Saturday, August 27, 2005

Day 11: San Francisco

Finally, we have reached the land of milk and honey. Oh wait, that’s Israel. Which let me tell you, I saw neither hide nor hair of milk and honey. Dry desert stubbornly terraformed with water that I’m sure was raped from an overused aquifer. Hey, that sounds like California too! I digress.

Liz and I woke up in San Mateo, which is just south of San Francisco, helped her parents pack as they were flying back to NY that day, and hopped in the car to drive into the city. All of my previous encounters with San Francisco have been in a car, as my brother lives in the east bay not near the BART. I hate driving into SF, much as I hated driving into NY. It’s not so much the driving that is annoying, but the parking. For this reason I have never warmed to SF, which was always a niggling doubt in the back of my mind when I made the decision to move here. Problem is I couldn’t think of any other place I would like better, either. Liz and I decided to park in a lot, something that goes against every fiber of my NY being, but we didn’t want to drive around all day in unfamiliar neighborhoods trying to score a spot only to return to find a ticket on the car for some arcane parking violation. Not that they necessarily have arcane parking violations here, but I’m sure the police officers would take one look at Irma’s NY plates and make something up on the spot. So a lot it was.

We whipped out the free AAA tourbook to SF and started on a walking tour. It started in Union Square, the hip, fashion center of SF, anchored by a Macys, Neiman Marcus, Tiffany’s, Saks 5th, etc, and conveniently enough, where we parked. Right off Union Square we took in a sidewalk art fair and walked into the Xanadu Gallery, which is housed in a Frank Lloyd Wright building. The exterior of the building is very modern but not that distinguishing, the inside spiral theme is reminiscent of the Guggenheim. In fact Wright used the Xanadu as a test before he designed the Guggenheim. The spiral is as amazing in a small scale as it is in the much larger museum.

On the other side of Union Square is the gorgeous Westin St. Francis hotel, survivor of the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed 90% of SF’s buildings. We waltzed in to the lobby, mentally laughing in the face of the upperclass gentility that frequent the joint, to use their bathroom. Best place to find a bathroom on a trip – a nice hotel. Walk in like you are a guest, the bathroom is usually to the side of the lobby, and nobody will look twice. Luckily today even in expensive hotels the guests dress in casual attire, so it’s harder to spot the fakes.

After our brief refresh we continued on the tour through Chinatown, which looked much like NY’s Chinatown, tho not as big. We stopped for buns at a Chinese bakery; mmm were they good. I got a roast pork bun, my favorite, and a creamed corn bun.

Much like in New York, next to Chinatown is the Italian neighborhood of North Beach, which is larger, and slightly more authentic than NY's Little Italy. At this point Liz remarked that really I wasn’t leaving NY at all; that in all the neighborhoods we had seen SF was just a west-coast clone with hills. I partly agreed with her, there’s a reason I chose SF over LA and that’s because it’s a city, but SF has a different character that I like. It’s a nice mix of big city edge with California laid-back attitudes. We walked by the Vesuvio café, home of the beat poets, and grabbed a coffee in Café Trieste, a charming and tourist crowded café.

North Beach is also the home of Telegraph Hill. We climbed to the top which features Coit Tower, a phallic symbol if there ever was one. Sure, its supposed to represent a fire hose, as Lillian Coit was an obsessive fan of firehouses, but really, a tall round building on a top of a hill, if that's not phallic then what is. Great view, tho.

We hiked down the Greenwich steps on the other side of Telegraph hill, where wild parrots live, and my thighs felt like we were descending the inner wall of the Grand Canyon again. We walked back up the Filbert steps and walked down to Del Monte square.

They had a small farmer’s market that day and we bought the most delicious plums and apricots. God I love California. Del Monte square is just off Fisherman’s Wharf, so we were spared the mass hysteria of tourist throngs of that area.

No trip to Fisherman's Wharf is complete until you ride the famous cable car. We walked to the end of one of the cable car lines, the Powell-Hyde, where they put the car on a platform and turn it by hand to go back up the tract. We decided to continue in the uber tourist tradition we had been adopting all day and ride the cable car. It was $3, which may seem like a lot but compared to the $5 it would increase to in 2 days it was a relative bargain. SF is smart in some ways, as even tho the cable car is part of the Muni system they charge more for it as most of the people who ride the Cable Car are tourists so why not profit off of them. If you are a resident of the bay area and own a monthly muni card you can ride the cable car for free, but you cannot transfer from a Muni bus to the cable car for free. The line was really long, as this was a prime tourist designation, but we decided to wait on line like everyone to experience it just this once. It took an hour, which is absurd. We had the usual line dynamics, people standing around in the hot sun alternately waiting patiently and complaining to their fellow line waiters about the length of the wait. We also had the typical line jumpers, in this case an elderly trio who didn’t really speak English and cut just behind us when the line made a turn and tried to edge up everytime the line moved. Liz, myself, and the people behind us talked loudly about how rude they were in an effort to embarrass them enough to step out, but they didn’t listen. So Liz point blank told them to get off and go to the end like everybody else but they also ignored us. They couldn’t claim language barrier as one of the women spoke English, but pretended they didn’t hear us. We made sure to not leave any room in front or behind of us so they would be pushed out, but some silly person a few behind us let them in. It’s behavior like that that encourages line jumpers. Someone should write a sociology paper on this behavior; from signs at amusement parks I know it is prevalent elsewhere.

When we finally boarded the cable car we took position on the exterior, hanging on for somewhat-dear-life. Liz’s leg got hit by a car that didn’t know how to share the road, but thankfully it was just a tap. That didn’t stop us from glaring at the driver, however. They were tourists anyway, so it was all good.

After riding one form of SF public transportation we decided to try another, the Muni Metro. We took it to the Castro, but ended up walking through mostly residential neighborhoods for hours. The Muni metro is a very silly transportation system. The platform was very long, as if to accommodate a many-car train, but the train that arrived only had 2 cars. From my recent experiences aboard the metro I know this is not an unusual occurrence – so far the longest train I have seen has only had 4 cars. Regardless it got us where we were going, or where we thought we were going if we had actually paid attention to a map and not walked away from the neighborhood we had been trying to see. No matter, walking through residential streets holds an interest all its own, because SF is full of gorgeous Victorians that I can only dream to live in.

We grazed the end of Golden Gate Park before we decided we were hungry and drove to the Mission to inhale some yummy Mexican food. We then drove to Oakland to my brother’s apartment to crash for the evening.


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