When Sal got to San Francisco, he was two weeks late for meeting his friend Remi Boncoeur. Sal says the trip from Denver was uneventful. When he first got to California, he felt “warm, palmy air—air you can kiss.”
It is no surprise that Sal, who doesn’t hold to a normal job or typical schedule, is two weeks late to meet up with his friend Remi. California is yet another part of America—a part of the much-hyped, almost mythical American West--that Sal will experience.
Sal found Remi’s place in a neighborhood of “housing-project shacks.” Remi had left a note on his door telling Sal to climb in through the window if no one was home. Sal climbed in the window, finding Sal and “his girl, Lee Ann,” sleeping on what Sal later learned was a stolen bed.
Remi lives in a run-down part of town and leaves his shack (furnished with stolen furniture) so that anyone could easily climb inside.
Sal says that he met Remi in prep school, but the two bonded because Remi had dated Sal’s former wife before Sal married her. In San Francisco, Remi was waiting for a ship to work on, and working as a guard at a nearby barracks in the meantime. Sal says that Lee Ann “had a bad tongue,” and she and Remi constantly yelled at each other.
In Sal’s life, male friendships seem to outlast romantic relationships. His friendship with Remi, for example, emerged from both of their failed relationships with the same woman. As with many other female characters, Sal is immediately critical of Lee Ann.
Remi was delighted when Sal climbed in through the window and laughed when he saw him. Sal describes a black man who lived next to Remi and whose great laugh could often be heard from Remi’s shack. Sal guesses that Remi may have picked up this laugh from his neighbor and thought that he was going to have a fun time in San Francisco.
Sal is excited by Remi’s laughter because his only intentions in coming to San Francisco are to have fun and enjoy himself.
Remi had Sal sleep on a cot in his shack and made sure to tell Sal “not to touch Lee Ann.” Sal describes Lee Ann as “a fetching hunk, a honey-colored creature,” with “hate in her eyes.” She had come to San Francisco with Remi thinking that he was wealthy and was now stuck with him in a little shack. Sal’s plan was to stay with Remi and write a story for a Hollywood studio, which Remi would bring to Los Angeles.
Sal’s descriptions of Lee Ann tend to objectify her as an attractive “creature,” while also disparaging her personality. Sal plans to use his writing to make a bit of a living in California.
Sal wrote “some gloomy tale about New York,” which Remi took to Hollywood. After more writing, Sal decided he wanted a job, so Remi arranged to get him the same job he had, as a guard at the barracks. Sal was hired and given a badge, a club, and a police uniform. Remi gave him a gun, as well.
Sal only writes for so long, before he decides to stop in favor of living his life and finding new experiences. It is ironic that Sal—a bit of a rebel with little respect for the law—should work as a kind of policeman.
Sal went to work at the barracks, which housed overseas construction workers, most of whom “were running away from something—usually the law.” Sal says that the other guards were “a horrible crew of men, men with cop-souls.” One night, Sal was the only guard on duty, and “all hell broke loose.”
Sal identifies more with the workers (who, like him, are on the run) than with the other guards, who stand for everything about mainstream society Sal and his friends hate.
All of the construction workers were drinking and making lots of noise, because their ship was leaving the next morning. Sal went to one door and asked them to quiet down, but the occupants offered him a drink. Sal went around to all the doors and accepted drinks from the workers and before long “was as drunk as anybody else.” At dawn, he accidentally put the American flag up on its pole upside down.
Comically, Sal is a horrible guard, because he doesn’t really care about rules and would rather just get drunk with the workers.
In the morning, the other guards (including one who had worked at Alcatraz), told Sal that he could go to jail for hanging the flag upside down. The Alcatraz guard talked fondly of his time guarding and disciplining prisoners there. Sal told him he didn’t feel “cut out to be a cop.”
The Alcatraz Guard is the opposite of the kind of person that Sal would like to be, as he takes pleasure in disciplining people and upholding rules and laws.
One night, another guard told Sal that they had to arrest some workers for making too much noise. Sal reluctantly went with him and tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade him to give the workers a break. Sal says that if it weren’t for Remi, he “wouldn’t have stayed at this job two hours.”
