San Francisco – Day Two14 February 2012 in Memories, Reviews, Trails/Hiking, Traveling
A late night and a dark, quiet room can really hinder ones ability to wait up and get going at a decent hour. Add on some Maury paternity tests after a long spell away from television and we didn’t end up leaving the room until almost noon.
Our plan today was to head to Fishermans Wharf and Pier 39. So once again it was up the hill. One would think there should be a balance of ascension and descent, but we always seemed to be walking up hill. Like we were constantly making our way out of a canyon. But it was a lovely day. The sun was shining and beginning to warm the streets. Soon our sweatshirts were rendered unnecessary. We took in the sights, sounds and smells of a busy city with people commuting to work, buses chugging by, and a steady number of people walking dogs.
These were the residents of San Francisco. Upon descending down to the Wharf the crowd instantly switched to tourists. We were right at home looking at our map, taking pictures, and staring, with mouths slightly open at the Golden Gate Bridge. Here we weren’t a small minority lost amongst the people of San Francisco we were part of the majority, blissfully enjoying a leisurely Wednesday in touristic bewilderment.
Our first stop was the Hyde St. Pier. This is part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. We were greeted by a small harbor of ships from the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was free to view them from the dock, but there was an admission fee for boarding them. We opted for the free pleasure of viewing these old sea vessels from the dock. The first boat you come across doesn’t hold any historical significance or at least not one of many years, but it marks a monumental human achievement of recent years. It’s the specialized row boat two people used to row from Japan to San Francisco. It was something like a 5000 mile trip and it took them roughly 189 days if I am remembering correctly. We had actually seen a PBS special on a similar race from Africa to South America. It was equally as impressive, but the real impression was left by a husband and wife team. The husband bailed well before the halfway point and the wife did the rest of the journey solo. I think it took her four or five months. That was a true testament to human will and endurance.
Moving down the dock we were given the privilege of watching a half dozen older gentleman—part of the Parks Service—work on an old boat in a living display of sorts. I’m always taken by people maintaining a trade that might otherwise be lost. These trades are customs of sorts and hold value. They hammered away on an old steel smoke stack. Sanded and finished boards with long strips of sand paper strung between two pieces of wood for handles. It was fun to watch. A real craft that you don’t see too often anymore in this world of assembly lines and cheap, mass production.
Further down were the big boys. The three mast ship and a passenger steamboat, along with an old tug and a few small ships one of which had the oriental style ribbed sail. Unfortunately the area this oriental ship was in was closed and that sail was down so we only knew of it by the sign on the dock.
Strolling further east we found the classic Fishermans Wharf sign and the seafood mecca of the bay. Everywhere our eyes gazed offered crab, lobster, oysters, shrimp. You name it they had it. Some at high end restaurants others at street stands. All probably fresh from that morning. Thankfully, buried in this sea of seafood was Boudin’s, the Frisco bakery famous for sourdough. Or so we were told by their signs. Inside we found sourdough loaves of every shape and size—quite literally. There were the expected long loafs and the rounds. Then there were novelty loaves shaped like crabs and alligators. After purchasing a loaf we walked outside and watched the bakers cutting the dough and making these novelty loaves. This must have taken some trial and error because the alligator before baking is only a vague shape resembling the proportions of a gator. The finished piece is actually somewhat life like in shape, size, and texture. As much as you can get with a crusty bread dough.
On our way to Pier 39, thanks to Lindsay we turned down a street and closer to the water. In a mostly unmarked building we found the Mechanical Museum, a giant pole shed structure housing a massive collection of antique midway games. I’m not talking about skee ball. I’m talking Qazaar the Great mechanical style fortune tellers and many older games I’ve never seen or heard of. There were dioramas of scenes like the Opium Den and Drunkard’s Dream. With the insertion of a quarter these dioramas come to life and talk or sing, dance or move, and jostle around in crude movements. There are also love testers and strength testers. There were old pinball machines and a shoot out game with a metal gun that shot actual metal balls at little metal targets set in the windows and doors of a saloon. There was also the oldest version of Rock’em Sock’em Robots I had ever seen and creepy animatronic dolls and mannequins. Most of the games were only a quarter and we didn’t see any higher than fifty cents so it was a wonderful way to kill an hour or two.
Next on our to see list was Pier 39. We only knew there were sea lions here. We had no idea it was basically a mall on a giant pier. There was two levels of souvenir stores, candy shops, and restaurants reaching out for every tourists wallet or purse. There was little character to it other than that it was on a pier. Other than that it might as well be a mall in Any Tourist Town, USA. Thankfully around the side of it sits a collection of square docks pilled with lounging sea lions. And I mean piled. Even though there were several empty docks they all crowded onto a few. Here they lay in large piles sleeping. Occasionally a bark or a snort. Sometimes a little movement, but never much. The most movement we did see caused a mighty ruckus. One seal, on the edge of an overcrowded dock fell off and into the water. Deciding there was more room on the dock next door he or she jumped up and out of the water landing on the tail of a sleeping sea lion, then clumsily waddling over the bodies of a few more attempting to find a place. This set the whole dock into a frenzy of barks and snorts. Within a minute or two they were all back to sleep and the excitement for the day here had concluded.
