Runners in London aren't noted for their friendliness. Whilst in the sticks you get enthusiastic waves and smiles from other runners, in London it's hard to elicit a friendly response. Today was different though, I went out for a jog along the Thames and clocked a wave, a smile, a huge grin and even a verbal "Hello". Wow. What is different about today? Is there something in the air?
Yes there is something in the air! It's really windy - the remnants of Hurricane Katia are due to hit our shores and this is the precursor. I'm convinced this wind was responsible for the change in atmosphere and mood. It was so energising and uplifting and reminded me of a visit to San Francisco, one that changed my life.
I was flying out to stay with a bloke I'd met on a beach in the Caribbean earlier in the year. We'd been corresponding and chatting on the phone and he invited me to go stay for a couple of weeks, but when I arrived at the airport he wasn't there and had left me a message on his ansafone saying he was out of town. Disappointed, hurt, angry, confused doesn't really come close, but I phoned the only other person I knew in San Francisco who showed me the most amazing kindness and hospitality. I met her at the same time as aforementioned rat and we had got along and swapped phone numbers. As soon as she knew I was in SF she drove to my hotel and insisted I check out and stay with her ... she lived on a boat.
I was enchanted by the way she and those around her had organised their lives. They lived on their boats, taking them out once or twice a week for races, but had day jobs in the city. She was barefoot until she got to the office where she would rummage in her trunk for her shoes and handbag and turn into an executive. By 6pm though she was a boatie again, sitting on deck watching the sun go down and chatting with the other sailors.
So I spent a week or so there in a harbour in Alameda, hanging out with the boaties and experiencing a completely different kind of life and mindset. I'm not sure whether it was the era, or my age or my upbringing or the leftovers of being a rebellious student but in those days it wasn't cool in London to be enthusiastic and happy. It was the norm to be negative, cynical and bored by everything. That way we thought we looked cool and interesting. San Francisco changed that for me. I found an energy there and an enthusiasm for life that I had never encountered before, people were warm, helpful, happy and in a hurry to take what life had to offer. According to the people I met this positive energy is a result of San Francisco's unique microclimate and the special wind that blows through the city.
When I came home I decided I wanted to be more like them. The results were more far reaching than just mindset. I did a couple of basic sailing courses and within a few months with a little knowledge and no experience had left England to try my hand working at sea - an adventure that lasted seven years.
Mid way through my travels when I was in America I tried to contact the lady who had set me on this course, but her boat had moved, her work number was disconnected and my letters were returned. (yes this was a before-email-existed adventure!) I wanted to thank her for her role in changing the course of my life, but I also know it is in some part due to the effects of the magical San Francisco wind!