Esteban Writes from San Francisco

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Hang on tight, we got a long one here. I’m currently in Duluth, MN, after a couple of days of free camping, but this one will focus on my last week’s trip to San Francisco. Lots of thing to cover, so sorry for the length. I’ve already cut this in half, so thank me later.

Dear old lady, please don’t die

Halfway through the flight from Minneapolis to San Francisco a lady 3 rows in front of me is suddenly carried out of her seat, passed out. There’s noise and commotion, and the flight attendants come through the intercom to ask for a doctor. Two of them run to her and lay her down in the aisle. I can’t see anything but the attendants’ faces, who are running back and forth, bringing aid kits, blankets from the back of the plane. Suddenly someone is preparing a syringe, a passenger is instructed to hold an IV, and the doctor is reading the instructions on a defibrillator. I have no idea how serious the emergency is, but it feels like it prolongs for hours. It reminds me of that man that almost died during a comedy show I did once with Judd Apatow.
The rest of the plane was in complete silence. What are we to do? Are we to ignore the problem and go back to “Marley and Me” or whatever? Is it intrusive to ask the flight attendant how she is doing? Complicit in our inability and our incapacity to act, we just wait there, hoping for an opportunity to get some information, or to help in some way. Then, it happens. The flight attendant brings some sort of emergency communication headphones with double jacks that connect to two emergency input plugs that are right above my head. The passenger in the isle untangles the chord. I hold the input covers open, and the passenger in the middle seat plugs them in. Together we are “Row 27,” a perfectly efficient team of superheroes.
“Yeah, these headphones are not working here,” says the attendant. “I’ll use the plug in the back.”
By the time 24B proposes to plug them again she’s already near the 40s.
“It’s ok, 24B,” I tell him, with my hand on his shoulder, “It’s ok.” But deep down inside I know. Row 27 is no more.
We do an emergency landing in Denver and paramedics rush in and take her. I never see her face or understand her condition. All I know is she’s still alive, and based on the calm demeanor of the doctors, the paramedics, and her family I assume she’s ok.
All of them, along with the flight attendants and the four passengers around her that helped, get an applause. Row 27 does not, but that’s ok. “Good deeds must be done in the shadows,” I whisper to them, while we clap as if we were nothing but regular passengers…

San Francisco
Getting a city’s first impression from their subway always feels like a Christmas gift. You ascend the stairs in darkness and suddenly the city hits you in the face. You’re never sure what to expect. I got out of the BART system in the downtown area, and saw the Civic Center, which was closed and fenced for some kind of event. It was like that holiday I got a remote-control robot that didn’t include batteries. I just sat and stared at it. I hate private events in closed public spaces. It should not be allowed to have a few profiting from what’s supposedly for everyone. Oh, is that Clusterfest? The thing I’m profiting from? Oh, okay, carry on.
I feel a bit saddened by this city. It’s beautiful and I love how it shows the possibility of multi-cultural communities, but it’s also a city that seems to exemplify the wild contrast brought by late stage capitalism. The homeless population, the lack of attention to mental health, and the drug epidemic issues contrast with beautiful renovated Victorian spaces occupied by tech millennials who’s work websites probably describe ingenious apps that will save the world. The streets of Haight-Ashbury and the hippie movement sometime feels reduced to a business opportunity, and the ideals of those times seem a bit lost behind the superficial aesthetic of tie-dye t-shirts and the smell of weed and incense. Still, the powerful presence of the LGBTQ community and the openly progressive spirit of the city filled me with joy. I’ve never had so many people pronouncing my name right!
I got an Airbnb near Golden Gate park, in a quiet neighborhood that had amazing vegan food and a quiet vibe. In a coffee shop a Latina woman greeted me in Spanish. This is a really exciting event that happens from time to time, when two Spanish-speaking latinos just jump at it. Then two, three other clients came in, all “gringos.” Turns out, she just greets everyone in Spanish, and everyone who goes there tries to engage in Spanish. As a Spanish teacher who supports bilingualism, it was beautiful, but also it meant it wasn’t something particular about me. Damn, Norma, I thought we shared something.
I took a table outside, next to a pretty interesting group. I know this sounds like a joke, or the start of a riddle in a multi-cultural production of a Greek tragedy, but all of this happened, more or less. There were three people: a Latina woman, a Black woman, and a White woman. They were switching between languages: English, Spanish, and some French.  They had three dogs: a black, big dog, a brown fluffy one, and a small, white one. The dogs were named Tsuki, Coco, and Pearl. Dogs, languages, names, and people didn’t quite correlate to one another.
As they were leaving they passed by my table and I just had to say hi to the dogs. They immediately took this as an opportunity to settle some sort of long-held controversy as they all stood in front of me and immediately asked me which dog I liked the most. The dogs, as if trained, sat down expectantly. It was like Paris and the Golden Apple. I politely told them it was against my principles to show any kind of preference for any dog, as they were all beautiful creatures who…
“You MUST choose” They said, all six of them, interrupting me in unison.
“Oh, Ok. In that case I gotta go with Tsuki.”
Tsuki and his owner were incredibly excited about this. According to the myth they will live forever. All other 4 immediately became constellations.
What Pearl and Coco didn’t know is while shaking his leg Tsuki slipped me a $20.
He didn’t need to. He was truly a beautiful dog. Don’t tell Zeus.

