San Francisco – Day One

13 February 2012 in Memories, Reviews, Traveling


With our traditional trip to Isla Mujeres, Mexico falling more than a little outside our monthly budget we were forced to settle for a six hour drive south to the City by the Bay. Three nights in San Francisco would mark the passage of Lindsay’s 28 years on earth and ring in the start of her 29th. Almost to 30 babe! I’ll race ya there.

So we booked a hostel near Union Square and began looking into the many offerings of San Fran. I contacted a friend of mine, Cho, who I used to work with back in Madison. And Lindsay contacted Bunny, our new friend from Seattle—formerly of San Francisco. With their help and the info we had obtained via the internet and a slightly dated travel book from the library we were ready to tackle another mythic metropolis.

But first there was the 6 hour drive and a $6 toll to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a beautifully engineered wonder, but for that price they ought to include a complimentary postcard or souvenir shot glass.

Anyways Lindsay had discovered the Legion of Honor Art Museum was free on Tuesday so we headed over there first. This museum was on the outer edge of the Richmond neighborhood, the area my friend Cho had recommended we park in. Surprisingly we found parking right away, on one of the boundary streets of the museum. After a half mile walk up hill we’d find a free parking lot, but it felt good to stretch our legs and the ease of finding parking on the street was a hopeful sign for later.

The museum had a Roman feel with white columns and a large, mostly empty courtyard besides Rodin’s The Thinker. Having spent the day in the car we made a straight dart line for the restrooms which were downstairs. Empty and refreshed we wandered a short hall admiring a few cases containing Egyptian and Roman relics. These, for me, would prove to be the most interesting pieces. The fine detail on the pottery, the swords, and the jewelry was intricate and expressional. I love the creative, somewhat crude designs and illustrations. I was inspired and ready to explore the upstairs.

Sadly most of the items featured on the main floor were the portraits of kings, queens, dukes, and duchesses along with the landscapes of rural France and England. I find these paintings expertly crafted, but lacking emotion, expression, and imagination. They served the purpose of a photograph before the camera was invented. They mostly reflected the lives of the well to do or were religious scenes. I readily admit realistic painting is a true skill and laying out a scene requires an artistic eye, but these paintings lacked feeling. I wasn’t moved emotionally or required to think. I’m no expert, I can only relate to you what I felt, but I felt little. The few pieces that spoke to me were some Picasso sketches held in a small book exhibit in the basement and a few gothic paintings of a somewhat morbid subject matter. Most of the museum was renaissance realism.

Upon exiting the museum we took in a wonderful view the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Walking the outer edge of the parking lot we came across a couple on the phone reporting their car had been broken into. Sure enough there on the ground lay the shattered glass of a small rear window. I believe I overheard the gentleman state that his computer had been taken. So in what seemed like a nice neighborhood, in the middle of the day, at a busy museum someone had busted their window and ran off with their computer. This was not a comforting experience because we would be leaving our car, parked on the street, in this very neighborhood for the next three nights.

It is times like this that you have to rationalize with your inner paranoia. We have insurance. We won’t be leaving anything worth stealing in the truck. We hardly have any gas so if they stole our truck they wouldn’t get very far. We had plenty of time to comfort ourselves while we toured the area looking for a parking space that wasn’t 2 hour and didn’t have street sweeping on a day we’d be there. We zigged, zagged, and zigged some more. There were plenty of spots if you drove a Mini, but nothing for a full sized car, let along a truck. Eventually we found one on a steep hill, between two driveways. Loaded like pack mules we compulsively double checked the doors, said a little prayer and walked away.

It was a half dozen blocks to Greary where we caught the 38 bus to downtown. This would be the first of many hours spent on a city bus, but more on that later. We exited on Van Nesse and hiked a few blocks up to Bush and down to the Encore Express. This was the most reasonably priced and centrally located boarding we could find. Unlike a normal hotel or any hostel we had visited here in the homeland there was not a ground level front desk and you had to be buzzed in. It was more akin to some of the hostels we stayed at in Amsterdam. With no signs directing or prompting you you enter the front door and find yourself at the bottom of some stairs. On our left was a door, but it didn’t look promising so we wandered up the steps and found an open door leading to the hotels “office”. It looked more like a college dorm than a hotel office. There was a couch on the left, with hiking packs piled on and around it and a cluttered desk with a young man sitting behind it presumably dicking around on the internet and listening to music. He “checked us in” with as little effort as possible. Asking for ID and our credit card. Then printing a sheet, having Lindsay sign it, and handing us a room key without mentioning where the room was until prompted by the confused looks on our faces. We asked about the AAA discount we should have gotten, but this was well beyond his base level knowledge and so we were asked to stop back tomorrow when his boss was in.

