June 29, 2004

Room with a view

I had dinner last night at the Cheesecake Factory in San Francisco, on the 8th floor of the Macy's building downtown. We ate on the outside patio with a beautiful view of Union Square, a dozen or so towering skyscrapers, and a lovely gloomy San Francisco sky. The food was excellent; the Cheesecake Factory's vegan options are severely limited, but my Mediterranean-ish pasta was really quite delicious. The company, a group of I think 12 assorted folks, was enjoyable. It was a thoroughly pleasing dining experience, except for the bit about the profound acrophobia.

8th floor. Outside. Separated from 7 floors of nothing by a crystal-clear Plexiglass boundary. You can sit facing the void and watch it with a slight queasy feeling while you eat, or you can sit with your back to it. If you sit with your back to it, you can either watch it reflected in the shiny windows of the restaurant in front of you, or you can just think about how close it is behind you. It's a lose-lose situation. I opted for more straightforward terror and sat facing the nothingness, then passed the next two hours alternating between morbid speculation about earthquakes and structural failures*, reflection on how nice it is to live and work near ground level, determined unconcernedness, reflection on how nice it was that the Macy's building has interior elevators instead of exterior ones, and occasional fits of panicked lightheadedness that came on whenever I made the mistake of watching the seagulls wheeling overhead.

One thing that I found interesting, aside from the fact that I was 80 feet above the ground, was how people reacted when Jacob brought up my fear of heights on my behalf. The group seemed to be split into two camps: those who asked if it would help if we moved inside/ if I'd be okay sitting on the side away from the edge/ etc, and those who told me, "Oh, you'll be fine." I'm not bashing the you'll-be-finers, understand, but I am particularly curious what made some people is-this-okayers and others not. Was it knowing me well enough to know that I'm a naturally panicky person? Jacob, going on two years of putting up with my neuroses, was the chieftain of Clan Do We Need To Go Inside. Was the difference in people whose own phobias were acting up? Jason, a respected member of the Telling Me There's A Sixty-Foot Pile Of Marshmallows Below Us Club, was claustrophobically displeased with the crowded waiting area. Was it just that the freaked-out look on my face was only visible to the people standing closest? It's a bit hard to isolate variables when I was standing nearest the phobic people whom I already knew well. Or was it the indulging-only-makes-it-worse philosophy at work?

Call for comments and opinions begins.... now. Rather, the call for comments and opinions begins after this footnote from two paragraphs ago.

*If you think that's bad, you should see how I behave on airplanes. I once spent a flight from Detroit to San Francisco calculating, on a drink napkin, how long it would take a plane to reach the ground if it suddenly lost all motive power at 25,000 feet and at what velocity it would be travelling when it hit. I've still got the answer somewhere.

Posted by dianna at June 29, 2004 11:05 AM

thank goodness you posted, i am sooooo bored.

i was totally of the 'don't-indulge-it-camp'. people actually offered to move inside? that's polite concern for you. i have enough neuroses of my own which i try not to indulge to care about anyone else's. i'm kind of a horrible person really. plus, i then ate a bacon cheeseburger across from you. and was the camp advocating jumping into the marshmallows.

i'm not afraid of heights, but i'm terrified of the ground. so i hear you on the airplane thing. but i always force myself to get on the airplane anyway. and you forced yourself to eat outside and i can respect that.

Posted by: michele at June 29, 2004 11:31 AM

The funny thing here is that I had registered you as being, if not actually a "Dianna are you going to be okay with this" person, at least nice about the heights thing. You're making out like a bandit here thanks to my inaccurate memory.

Anyway, I'm not afraid of cheese, so the bacon cheeseburger wasn't a problem.

Posted by: Dianna at June 29, 2004 11:41 AM

well i was a little worried. and willing to trade seats with you however many times you wanted. but at no point did i offer to move inside.

so i was semi-nice, what with the seats thing. but not polite, what with the outside-or-bust thing.

certainly i was concerned though. i was concerned for you. just not indulging you.

possibly i like the me in your mind who is nicer than the me which is typing this and doesn't seem nice at all. because really, i AM nice. i'm almost always nice.


Posted by: michele at June 29, 2004 11:49 AM

Despite the fact that I would probably have chosen to be sitting in a harness hanging from a rope over those eight stories of oblivion, I can sympathize to a degree. Had I been at the restaurant and noticed that there was a spider on a wall near my chair, I would have found myself similarly preoccupied.

While I don't think my particular fear would have merited moving the whole party, I wouldn't be above asking to switch seats with someone at the far end of the table.

