Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Save Me, San Francisco

Take note of that title, folks. It will be the only time you see me reference anything by Train, since it’s the only good song they’ve written in about 13 years. That, and the fact that XM decided to play it about 5 times on the way up here yesterday.

So today was my day to “do” San Francisco, and to do it better than I “did” Las Vegas. This task was certainly made easier by the fact that in order to get the full experience of this city, I wouldn’t’ have to smoke, drink, gamble, or hire a prostitute.

 Getting up bright and early, I brought out the nicer long pants I packed (on account of being in civilization and needing to look halfway presentable, without Yosemite dirt all over myself). It was in the high 50’s when I first walked outside and rose to the mid 60’s by midday. In short, perfect weather. I later found out that it’s like this year-round, which gives this place a few more points in the “perfect place to live” column (along with friendly people, a social conscience, a healthy dose of liberalism, and some fantastic scenery). It was overcast – the remnants of what I’m sure was a foggy morning which I slept through – but the iPhone assured me the clouds would burn off by lunchtime. Of course, it was right.

I drove over the Golden Gate Bridge again, this time seeing it but still forgetting to try to take pictures of it, since it was the hour and not me that was bright and early. Tomorrow should bring no shortage of pictures of the bridge, though. It’s basically the only thing on my agenda. I then made my way to the Fisherman’s Wharf area, where I was to pick up my scheduled “cruse” to Alcatraz. Although I’ve never been on a cruise, I’m pretty sure a 12-minute 1.3-mile boat trip doesn’t’ qualify. I’d call it more of a pleasant ride, once the boat got moving. I was told there were porpoises surfacing all around the boat, but I couldn’t see any of them. (More on absentee sea life later.)

"I take pleasure in guttin' you, boy."
Arriving at Alcatraz, I was relieved to see that there was basically only one road and that everything was along it. When I had first heard that visitors were free to wander the island, I imagined literally wandering in circles around the island, trying to find the interesting things to do and see. As it turned out, just following the path up to the cell block on the top of the hill allowed one to see just about everything there was to see.

At the cell block, everyone gets a free audio tour, from a little headset you wear as you’re directed where to go. In it, after meeting the virtual narrators, you’re told to walk a certain distance in a certain direction before stopping and listening to information about what you’re looking at. There must be several different versions, because people were moving all over the place, appearing to be following the directions of some invisible hand. (I don’t think it’s likely that someone would be walking at a normal pace down the hallway and then just suddenly make a sharp left turn towards something they had been ignoring only moments earlier.) This made it feel like you were getting an individual tour, instead of being herded through the cell block like a sheep. Also, since everyone was listening to a headset, and there was no tour guide yelling to a large group, even though there were a few hundred people in the relatively small space, it was unusually quiet. The tour itself was great. It gave very accurate directions and never made you feel like you had even a chance of getting lost.

After exploring the island, it was on to the gift shop. I had expected some cute tongue-in-cheek items there, but that was just the beginning. When I found excerpts from the prisoners’ rules and regulations printed on large sheet metal signs, the teacher light bulb went off. Just think of all the things a teacher could do with a sign that says “Rule #5: You will do whatever work you are told to do.” Or, “Regulation #23: If you make groundless complaints for the purpose of creating dissatisfaction and/or stirring up trouble, you will be subject to disciplinary action.” My only reservation is that I’m not sure what kind of message I’d be sending by putting up prison rules in my classroom. Well, no I know exactly what kind of message I’d be sending. I’m just not sure if that would be a good thing to do.

Leaving Alcatraz, I headed back to my car to feed the parking meter before I got a ticket (I planned on getting back just as the meter expired.) But when I got there, there was already a ticket waiting for me. But something about it didn’t smell right. I arrived at 9:15 and paid for 4 hours of parking, giving me until 1:15. But the ticket for an expired meter was written at 11:37. Needless to say, when my credit card statement with the date and time of my payment comes, I’ll be contesting this one.

After moving the car to a lot where cops can’t write tickets, I went back to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch. Wandering around for a while, I managed to find a row of crab stands, all basically selling the same stuff for the same price, which made my decision of which to frequent that much more difficult.