The room was okay. It had an old TV, probably from the nineties, with six or seven channels. We had a desk, a dresser, and a closet. There was a fridge and a sink. And the bed was stocked with plenty of pillows to fill the deep cavern that exposed itself anytime weight was placed in the center of the bed. Thankfully we would later have the pacifying lullabies of slightly muffled, crappy punk music emanating from the lower levels which between noon and 11pm served as practice space for uninspired, average musicians, with disposable time and income. But this was of little concern to us because we planned to spend as little time at the hotel as possible.

After unpacking and mixing up a tall one for the walk we began the first of many pedestrian explorations. We had scribbled down some quick notes on how to get to Loving Hut, an all vegan Chinese restaurant. The directions seemed easy enough, but halfway there we encountered a tunnel cutting through the hill for traffic and made what we thought was a logical move and walked over the hill avoiding the tunnel. Somehow this led us astray or so we thought. We found ourselves at a Dead End indicated by the usual road sign. Keyword here being road. After some backtracking and revisiting of our map we ended up back at the Dead End realizing that the sign did not relate to those on foot. Following the sidewalk it seems like you are trespassing and entering the courtyard of an affluent family’s home. Initially we expected a motion light to turn on, a dog to start barking, and then the repeated siren of an expensive and sensitive alarm. But no this was a public sidewalk that cut through a lush garden and provided a stunning view of the city lights, the bay, and the bridge. It reminded us of the wonderful surprises we find when we allow ourselves the liberty of getting lost.

We eventually found our way to the restaurant where we had a delicious meal. Lindsay had Spicy Cha Cha (fake shrimp) and I had Lemon Deluxe which was an amazing fake beef. We also had the Grilled Soy Jerky Skewers. All of the fake meat was amazing. I know to some it may be weird that we talk so much about our love of fake meat, but our reasons for vegetarianism don’t manifest in a distaste of the flavor of meat, but are plentiful elsewhere. With fake meat tasting this good who needs the real deal?

After dinner we wandered the streets again. Eventually finding ourselves in the heart of China Town. Unlike the China Town in Portland this district is quite large and distinguishable by more than just an ornate entrance. Here it is like entering another country. Everything changes. There are not only countless restaurants of the Asian persuasion, but also gift shops and markets. Even the big banks like Wells Fargo had Asian influenced arches over their window and signs in what I assume is Mandarin? There are lights set in delicate tissue paper lanterns and strung high above the streets. It was magical and dreamlike.

Eventually we exited China Town and found ourselves in the Tenderloin. My friend Cho had warned us this area might be a little shady, but from what we had seen of it so far it didn’t seem that bad. We had seen a few vagrants and some homeless people, but this wasn’t anything new. We had been in plenty of big cities and seen plenty of this side of urban life. But then we came to a large section of scaffolding that branched out into the road and routed the sidewalk around it. Coming around the corner was like entering a scene from Cops. There, in the road stumbled a man in his boxers and nothing else. No shoes, socks, nothing. Across the street there was a half dozen individuals in varying degrees of oblivion. Some struggling to stand. Others possessed by the gaunt gaze of a burnt out addict. It was as sad as it was scary. And it was pretty scary. Like I said we’re not virgins when it comes to the darker side of big cities, but this was one of the more shocking scenes we had come across.

When our cocktail was drained we stopped back at our room and jumped on the internet hoping to find a nice little bar to sit at for a few hours. The Hyde-Out was close by and reviewed as a dive bar so we thought we’d give it a try. Now “dive” for us means cheap, low key, and maybe a little less cleanly. We’re not talking about biker bars or anything possibly threatening. What we would find was neither. In fact, Francisconians must have a completely different definition. We found a low key bar, in that it was not overly busy, but dive bars do not sell $6 rail drinks. I think by definition there is not a thing they should serve that is over $5. But we didn’t know where else to go so we toughed it out and rang in the beginning of Lindsay’s 29th year.

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13 February 2012 Memories, Reviews, Traveling

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