Monday, April 18, 2011

San Francisco's nutshell

My thoughts on lovely San Francisco:

- It felt strangely familiar, like I'd been there before. I guess that's from all the movies and TV shows I've seen over the years. Google Street View may or may not have had something to do with this, too.

- It's like a weird (but good) hybrid of places I've been. Not quite the Pacific Northwest vibe, but not SoCal either. The beautiful old buildings, and the way that turning every corner revealed something new and pretty to see... in a way, it's like the Paris of the US. That's a compliment, by the way.

- San Francisco has more culture in one little finger than L.A. has in her entire body. Bohemian and erudite. Beauty and brains. Love it.

- Fog is funny. It was constantly on the move, no matter what time of day, and as a result, it felt like the city was shapeshifting. It made for some interesting views.

- I was prepared for hills, and lots of them. I've lived and spent time in some damn hilly places over the years. Sydney has its fair share, as does Brighton in the UK. However, I was naive. Nothing could have prepared me for five or six hours at a time, on foot, traversing those hills. I would also like to point out that the terrain feature on Google Maps really did not adequately indicate the level of steepness. My legs are jelly, and today I am hobbling about like a person twice my age (which, as of last Friday, would be seventy).

- I now know that I need to start going to the gym again. Telegraph Hill just about killed me with all the steps. On the bright side, I'm fairly certain that I walked off a few kilos over the weekend. That's possible, right?

- Bums, panhandlers, hobos, beggars... I'm not sure what the politically correct term even is these days. Do I care? Not really. But in The Haight, they dwell on every block. Not really surprising, seeing as there is a massive park only a few blocks north called Panhandle Park. I learned that I needed to be discrete with my camera - quite a task, as SLRs aren't really a discrete sort of camera. I was asked countless times if I wanted to take a photo of them. Annoying. However, one of them at least had a sense of humour. He asked me, "Do you want to hear a joke? Or take a picture of a joke?" and smilingly pointed at himself. Maybe I shouldn't have, but I had to laugh.

- Sequoias. Beautiful trees, and I just love the word. I love how it sounds in my head. I don't even know if I pronounce it correctly, but I still love how it sounds.

- The BART ticket machines (at the train stations) made me feel like I'd had a lobotomy. Ridiculously illogical, and had me scratching my head. I've used public transport in a lot of cities, but the BART machines win the prize for most stupidly unhelpful. Do you select your destination on the machine? No. You need to look it up on a table that is taped to the machine. This table tells you the fare. The first option the machine gives you is to insert your fare - cash or card. Then, you need to enter the amount for the fare. Is there a numbered key pad for this? No. First, you put in either the correct amount of cash, or more if you don't have the right change. Are you with me? This is where it gets silly. Say I need to pay $3.80 but only have a $5 note. I insert the note, then press the button that says "Subtract $1". Then, I press the button that says "Subtract 5c", four times (to subtract 20c)... then the machine prompts you to confirm the amount, prints the ticket, and spits out the change. Yeah, far more complicated than it needs to be. Shtoopid.

- I had fun confusing people. When asked how long I was staying in San Francisco, my answer each time was, "Just the weekend". That was when people would pick up on my accent, and assume I'd flown fourteen hours from Sydney (or Germany, as one misguided soul thought - bless him), just for one night in San Francisco. I could see it on their faces, and the relief when I'd tell them that I live in LA was palpable.

- Another comparison between LA and San Francisco: it appears that one group of underclass has simply been traded for another. In LA, most of the gardeners and manual labourers seen are of Mexican background. Any dirty job that a person doesn't want to do, is done by these hardworking immigrants. In San Francisco, I wasn't aware so much of a Hispanic presence, but noticed a lot of the lowly-paid jobs appeared to be filled by African Americans, or older Chinese immigrants.

- Am I glad I went alone? YES. Of course, I missed my little people (and my man, too). It goes without saying. But it was so nice to have a break from wiping snot, changing nappies, thinking of ways to keep them entertained, listening to irritating cartoon voices on the idiot box, picking up toys for the umpteenth time in a day... you get the picture.

- San Francisco now has a little piece of my heart.

Stay tuned for photos. But first, some words on this city from one of my all time favourite comedians:


  1. So glad you enjoyed it.

    I love that place. I could quite happily live there (but a little nervous about that naughty Mr San Andreas who lives downstairs).

  2. Thank you! Yeah, it's a shame about Mr San Andreas. He's rather unwanted, and I guess he's equally present in this here south region, too. Wish someone would slip him some valium. Forever.

  3. Finally getting caught up in here - forgive me!

    I love that you soaked up just as much as you could in such a short time - clearly a seasoned traveller.

    The ticket system? Really? I can't fathom it - I can't fathom anyone INVENTING such a system let alone a large, world-renowned city implementing it. Weird.

    What's the deal with Panhandlers Park? They named it for all the beggars? Can that be right?

    I found the poverty so confronting when in the US. You just don't see that kind of thing in Australia - it's still largely hidden. I guess that's just down to numbers - the population here is just a fraction of there. But the permanent, deeply entrenched presence of the homeless is frightening. It's especially shocking in a place like LA where it butts up against extreme wealth. Such a weird juxtaposition.

    Oooh, I would love a little adventure all on my ownsome. So glad you had such a lovely time.

  4. I did manage to see a lot... but realise now that I didn't spend enough time just sitting, chilling, and watching people. I was just go, go, go. But, you know, I made the most of a very short time there, that's for sure! It was so worth it.

    Yes, strange ticket machines. There were other options on it, but I'd assumed that paying cash for a single fare was going to keep it simple. Maybe not!

    The stats on poverty are frightening. 1 in 50 American children are homeless. That is totally unacceptable, especially in a country that likes to consider itself the land of the free. Hard to feel free when you're that poor, I bet. Makes me so grateful for what we have.

    I'm guessing Panhandle Park was named back in the Gold Rush days, when panhandling was literally looking for gold, not just a term for begging? But yeah, I wonder when the meaning shifted? I'd never heard it until we went to Vancouver - it's a similar scene there. Lots of beggars on the streets, and they come from all over Canada because Vancouver has the mildest climate.