In the alley behind the Hotel Whitcomb, a slightly dusty Jaguar F-Type R convertible is resting, top-down.
A sunburned driver is scrolling through messages on his smartphone, waiting for his road trip buddy to return from a Starbuck's run. Quietly, a middle-age fellow in a bespoke blue suit approaches, holding an unlit Marlboro in one hand, a lighter in the other.
"Excuse me," he says, with the manners of an English butler. "I just have to ask: what is this car?"
I look up. "It's a Jaguar F-Type, the R. The super-fast one – all-wheel drive, supercharged to 550 horsepower. Yeah, it's as fast and as fun as it looks."
"I see you're from Canada – the license plates," he says. "Long drive."
"But worth it," I say. "The kid and I have a tradition. We come to The City every summer for a couple of Giants games. A road trip.
"Man, today was something. [Madison] Bumgarner struck out 12 in six and the rookie second baseman hit a grand slam. Giants won 9-1 on a sunny day, perfect day. Headin' home."
"Road trip? Lucky kid," he says.
"Nah, lucky dad."
This is the sort of thing that happens on a road trip. You meet people you'll never see again, and because it is a road trip – free-wheeling – you take the time to chat. It truly is about the journey.
Of course, it helps when your team wins. We expect nothing less from a Giants team that has won three of the past five World Series. But if the team that Mays built had lost, we'd have been fine, too.
Because the trip was the destination. The game was just something along the way. We also had thick steaks at Granzella's in Williams, Calif. We sliced through the Cascade Mountains in southern Oregon and northern California, and feasted our eyes on volcanoes – Mount Rainier, Mount Shasta.
We talked about nothing and everything. We took turns playing disc jockey, shuffling from his iPhone to mine – from Ed Sheeran to Imagine Dragons, from Frank Sinatra to Bruce Springsteen. For the 18-hour drive to The City from Vancouver, we didn't listen to the same song twice.
I say "The City" because I grew up in the Bay Area, a Giants fan. If you know San Francisco, you know never to refer to it as "Frisco" or some other abomination. It's The City. Just ask Steve Perry of Journey.
As a kid growing up, I didn't see Willie Mays in his New York prime, but I did see him stroke 52 home runs in 1965, hitting bombs in a freezing Candlestick Park. If you know baseball, you know Willie Mays is the greatest all-around player of all time. As he used to say, "They throw it, I hit it. They hit it, I catch it." Baseball is so simple.
On the road we talked a lot of baseball. Daniel Stern says in City Slickers that when fathers and sons are at that age when they can't talk about anything, they can always talk about baseball. Or when they can talk about everything, the conversation – in our case – meanders back to baseball.
Baseball is the sports equivalent of a road trip without a time frame. The game/trip goes at its own pace and ends when it ends. There is time for conversation and thought, for insights to emerge from the smallest kernel of an idea. Both are about taking time to take things in without a clock ticking.
Most of us don't live our lives that way. We are harried and consumed by tight schedules and incessantly demanding devices. We seem to be not so much stimulated as attacked by the technology that, when I was in my 20s and 30s, was touted as "time-saving." Alas, technology has made us time-constrained.
But on a perfect road trip, you turn off the intrusive gizmos. You let the road unfold – the road ahead and the road of your life.
If you do it right, it's cheaper than therapy and better for bonding with the people who matter. Just ask me. Or Sam.
As I said, lucky dad.
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