It was now well past lunch and the bread we had been gnawing at just wasn’t satiating us. We had plans to hike towards Mission and the Castro, knowing it would be a long walk, but longing for the mythic sized burritos we had heard legend of. So we walked. And walked. Making our way through the edge of China Town we felt as though we had somehow been transferred to China. I discussed this in the last blog, but now the scene was even more dramatic. Not only were the streets lined with shops and restaurants that had abandoned almost any form of the English language, but the streets were now packed with Asian people. We suddenly felt very out of place. Swept up in the hustle and bustle of a fast moving, foreign talking country within a city. Markets bleed out onto the sidewalks selling produce and exotic packaged foods along with strange dried shrimp and other weird dried sea life and insects. It was really very exciting and fun. I think it’s a valuable life lesson to spend sometime out of ones element and part of the minority. It’s a grounding, humbling experience that reflects what others must go through when they don’t speak the language or are obviously different in appearance.
Eventually we made our way to Market St. and then Mission St. We had heard the words “Mission” and “big burritos” paired somewhere and assumed we’d be able to walk the street and eventually find these oversized burritos. And so we walked. And walked. And walked. Block after block filled with little other than random tire shops, a few corner markets, and the occasional and rare pizza place or fast food chain. We were starving by now, beat from the heat and not talking. Sulking in the droning thud of our sore feet on pavement. Pain and mild exhaustion are one thing. This we can usually power through maintaining high spirits, but add the elements of hunger and a pounding sun and our PMA (positive mental attitude) as Bad Brain’s put it begins to fade fast.
After many blocks of nothingness we gave up. We knew, by the map that we were getting close to the Castro and we’d likely find food there, but we also knew every block we treaded was another block we had to walk back and it was approaching late afternoon already. So we cut up to Market St. Here we found a tiny burrito shop after a few blocks of backtracking. At first I was a little hesitant, worrying about getting food poisoning and spending our remaining time racing to the closest public restrooms and downing Imodium every couple hours. But my stomach was in control and overruled my brains weariness of the somewhat dirty tables and the odd open dishwashing area just a few feet from the back dining area with no barrier between. I feel dumb saying this, but I was comforted by the variety of customers milling in and out as we ate. Every time a saw a well dressed presumed business professional come in and order I was little more comfortable. Even without this ridiculous comfort I was too hungry and the burrito was way too good to resist. Our $5 burritos must have weighed two pounds each and were packed with beans, cheese, rice, lettuce, tomato, onion, sour cream, and huge chucks of avocado probably constituting at least a half of avocado. Along with this we received two small cups of salsa and a basket of chips. The green salsa tasted like a mix between a tomatillo salsa and guacamole. It was amazing!
With full bellies we stumbled back onto Market St. feeling almost drunk with food. It was a long walk back to the hotel, but a much more pleasant one now that we weren’t hungry and the sun was struggling to reach the sidewalk as it lowered in the sky. We had a couple of hours to kill before meeting my friend Cho and her husband Dave for dinner and we were still tired and sore from our long hike so we rested in the room for a few hours. Lindsay napped while I did a little work.
We met Cho and Dave a few blocks from our hotel and walked with them down to an Italian Restaurant in Little Italy. Here in the heart of China Town lies a few blocks packed with Italian restaurants and pizzerias. Entering the restaurant we were greeted by the loud boisterous voices of several large, presumably Italian men having a good old time. It was nice catching up with Cho. She used to work for a association I did design work for. Then she left and moved to the State Bar of Wisconsin where she brought me and my partner in for their rebranding. But we’ve always maintained a friendship outside of work and so it was nice to catch up and swap stories over dinner.
After dinner we stopped back at their apartment. This marked the second private residence we had been in in almost six months. I’m surprised we’re still house broken. Here we got to see sonograms of their child. Their expecting their first in July and are very excited. We talked a little more and then headed back to the hotel for another short break before meeting up with our new friend Bunny.
Bunny—for those not keeping up—is our friend Aaron’s friend from Seattle. She happened to be visiting San Fran the same time we were and this being her home at one time was a go to resource for info. She invited us out for drinks and I believe we have now breached the transition from friend of a friend to friend. She’s so sweet and introduced us to all of her friends which were sweet as sugar as well. We met her at the Edinburgh Castle in the Tenderloin and enjoyed a few Tecates and some amazing 60s pop music ala the Supremes, but way better. We danced and shared our adventure with Bunny’s friends. Again they were so, so sweet. They bought Lindsay drinks and all wished her a happy birthday.
Later on in the evening Bunny had to leave because the friends she was staying with had to work in the morning. Lindsay and I were still celebrating and so we stayed. Two of Bunny’s friends stayed as well and took us under their wing. After a little while they decided to take us to another bar. You’ll have to forgive our poor memories especially when it comes to names, but one of them was very insistent we come along. On the way she made the place sound very sketchy. “There’s no sign or even a name. You have to know it’s there. The bartender might be a crackhead. Don’t talk too loud.” We were somewhat uneasy. This was the tenderloin and by our experience with an almost naked man the previous night we we knew there were some scary blocks. Thankfully the bar we entered was a tiny little bar with a non-threatening clientele. There was no sign or name and you entered through a half door like the ones you see in barns. Inside was one of the smallest bars we’ve seen outside a private residence. It was maybe twenty-five feet with a dozen barstools. The bartender was older and a little eccentric, but doubtfully a crackhead. She was very nice, poured stiff, reasonably priced drinks(for San Francisco). They also had an awesome juke box.
It was getting late and eventually our two new friends had to catch a cab home. So we walked back to the hotel swinging into a pizza joint on the way and getting a delicious slice of spinach and feta.
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