Remi and Sal were often on duty by themselves. Remi would walk around looking for open doors, so that he could maybe steal something from a room. He finally found an open door one night, but it ended up being the room of the barracks supervisor. Remi and Sal lied and said they were looking for a mop.
While ostensibly upholding law and order as guards, Sal and Remi actually roam the barracks looking to steal.
Remi and Sal were often able to break into the barracks cafeteria and steal all sorts of food. Remi would often quote President Truman ironically, saying, “We must cut down on the cost of living.” Sal says that he gradually began to realize that “everybody in America is a natural-born thief.”
From Sal’s perspective, everyone in America is a thief, so there is nothing wrong with his stealing. Remi quotes Truman ironically, using the words of the President to justify his lawless behavior.
One day, Sal and Remi went in to San Francisco and saw the Banana King, an old man who sold bananas on a street corner. Remi insisted that Sal had to write about the Banana King, though the subject bored Sal.
Remi thinks that the Banana King is something worth preserving in Sal’s writing, but it is not the kind of interesting experience Sal wants to write about.
Another day, Remi, Sal, and Lee Ann went out to an old abandoned freighter in the San Francisco bay. Remi looked for copper lining that he could take, but it had all been stripped already by thieves. Sal mentioned that he’d love to sleep on the abandoned boat, and Remi bet him five dollars he wouldn’t.
The fact that the ship has already been stripped of copper seems to support Sal’s claim that everyone in America is a thief, and there is nothing particularly wrong with Remi’s or his stealing
Sal began going out in San Francisco more often, trying to meet women. He describes “the loneliness of San Francisco,” and says that he had to leave the city or else he’d go crazy. He wrote to Carlo and Dean, and they sent replies that they were going to meet him in San Francisco.
Sal is now beginning to get restless after staying in one place for some time. Additionally, he misses his close friends Dean and Carlo.
As September came around, things began to fall apart with Remi and Lee Ann. Things came to a head when Sal went with them to a racetrack. On the way, Remi delivered a bag of groceries stolen from the barracks to a poor widow in a housing project. At the racetrack, Remi quickly lost all his money.
Remi acts like a countercultural Robin Hood, stealing to give to the poor. But he is not exactly heroic, as he immediately goes and wastes all his money at the races.
Frustrated after losing his money, Remi got angry with Sal, and then he and Lee Ann got into an argument. Lee Ann threatened to leave him for a cashier at the racetrack. Since Lee Ann had lived in the shack before Remi, she told him to pack up and leave.
Whenever Sal stays in one place too long, things seem to deteriorate and fall apart, as they do now with Remi and Lee Ann.
Remi asked Sal and Lee Ann for one final favor. His stepfather, a “distinguished doctor” from Europe was coming to visit and Remi wanted to go to a nice, expensive dinner with him. Remi asked Sal and Lee Ann to come along, to make it seem like everything was going well. Lee Ann agreed to this, and Sal guesses that she though Remi’s wealthy stepfather “might be a catch.”
Remi lives an atypical life, but still wants to pretend to his stepfather that he is living more normally. Sal continues to paint a negative portrait of Lee Ann, assuming that she is interested in Remi’s stepfather for his money.
By the day of the dinner, Sal had just recently quit his barracks job. He met Remi and Lee Ann at a fancy restaurant, where he happened to see Roland Major. Roland crashed the dinner party and leaned over Dr. Boncoeur (Remi’s stepfather) to talk to Sal. He rudely called Dr. Boncoeur a high-school French teacher. Sal “gave up” and got drunk.
Sal can only hold down a steady job in one place for so long. His drunken friend Roland ruins any chance Remi had of convincing his stepfather that he had a normal, stable life in San Francisco.
Sal realized that the dinner was a failure and that Remi wouldn’t talk to him again after this. Sal thought of how disastrously his planned trip west had gone. He had come to “the end of America,” and now had “nowhere to go but back.” Roland got thrown out of the restaurant, and Sal went with him to drink at a bar.
The next morning, Sal decided to leave San Francisco, but then saw a mountain that he had promised he would climb before leaving the city. So, he stayed another day and climbed the mountain, looking out at the Pacific Ocean and “the great raw bulge and bulk of my American continent.”
Having traveled from coast to coast, Sal is able to look out on the entire country, having seen and learned a great deal about all sorts of places on his trip.