Clusterfest
I don’t know how I got to this festival, but there I was, mingling around green rooms with Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, Adam Scott, Todd Barry, Chad Daniels, Rory Scovel, Tig Notaro…
On Saturday, perhaps too confident, I decided not to worry too much about my set. I walked through the city and got to the venue all sweaty. They took us all through make-up and hair, and we were invited to record a small interview for a podcast, and to do some promo stuff for Comedy Central’s Instagram page. I grabbed a drink backstage and waited for my set, feeling relaxed and excited, chatting with other comics and trying not to think much of it. I wasn’t nervous at all until my name got called and I jumped on stage.
I had two options on how to approach this set: I could memorize it word by word, hitting “play” in my mind, and having a precise, safe set, or I could go out there and feel the room a bit, being a bit loose, and take my chances. I felt confident enough to do the latter and regretted it the minute I walked on stage. The result was that I doubted my self for a second and made a couple of mistakes. I was a bit nervous to start, and at one point I blanked. “Great, I forgot my next joke,” I told the audience. “Seems like a good thing to do in a big show.” Got some laughs and kept going. At the end I felt disappointed. I had recorded my set but didn’t dare to listen to it. In my mind it was a bad set. Comics and producers around me congratulated me, but you can’t trust them! David Koechner was particularly supportive. It wasn’t until I headed out to the streets and heard strangers complimenting me that I started feeling better.
I listened to the recording on Tuesday, and it was way better than I expected. At least I won’t be ashamed of it when it comes out.

The Punchline and Pringles
On Sunday I did a set at a small theater downtown. After my set some comics invited me to The Punchline, a famous club that has a locals night on Sundays. In order to work at the club, locals need to come every Sunday for a year, and then at some point they get one shot to perform. They don’t know what week, they don’t know the line up. The booker feels the room out and approaches the comics, who are all lined up at the sides like wrestlers waiting for the tag, and says “you’re next.” And then you barely have time to put your thoughts together and perform 5 or so minutes after a year of waiting,
This booker seemed annoyed to meet me, and when I asked for the possibility of doing a set he dismissed me. “You are welcome to stay and watch,” he said. So I sat down in a table in the back and saw some great locals and other beginners who’s bad sets probably denied them the opportunity to do another one in a long while. The room’s energy switched from relaxed to tense depending on the stakes and ability of each of them. Then the booker tapped me on the shoulder. “You can go up next. You have 5 minutes, you get a light at 4.” I played it safe and had a great set. At the end of the night I hung out with the locals and heard about their efforts to save the club, which is closing its location soon. Hopefully they get to save it. But at least I was glad I got to do a set there before it happens.

I stayed in San Francisco two more days to film an ad for Pringles through Comedy Central. They put me up in a nice hotel. “Welcome, Esteban,” the woman at the desk told me when I checked in. “We have a King-Size bed waiting for you!” I responded that it was perfect as that is the bed size I relate with the most.
On Tuesday I got an early pick up at the hotel, and spent six hours riffing jokes about potato chips. In the corner of the set two guys handled cans of pringles like nuclear scientists handling plutonium. Blue rubber gloves and intense precision. They were stacking them perfectly and determining which ones were the best looking ones to be featured in the ad. After their decision they handed a beautiful, idyllic chip to one of the other comics, who, after a failed first take, instinctively ate it in one single bite. The sound of that chip crunching in his teeth made the Pringles scientists drop to the floor and scream “THE HUMANITY!” It was fun.
Most of the content we filmed was improvised, but in one of the takes I was to react to some jalapeño heat in the chips, so when I took a bite I reacted as I thought people who can’t handle heat react to hot chips. ¨
“Cut!” said the director. “Esteban, let’s try that again but this time pretend you’re eating a hot chip and not like you are struck by lighting while having a stroke.” So bad news, you won’t get to see my beautiful hot chip performance, which I expected would get me an Oscar. They do have an Oscar category for “Best performance in snack/beverage commercial” right?
I went back to the hotel and met with Sara, a friend from Madison, at a small sushi restaurant for dinner. She’s probably still there, waiting for her miso soup to arrive. Then back to my ride, to two planes, three airports, transported back to my reality. It was all really exciting and new and fresh, but nothing felt as exciting as seeing my entire house, all of my belongings, and my favorite celebrity, Autumn, pulling over the small, non-busy street around the Marquette airport.
I’m back to reality, and it feels good.

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