1. On our first day in San Francisco, LauraBeth and I wore t-shirts that said GROOM 07 and BRIDE 07, respectively, and we kept waiting for someone to approach us and say something like, “Oh, you’re newlyweds? Please, have some free stuff!” I was certain we would at least get a free drink on the flight, if not an upgrade to first class. This expectation was a combination of wishful thinking and self-absorption, I realize now. Why should any stranger care that we’d just been married? It was a Sunday morning in August; probably ten thousand other couples in the country had been married the night before. Probably half of those people had staged the same basic wedding as us and served guests the same basic chicken-with-unidentifiable-sauce as us, and played the same basic music as us, but they weren’t us, a fact we hoped would somehow transcend the utter ordinariness of being a married straight couple in our twenties.
2. There’s an implicit pressure on a honeymoon to be more important and momentous than any other vacations you take together, because you’re setting the tone for an entire marriage and therefore things need to be extra meaningful. There’s a cultural expectation that this particular trip, above all other trips, be the one that defines who you are as a couple. At the beginning of a marriage, everything is supposed to be a sign of something. At my brother's wedding, my tux had come without a tie, and my mom declared immediately, "It's a sign!" though she never clarified what is was a sign of, nor who was signaling us. LauraBeth and I had been dating six and a half years, had lived together for a full year, before we got married, and we had been on a half-dozen vacations together already. I wasn’t nervous about being married and I wasn’t anxious about things going well on the trip; I was just excited to finally have the stress of wedding planning behind us. We had never traveled so far together, and the only thing we both wanted was to be in the same spot as each other. We ate lots of food I vaguely remember. We saw the things you’re supposed to see—cable cars, Alcatraz, the bridge, Ghirardelli Square, and so on—and dutifully took pictures of those things. We were far away from everyone we knew without easy access to email, and so we were gloriously alone and free to do whatever we wanted.
3. On the flight to San Francisco, I was fiddling with my wedding ring—besides the half hour during which I'd worn my high school class ring, I’d never worn a ring before—and dropped it under my seat during drink service. It rolled down the aisle past a flight attendant and I first looked to see if LauraBeth had noticed—she had—and next hoped it would land at the foot of a friendly stranger who would return it without making a big scene—it did. Sometimes things aren’t symbolic or foreshadowing; they’re just things that happen.
4. On the second day, we both woke up before sunrise due to the jet lag, and we decided to take a walk. We were staying in a hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf. I’d been there once before, when I was twelve and on vacation with my parents, but the only things I remembered were the homeless street performers and the sea lions at Pier 39. We wandered aimlessly, and, even though it was a weekday in a major city, we found nothing open for hours. We watched the sea lions for a while. Later, when I told my brother about them, he asked, “What do they do?” I told him they just sort of flop around and bark, and sometimes swim. “So what’s the point?” he asked. And I didn’t know how to answer, besides: they’re sea lions and they flop around and bark and swim. He and I are sometimes looking for very different things in vacations. LauraBeth and I stayed at the pier for almost an hour before moving in another direction. We improvised a four mile circuit that cut through Chinatown and several other areas of the city I barely remember. It's liberating to be young and relatively fearless and walk blindly through a city, feeling safe enough, and having no obligations to anyone. That has become a staple of our vacations: we find ourselves in a central location and start walking, hoping to find something. We walked several miles every day in San Francisco. I don’t know if I learned anything about the city. It felt good to be walking somewhere with my wife and not having to answer to anybody.
5. After four days in San Francisco, we drove north to Napa Valley. My brother-in-law had a friend who was an executive at a major winery, and he’d arranged for us to get private VIP tours at two vineyards. Neither of us knew anything about wine, but we knew we were supposed to go to wine country. The first time we went to a nice restaurant and ordered wine, the second-cheapest bottle, I stared dumbly at the waiter for a full minute after he presented me with the sample pour, because I had no idea how much ritual was involved in the wine-ordering process. At the vineyards, we listened to all the instructions and swirled the wine the way we were told to swirl the wine, and sniffed it, and after each sample we said something like yeah, that’s pretty good. We both liked very sweet wines then, and did not know what to ask for or how to conduct ourselves. We tried to absorb as much information as possible, but we were too young and too inexperienced to fake it. The guides were gracious and patient, and the vineyards themselves were as scenic as we’d been led to believe. If anything, these places were too nice for us. One tour ended with a picnic lunch that included two free bottles of wine. We’d already spent the morning tasting generous pours of expensive wines, and by mid-afternoon we were both very drunk. The guide gave us a wink and said we’d be fine to drive home. The roads are straight and wide, with broad shoulders, and there are frequent signs warning you that traffic signs are coming soon. They’ve built the area to accommodate drunk driving. We should not have driven, but we did. I have no meaningful reflection to offer on this fact.
6. Our ninth wedding anniversary is approaching, and lately, LauraBeth has been talking about going back to San Francisco. There are so many places to see, and we don’t have the resources to see them all. But there’s something appealing about returning to that same place we visited almost a decade ago, when we were different people and we were still learning how to be adults in the world. Since then, we’ve both become much more aware of ourselves and what we actually enjoy, and so we know if we go to San Francisco, we’ll experience it completely differently. If we don’t yet qualify as old, then we’re closer to being old than we are to being young, and I’m okay with that. I like the person I am now much more than the person I was then. You can’t erase past versions of yourself, but you can try to overwrite them; you can revise and create something closer to the person you want to be. Nothing momentous happened on our honeymoon; all the consequential things happened between then and now. It’s noteworthy because it came first, but being first wouldn't matter if not for all that came after.