquitous Bay Area liquor retailer and as the requisite opportunity for one of us to acquire a handle of Fireball whiskey, the top to which managed to come off shortly after our departure from the store’s parking lot and which subsequently was passed around for the remaining duration of our drive, each of us save for the driver taking swigs and following with a grimace. And after what seemed like not much time, we arrived.
Incline Village, Nevada. On the pebbled shores of icy-cold Lake Tahoe.
The house was exquisitely decorated, abrim with kitschy knockoff First Nations artwork and oil paintings of snow-capped crags. The front door opened to a large living room with a lofted ceiling, a staircase leading up to a small balcony overlooking the room and connecting to three or more bedrooms. One wall was nearly all window, rectangles of glass arranged in grid-fashion and covered by slatted shades, washing the room in a warm glow.
The early afternoon whizzed by. Many of us sat in the living room, talking and drinking. At some point, mid-afternoon, sleds were discovered in the garage and a suitable hill promptly located using the help of the Internet. There was a pithy amount of snow on the ground, packed down and iced over, but our childlike glee won out. We suited up using any and all of the winter gear we could find, digging through coat closets, rummaging through wardrobes. The sober members of the group were elected to driving duty, we grabbed our preferred poisons and sleds, and set off to find the slope.
We did find it—the Internet didn’t lie—but the terrain was less of a hill and more of a shallow decline. Perhaps 15 feet of vertical change over a 30 foot sled run. Ask me: did that stop us? Fucking absolutely not. Fueled by rum and the rapidly setting sun, we ran up and slid down that hill likely near to a hundred times in the hour we spent there. Here, too, is where my memory gets fuzzy, but I distinctly remember conceiving of my best idea that day, the idea being to ride a sled down the hill like a snowboard, standing atop its flimsy plastic bottom while holding the reins like a proper coachman. Hell, this had never worked as a kid, but I was an adult now, and fearless under the influence of our winter beverages.
I trudged back to the car an hour later with a scrape along my left cheek and not a single regret.
The evening breezed by in a similar fashion, with more to drink (this is a trend in the story, were it not readily apparent), bad movies on the television, and, eventually, the hot tub. We fit nearly all eight of us in, surely emptying half the water in the process.
One vivid memory from this portion of the night, a joke turned into a dare turned into a willing challenge, involved three of us leaping from the hot tub, running forty feet into the darkness, barefoot on the snow, and lying down, spread full out over the icy ground, and lying still until we could bare it no longer. For one reason or another—here again I will venture to guess that the reason was alcohol—I stayed lying on the ground longer than the two who had initially joined me. The stars, not visible close to the house under the glare of the porch light, had just revealed themselves. I was rapt.
After some extended moments in which I was lost to the shouts of my friends beyond, I heard concern in their voice and realized they were directing said concern toward me.
“Guys do you see something back there at the fence? Is… fuck is that a *coyote?”*
I made haste back to the hot tub. It remains unclear to me whether somebody actually saw a coyote, as they are fairly common near Lake Tahoe.
The next day, all of us having slept late from the previous night’s pursuits, we walked from our house to the closest beach. Despite the season, the lake was not frozen, and the sun shone brightly out of a nearly cloudless sky. It was quiet on the beach, and you could hear the soft sound of water lapping against stones. We milled around, each of us reflecting in our own ways on the already fond memories of the previous 24 hours. A bald eagle flew overhead. Somebody christened the moment by sarcastically shouting “‘Merica”. We died laughing.
The car ride back that day was unremarkable, and the departure from this group of new friends swift. I was dropped off where I first met them, with hopeful wishes for hanging out again soon. I spent the rest of my night tingling with the sense of having been part of what felt like a close-knit community for the first time since moving west. As it turns out, it was to stay that way… just a tingling sense, and a fond memory.
Save for Jim, I have never seen any of those six people again. I can’t even recall the rest of their names. Jim and Erin split shortly after the trip, and with the breakup came the inevitable departure of Jim from his ex’s social circle. Only three months after that, Jim and I parted ways as well.
There are moments in our lives, experiences we have, that seem inconspicuous at the time. Inconsequential, even. And yet I think about this weekend often. Not with longing, but with a sense of appreciation for what I was part of. I entered into a group of established friends, they adopted me for the time I spent with them, and we parted ways. Clean break. Despite the brevity, that weekend taught me that a sense of belonging is not necessarily found exclusively through shared history or familiar places. And that sometimes it’s the most fleeting of moments that stay with you for ages.