“I feel like I just talked to a famous person” I confide in my road trip partner, Emily.
“The receptionist at Bliss?” Her stare makes my enthusiasm recoil just a bit. “Um yes, I know I know but It’s Bliss!”
The appointment was made somewhere from the Mojave dessert. Cross the border. Have car examined by California Department of Agriculture for any additional fruit besides the apples we are currently chomping on. Make appointment at Bliss. Isn’t that what every woman in her right mind does after driving over the California border for the first time? (Old School Feminists please address all hate mail to PO Box 694 Carrboro, NC 27510) In truth, it wasn’t part of my plan to do so either. In browsing the Bliss catalog, a mysterious stowaway in my carefully packed purse, I miraculously noticed the information that would lead me right to this very moment -post massage and pure Bliss. “There is a Bliss San Francisco!” Emily appreciated my excitement but seemed more focused on hitting Oklahoma City in time to allow us to get to the Grand Canyon the next night. “That’s great”
Deciding between the Herbie, a 90 minute facial and body treatment that leaves me stuffed like a grape leaf with layers of lavender, bergamot, lemon, thyme, peppermint, and eucalyptus essential oils and the “shrink wrap” which promised to leave me skinner in just 60 minutes, was very very difficult. The Herbie at $170 was more expensive than the Shrink wrap at $115. But was there really a 60 minute treatment that could rid me of the belly that had year after year forced me to leave behind so many adorable abdominal revealing shirts? In just one hour, years of frustration gone. A helpful receptionist made the choice more clear. The shrink wrap eliminates water from the body. Which means it is only for an event/shirt/dress to be worn/attended that night. Ok so back to the Herbie. But it’s expensive and the 75 minute Blissage included a paraffin wax foot wrap, which I had never tried. Eventually I decided on the Blissage 75.
Appointment at 4:30. Arrival at airport 8pm. The W hotel, which houses Bliss San Francisco, at 181 3rd St. kindly held my bags for the day at no charge and arranged a $13 shuttle to the airport. Great alternative to the $45 taxi ride or lugging my bags through public transit which obviously would have ruined my post-treatment bliss. Many thanks to the W hotel.
Bags and Shuttle squared away, I took the elevator to the fourth floor. As the door opened, I could barely contain my excitement. I told the receptionist, the attendant, the other robbed patrons, and my massage therapist (aptly named Angel) of my obsession with the Bliss catalogue, and that this was my first time here in person. I am in awe.
A kind young woman about my age (26) takes me back to the locker room. Each locker has a digital lock which each patron can set. Two hangers. A shoe bin (each customer is given deep blue, appropriately-sized flip flops). And a jewelry shelf organize the inside of the wood paneled locker. This kind lady shows me the two sinks outfitted with tampax tampons, hairdryers, aerosol spray deodorant, tissues and bliss's lemon sage hand soap, face soap, body lotion and face lotion. The showers double as saunas that hit 185 degrees with the touch of a button. Mine is tiled but there is also a more classic style wooden sauna. Inside the sauna/shower you will find bliss brand shampoo, conditioner, and body soap.
The real heaven of Bliss however is the waiting room. This is no ordinary spa waiting room. It is for robbed patrons only. Suede-lined modern couches and end tables. An enormous sliding door out to the patio. (I’m sorry is anyone here brave enough to sit out there in plain view of the other skyscrapers while draped only in their spa-issued white robes?) OK back to the inside waiting room. Fresh spring water and newly cut lemons and strawberries fill perfectly shaped glass pitchers. Tapas plates lay about with a selection of black, kalamata and green olives. Sliced cheese and cucumbers, matzo crackers, and an enormous bowl of gloriously green granny smith apples mingle with mango mélange hot tea. Magazines ranging from US weekly to Martha Stewart living canoodle with large modern art books which double as coasters on the end tables. "You are welcome to wait here as long as you like before and after your appointments." She means it. They’ll leave you there as long as you like. I delayed my airport shuttle an hour upon learning this information.
I disrobe, wash my face and sit in the sauna until I'm sure I might be their first customer to die of the heat in less than five minutes. I’m a sauna virgin. The kind of virgin who gives a lot of blow jobs but who claims virginity none the less. In other words, I have tried lots of them but only seem to last about 2-5 minutes. I don’t get the whole “I need a good long sauna" kind of woman.
I moved swiftly to the "robed-patron only" waiting room. I drink two dram glasses full of strawberry lemon water sure that the amino acids and vitamins and excellent chi are preparing my insides for detoxification as the water splashes down my tense toxic throat.
I attempt to flip through a couple of the glossy hardcover art books but they don’t capture my interest. I want to talk to the two women in the room with me. I want to know what treatments they are getting and why, and how they compare to other places they have been. One woman seems to be of the “Every (wo)man is an island” kind of attitude while her girlfriend seems a little more in for the social spa experience. I approach her with caution, fully respecting the sacredness of the spa experience. This is where we come. This is where we are women, in our element. An inquisitive 26 year old from North Carolina can truly ruin any busy woman’s hour of bliss. So I say casually “Are you from here?” Her face lights up realizing she has spotted a real live tourist, “Well I’m originally from Southern California but I have lived here for twenty years” We talk casually about how this is in fact the best place in America to live and my plans to move here before 365 days have passed. After all, once you find heaven on earth there is absolutely no friendship, no job, no reason to prolong your arrival. I belong in San Francisco. So the first part of our conversation went well. My massage therapist arrives before I get to brave asking my new friend which treatment awaits her. This can be potentially embarrassing when someone is there for say a chest acne facial, the “Chestacial”. But Angel arrives and I am immediately drawn elsewhere. Angel. Yes yes. I know. This is my Mecca and she is my angel. I have always been a seeker and today I seek enlightenment. I ask her lots of questions like “what are those plants lining the floor in the hallway outside the treatment rooms?” I am sure they are emitting some nerve-soothing fragrance. She says “Oh um they are fake topiary I think.” OK. Then more potentially disappointing news. “We are out of hot paraffin foot wax wrap.” My heart sinks. “But I can replace it with an aromatherapy body rub add-on instead.?" Absolutely. I get my perfect combination of the essential oils that tempted me to the Herbie and a massage. Brilliant. Soft slightly hipster flavored jazz tunes alternate with likes of Norah Jones during the massage. Angel despite looking petite is a power house. She massages, leans in, and pulls on most of my body parts. The essential oils have me in some half conscious delirium where I completely forget the week behind me of cross country driving, Muir woods hiking, china town eating, ferry riding, brilliant San Francisco. Mostly I have the feeling of deep unspeakable gratitude. I am here. I am one of those people who I only got to marvel at for years. I am now one of those people lucky enough to know Bliss. It’s worth every penny. After the massage is over I feel physical relief but also an emotional release. I am a believer that emotions are stored in the body. Massages can be (with the right therapist) a deep emotional healing. Like a spiritual subconscious conversation with angels who gently kneed every broken heart, every disappointment, and overly indulgent moment of low self-esteem. They are honoring my body and I am honoring my history, my emotions and offering up my body to the angels in the room or whatever force of the universe that brought me this far and together we all release sadness, anger, and old, old pain.
And I get to lounge in an overly indulgent sauna and munch a granny smith apple, cheese, and cucumbers before I hit the road and return to work in North Carolina. I am so grateful. Sometimes, life is blissful.