Of course, in the unlikely even that said spider had been a snake (don't ask me how it got onto the eighth floor of a building), we probably would have actually had to leave the restaurant, if not the building.

On a final note, I'm curious whether your airplane calculations took into account air resistance. If so, exactly how did you accomplish that?

Posted by: Chris at June 29, 2004 12:11 PM

i would have switched seats with you! though sitting at the other end of last night's table wouldn't have exactly been something i wanted to do. but i'm nice, (RIGHT?) so i would have switched seats. right.

snakes are ok, they feel nice and their tongues are fun. spiders are not ok when they jump out at you, but are otherwise ok. unless they're those really large brown fuzzy ones in tacoma and its mating season. that was not ok.

Posted by: michele at June 29, 2004 12:30 PM

Do you know, I might have felt better if I were suspended above the nothingness in a harness. I mean, a) I'd be in a harness and b) most people wouldn't expect me to be totally blasé about it.

No, I didn't take air resistance into account. I couldn't remember enough physics, or enough of the relevant facts like air pressure at various elevations, to figure it out.

Also, I would have gladly traded seats with you if there were a snake, and I would have screwed up my courage and traded seats with you if there were a spider, unless it were a really big and/or hairy spider. Still, if we were outside, I'd probably be able to shoo it away without too much stress. It's only inside or on the goddamn back door frame that they give me the screaming heebie-jeebies.

Really, I think we lucked out on seating arrangements. The middle of the table was horrified by tales of sex tourism, the other end of the table was sullen and feudy, and we just had everybody else's bread.

Posted by: Dianna at June 29, 2004 01:45 PM

it strikes me that sitting with your back to the horrible heighty certain oblivionness would be way worse. because if you're facing it, you must (a) be across the table from it, (b) be able to see the plexiglass and be reassured of its existence, not to mention constantly verifying its structural integrity, and (c) be able to keep an eye on the drop to make sure it's still there and not have to take your eyes off, kind of like when i'm in a room with a spider or one of those dangly things. if you stop looking, it might move on you. if you sit with your back to the window/barrier/whatever, there's much more of a chance that you might manage to shove your chair backward through it and fall to your death, and this is the important part, alone. i'd rather know that if i'm falling, it's because an earthquake or something is taking all the other suckers with me, including the people closer to the drop than me. i ain't, frankly, goin' out like no bitch. or at least not by myself.

people tend, in general, to be quite indulgent of my fear of heights because it at least contains some pragmatic concerns: what if i pass out and slump over the railing or get vertigo and lose my balance and then i really *do* fall to my death? whereas, with the spider-and-dangly-bug phobia, people tend to be a lot more likely to laugh and tell me to suck it up because i can't find an argument that will convince them i really might die.

Posted by: katie at June 29, 2004 02:08 PM

bread end! we really did have the best seating arrangements. and i think i managed to block out most of that story of the donkey from the middle of the table. but every time that girl said 'bangkok', i was kind of scandalized.

damn, that bread was good. did you figure out how to make it yet? when will you make it for me?

Posted by: michele at June 29, 2004 02:20 PM

I have to say, I was kind of shocked by the number of people who were unconcerned for your mental well being. I was ready to move the party indoors - but I guess I also wasn't that hungry. Perhaps the divide was not related to a concern for you, or lack thereof - but rather a concern for how long it would take to have us reseated.

That said - I would now like to move toward defending the "sullen and feudy" end of the table. We handed over our bread willingly and our conversation was altogether quite pleasant. I know nothing of your sullen feud speak.

Posted by: Jolie at June 29, 2004 02:35 PM

Yeah, we all just assumed that side of the table would be sullen and feudy, didn't we? A bit disappointing, but it makes my life easier in the long run I guess. I definitely had the best seat at the table. Bread to the right of me, donkey sex ahead of me, and a pleasant and busty two-person buffer to the left of me.

Posted by: jason s at June 29, 2004 05:48 PM

Erica and I should start pitching ourselves as a pleasant and busty two-person buffer - handy for family reunions, children's birthday parties, and other potentially obnoxious occasions!

Posted by: Jolie at June 29, 2004 09:15 PM

i'm in! and so are my boobs. they're always along for the ride.

Posted by: erica at June 30, 2004 01:18 PM

Jolie and erica- as far as I know I have met neither of you, but that's some quality marketing. If you need venture capital for this endeavour...well...after feeding my various addictions I probably couldn't help out a whole lot...

but I still think it's a wicked-good idea! :)

Posted by: Erik at June 30, 2004 10:11 PM