Crab is definitely the king of all seafood. It’s half the price of lobster, and actually has some flavor. All of the crab legs available in supermarkets are prefrozen, so when the chance to have fresh crab arises, I always jump at the chance. Choosing a vendor, basically at random, I ordered a crab sandwich and a bowl of clam chowder. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Why travel all the way across the country to get something that’s famous in New England? I had the same thought, until I realized that the clam chowder here came in sourdough bread bowls, and San Francisco is home of the world’s best sourdough bread.

After lunch, I did some more wandering around Fisherman’s Wharf. I particularly wanted to see the group of sea lions that had commandeered one of the piers, but after walking to both ends of the area, I couldn’t find them. Turns out, just as suddenly as they had appeared, they just up and left about 2 years ago. Very sad day. No porpoises and no sea lions. Lots of seagulls though, and huge ones. Huge ones who weren’t afraid of people and begged for food like a dog when you’re eating pizza.

There were some street performers, including one unconventional man who hid behind 2 palm fronds and, as unsuspecting people walked by, he’d jump out and scare them, as the crowds laughed. It was very funny. I took a video, but I don’t know how to post it (or if it was even uploaded from the camera with today’s pictures). So if you want to see it, I’ll have to show you in person.

After that, I had some time to kill before dinner, so , in the spirit of not having any deadlines or rules, decided to drive halfway across the city to see Twin Peaks – a pair of 600-foot hilltops on the outskirts of the city that afford sweeping views of the entire Bay Area. By this point, the clouds were long gone, so I had clear skies to the horizon in every direction.

Then, just because I can’t go a day without climbing something, I took a short trail to the very top of one of the peaks to see what I could see from there. Well, I couldn’t see much, but the wind up there reminded me of Mt. Washington and for someone who’s never cold, even on a 55-degree day, the cool breeze was refreshing.

From there, I drove back across the entire city to meet my cousin Nanci, who lives out here and who we decided I haven’t seen for in over 15 years, for dinner. Over pasta and pizza (the first pizza I dared to try since leaving the pizza haven of New Jersey), we talked about the city (including the strangely constant weather and the interesting off-the-beaten-path destinations), family stuff, and compared notes on cross-country driving and visiting the national parks in the area. Afterwards, she pointed me in the direction of the baseball stadium (as my mother would be quick to say, because I could have never found it myself) and we went out separate ways. It was a nice change of pace to meet up with someone along the way, especially when they’re family.

So, as I hinted, from there I headed over to AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. The stadium was clean and modern, like most of the new stadia, but what surprised me were the fans. I got there in the top of the 3rd inning, and the place was completely full. Not only were there people in every seat, but they were fully invested in the game and hanging on every pitch, even at that early stage. Keep in mind, this was on a Monday night, too. I’m not sure even the fans at Fenway would give such a strong show of support on such an occasion, especially if they were playing the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In the end, after only 2 hours and 37 minutes, the Giants lost after their pitcher, Matt Cain, imploded in the 6th inning and gave up 5 runs, which would prove to be more than enough for Arizona. I found it funny that I got to see Carlos Beltran hit a triple in a Giants uniform, and JJ. Putz get his 25th save of the season as a Diamondback. Yet more proof that former Mets who may have been terrible while with New York, always leave the city and immediately become all-stars.

On the way back to the hotel, I decided to stop at the Marin Headlands, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, where you have a great view of the bridge and the city in the background.

Although I’m planning on going back tomorrow to see it for real, I don’t know when I’ll get another opportunity to see the city from above at night, so I couldn’t resist. Even though it looks like the half of the road with all the scenic turnouts may be closed, I was still able to get to one overlook and take a few cool pictures:

Tomorrow I wrap up my mini-exploration of San Francisco before Greggles Goes North, continuing up Highway 1 into Oregon on my way to Crater Lake.

1 comment:

  1. 1. I went to Las Vegas and didn't drink, engage with a hooker, or gamble (unless you consider throwing nickels in a slot machine gambling!!!)

    2. The Giants game was packed because they are the Championship team and they were playing the second place team in a close pennant race.

    3. Carlos Beltran did just fine on the Mets.