As Russell Blaze emerged from the public parking garage on Montgomery, the famous San Francisco fog enveloped him and sent a chill through his body. He pulled his brown houndstooth sport coat around his chest, crossed his arms, and stuck his hands in his armpits. Despite the biting, wet cold, Russ smiled to himself. It was his first time in the city since the great pandemic of 2020, and it was good to see people out on the streets again.
As he turned onto Columbus, the wind coming off the bay hit him. He lowered his head and strode forward. He didn’t have far to go. He was meeting his son, Cody, at the historic Tadich Grill, which Russ was pleased to see had survived the shutdowns. He looked up and saw the sign not far ahead. Then his attention was drawn to a striking woman who was walking toward him. Her stride seemed purposeful as her high heels clicked on the pavement. She looked to be around Russ’s age, seventyish, and wore a gray wool pantsuit with a white blouse. Her gray hair was cut short. As they passed, Russ studied her face. Her green eyes darted his way for a brief moment, and Russ imagined some past familiarity. Was she someone he knew? Someone he should have acknowledged? She hadn’t seemed to recognize him.
Russ saw Cody standing at the entrance to the restaurant and put the woman out of his mind. Cody, in his early thirties, stood a little over six feet tall, about two inches taller than Russ. He had inherited his father’s rugged good looks but wore his hair short while Russ had spent his life sporting long hair, one of his enduring holdovers from his hippie days in the Haight Ashbury. A moment later, father and son hugged before they entered the restaurant.
They were seated in a dark wood-paneled booth. Russ ordered a vodka martini. Cody ordered a Coke. He was on his lunch break and was due in federal court in a few hours.
Cody watched his father studying the menu and smiled. “Why are you even looking at the menu?” he asked. “We both know you’re going to have the Cioppino and a glass of Pinot Grigio.”
Russ looked up and grinned. “Oh, we know that, do we? Mister smarty pants lawyer.” The grin disappeared as fast as it had appeared as he looked back down at the menu. Cody said nothing but continued to watch his father stare at a menu he knew by heart. Russ had aged well, Cody thought, although his chiseled face was well-lined and his brown eyes, usually intense and piercing, would sometimes drift into a faraway look.
After a moment, Cody was struck by the thought that Russ wasn’t really looking at the menu at all. He was thinking about something else. That, in and of itself, wasn’t surprising. Although Russ had been an exemplary father, never missing a soccer game or a debate club tournament or any of the myriad events parents were expected to attend, Cody had noticed from a young age that Russ would sometimes space out as if his internal attention became focused on something else. It would start with that faraway look, and at times Cody thought he saw a kind of sadness in Russ’s expression. But it was always fleeting, and more often than not, Cody assumed he’d imagined it.
Russ must have felt his son watching him; he looked up again, smiled, and put the menu down. A moment later, as an ancient waiter asked to take their order, Russ said he’d like the Cioppino and a glass of Pinot Grigio.
When the waiter left, Cody asked, “Something on your mind, Dad? You seem distracted.”
Russ gave a small shake of his head. “No, not really. Just before I arrived, I passed a woman on the street I thought I recognized, but I can’t reel it in. It bugs me when that happens.”
“Give yourself a break,” Cody said. “You’ve interviewed thousands of people in your career. You can’t expect to remember every one of them.”
Russ shrugged and drank the last of his martini. “Especially at my advanced age,” he said. “Tell me what’s happening in your world. Anything new?”
Cody smiled. “I thought you’d never ask. I’m in the process of settling a major discrimination case.”
“Nice. Can you tell me about it?”
“Not too much. I’m sure the defendant will insist on a confidentiality clause.” Cody paused and took a sip of his Coke. “Let’s just say it’s a big tech firm that allowed and, at times, even nurtured an environment of sexual harassment.” Cody paused again and then let out a small snort of a laugh. “With a dash of racism. We got our hands on a bunch of internal emails. One of my favorites was from the CFO that referred to a Black woman in accounting. The email said he’d like to get some of that ‘brown sugar,’ ” Cody said, making air quotes.
“That’s what we said. Anyway, I’ve been lead counsel on it and have worked my ass off, so it’s very rewarding.” He grinned again. “Not to mention it will be a big payday.”
The two men were silent while the waiter served their food and poured Russ’s wine. When he left, Russ raised his glass in a toast. “I’m proud of you, Son.”
What Russ didn’t say was how bittersweet it made him feel that Cody had become a civil rights attorney. That was a story he’d save for another day.
But Cody never saw his father again.