San Francisco has its fair share of sky lounges, those hotel bars that offer a panoramic view of the city. I'm not sure why the View is my favorite one, but there's something snuggly about the place. It just trumps Top of the Mark, the Empress of China, and any other joint you have to take an elevator to.
Here's why: It feels like there's evil afoot at this place. It's a seductive evil, like adultery, blackmail, or online piracy. Okay, maybe not the online piracy part. But I'm telling you, it seems like shit goes down here. High-class hookers (sort of; this is a Marriott), cheating husbands, and alcoholics on their break who don't want to run into any co-workers while they down vodka. Conventions come through here a lot, too, and those traveling dens of iniquity certainly need to wet their whistles.
And so I sit. And watch. And wait. Something is sure to happen. I like to perch next to the gigantic, glass-fanned window in a comfy chair, legs crossed, crossword at the ready. Oh yes, I mean business, motherfuckers. The first thing I do is perform my ritual count of all the American flags that are attached to various buildings down below. I count seven, stretched out over what must be at least three miles. Then I return my gaze to the lounge, and take note of my prey.
Several men in ill-fitting suits are at the bar. A middle-aged couple is sitting at a table near me, but each is far too interested in what the other is saying to be married. An attractive redheaded woman is alone at the end of the bar, so of course I like to fancy her a prostitute. Expensive ladies of the evening are like the Yeti, though: I think I see them everywhere, yet they always elude me. This babe was probably just a tourist.
My paranoia, if you want to call it that (I prefer "marked interest"), around intrigue and shadows has only been made greater by my discovery of the Doe Network website, a place that catalogs decades of John and Jane Does, the unidentified deceased. You can search by year of discovery, vital stats, photos and artist renderings, and age of victim. It has actually helped a lot of people locate the bodies of loved ones who disappeared, but hundreds more are still unaccounted for. Therein lies my obsession.
You might see a picture of a young girl, her hair parted in the middle and her cheekbones prominent — whatever the forensic artist felt was appropriate. Then below that there are actual photos of the clothing she was found in: A peasant dress, a leather purse, a floppy hat. One Jane Doe who was found in New Jersey was sort of hip. She had a wolf sweatshirt in her bag and was wearing vintage corduroy pants and Converse. I have a friend who likes to buy iPods from pawnshops, and tries to reconstruct the person's life based on the music they downloaded. It's the same with the Doe Network. You get the tattoos, the clothes, and the personal effects of strangers, and you use these tools recreate their past.
This is why I like hotel bars, where I can surround myself with John and Jane Does. These patrons not only want to hide in a hotel, but want to travel up to the 39th floor and rise up over the town, maybe so they can see who's coming before they get here.
The redhead was almost done with her drink when a man came up. She held out her hand to shake, holding a confident yet submissive smile. Ah, a date. He sat down and drummed his fingers on the bar, trying to figure out what he wanted. Then he looked at his watch and said something to her, she nodded, and they both got up and left. Dinner instead? Or a high-class hooker on a timetable? You make the call.
One of the guys in the Men's Warehouse suits answered his phone, and had a heated conversation, maybe about where the money drop would be. "No cops," he was probably saying.
What if the hooker were going to be murdered by the guy she left with? I tried to remember what she was wearing. A red wrap dress, sort of obvious for a hooker. She had on wedges and dangly earrings. Her bag didn't match. If she were found a week later, the strap of her purse used as a garrote, a lot would be made about the contents of the bag: a phone without its battery (removed by the perp?), no wallet or keys: just some Dentyne Ice, condoms, a Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer, and an autographed photo of her and Gavin Newsom. That would be the interesting part.
Too bad none of this is true.