Having been told that using the public transportation system is an integral part of the San Francisco experience, I set off on my second day in the city using BART, the subway-style train system. I wish every city could have a train. They make getting around so simple, and while I know using an unfamiliar system is a pain to some, I always look at it like a puzzle to be solved.
My first task of the day was to ride a cable car. After seeing a few of them jam packed with tourists the day before, I wasn’t very excited about it. But a friend of mine described the cars rushing past you as you hold on and remarked, “In this day and age, you feel like you shouldn’t be allowed to do something that dangerous.” So I was sold.
I was able to get fairly close to the front of the line, though it would easily be fifteen minutes before the next car would arrive. In the meantime I watched the line behind me quadruple in size, and was forced to listen to a busker do the most horrific cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow” I’d ever heard. I considered paying him to stop, but was worried the insult would just make things worse.
I said I wish every city had a train, but I kinda wish every city had a cable car. They are so terrifically fun – like an amusement park ride. And because they are started and stopped by a driver and brakeman, and the sides are completely open, people get on and off almost at whim. I rode the cable cars around all day, sometimes just mentioning to the driver that I wanted to get off and having the car stop right then and there. Other times I wasn’t meaning to get on a particular car but, well, there it was. I’m sure they are a dangerous hassle for the city, but they are certainly a fun way to get around.
I wanted to see about getting on a boat to visit Alcatraz, but when I got to the pier the next available ticket wasn’t until the following Monday. I hopped a bus over to the Golden Gate Bridge, which was my only personal requirement for what I had to see in San Francisco. The bridge was obscured in fog, which I’ll admit was a bit disappointing, but it made for some cool photos even so.
On my list of places to go I had written down the phrase “eat lunch at Tommy’s Joynt.” Part of the beauty of my list is that I rarely list authorship on any piece of advice, so I have no idea who told me to go there. Tommy’s Joynt is the type of establishment that is able to paint “World Famous” directly onto the side of the building. You go in, and you see the cook slicing meat directly off the slab to use on sandwiches. I order the BBQ Turkey Sloppy Joe, and it is just heavenly.
I stopped by The Castro, which ended up needing a blog post all it’s own, so you’ll see that soon. Afterwards I made a Full House pilgrimage to Alamo Square Park, where any real fan can instantly recognize the spot the cast sat to film the picnic scene in the opening credits. I also made a stop by the house used to depict the outside of the Tanner home, where a fellow tourist asked if I wanted her take take a picture of me in front of the house. I declined, as I was starting to feel sorry for people who currently live in formerly famous places. They have to keep their blinds drawn at all times.
I saw the name Grace Cathedral on my map, and since I love walking through churches, I thought I’d stop by. This is where a person’s typical self-awareness and intelligence comes into direct conflict with the uneasiness of navigating a foreign city. As I stood in front of the monumental building I assumed, as I later found most people do, that it was Catholic. I put on a sweater to cover my shoulders (a custom I picked up touring the Catholic churches in Rome), and headed inside. I kept my quiet reverence and began to look around. Not once did I pay attention to any of the signage, since I usually read about the church after I’ve had a chance to walk through. I moved towards the front, intending to take a quiet moment in one of the pews. I could hear off to my right a small service was in progress in one of the side chapels. That’s when I heard the phrase, “Oh Lord, make haste to help us.”
I recognized it instantly. It was the frickin’ Book of Common Prayer. I was in an Episcopal Cathedral.
For those who don’t know, I’m a lifelong Episcopalian, and a Sunday School teacher. I recognized evening prayer so quickly because I was teaching the kids about it a mere two months ago. And I know Grace Cathedral. I’ve never visited it before, but I’ve heard about it many times. I’ve seen footage from services inside, I’ve met clergy and parishioners. I know it, because being in San Francisco it is at the center of our current movement towards the full inclusion of our LGBT members. I couldn’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me sooner. I was so convinced about what I thought I was visiting, I disregarded all evidence to the contrary.
Not one to miss a sign that it’s time to slow down and pay attention to what’s around me, I walked over to the chapel and joined the service already in progress. Afterwards I heard a few people complimenting a transgender parishioner on her hair. “God fashioned me different today!” she said, and practically bounded out of the church.
At this point I’m getting pretty tired and figure it’s time to head back to the loft. I catch a cable car up to Powell Street station, and on the way serve as the absolute expert in helping out four British tourists on how to ride the car. I rode my first cable car nine hours ago yet I’m able to answer every question they have.
As we approach Powell, I see a huge crowd. I get off the cable car and head for the center, thinking there must be something going on. But there’s nothing. A few guys are setting up some speakers and and few more seem to be dressed up for something, so I figure a performance of some kind is about to begin. I hear a few people talking amongst themselves, speculating about when they’re going to start. Several minutes go by, and at this point I’ve been standing there looking like I know what I’m doing for too long to ask anyone what they’re all waiting for. I see one of the guys who had been setting up the speakers drop his pants to reveal a pair of gold hot pants, and he adds an over-the-top stylish coat to the ensemble. I stay near him and the speakers to get a good view of whatever is about to happen.
The music starts. It’s the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis song “Can’t Hold Us,” though I’m not paying much attention. Instead I’ve got my camera raised in the area, grabbing as much photo and video as I can of a couple of really great break dancers. After a few dancers take their turn in the circle, a woman who is both flamboyantly dressed and walking with the air of authority steps in and starts motioning everyone to get back.
And then the flash mob starts.
I hollar and shout with the rest of the spectators as all the planned participants break out their choreographed routine. After a while it occurs to me that any dance taught to a flash mob can’t be terribly difficult due to the wide range of abilities in the participants, and the need to join them takes over. I hop in just in time to get in a few moves before the song fads and the crowd begins to cheer. I’m bummed that I didn’t think of joining sooner, but I figure hey, at least I tried. That’s when the people start to chant “one more time.”
The second round I joined in immediately. As I suspected the routine wasn’t so hard to figure out, and I danced the whole thing with the rest of the crowd. I even talked to the organizers afterwards and took photos. People kept referring to the hot pants guy as “Macklemost.” I get to the train platform just in time to see two cops run off to arrest a man who had jumped on the tracks, and I head back to the Circus Loft where I sleep on a couch under a pair of electric guitars.
So this is my life now.
Per Andrew’s suggestion, I drove over to the mission district my first morning in San Francisco for some delicious Mexican food. I hadn’t bothered with breakfast, which made the 10AM soft taco at Taqueria Cancun that much more delicious. I continued up and down the district, checking out the various sites Andrew had pointed me toward. I was still full from the taco when I arrived at yet another restaurant for a pupusa, a filled El Salvadorian tortilla that reminded me of Indian naan. I was stuffed, but it was worth it.
My car was in a two hour zone, so after too much food followed by some unusual high-end ice cream, I drove up to Buena Vista Park and lucked in to an unrestricted space right next to a park path. I walked up the hill, snapping pictures each time a new view came into focus. When I got to the top, I briefly considered taking a nap on the grass, but realized I hadn’t put on enough sunscreen for that. Believing by some form of magic that I wouldn’t need sunscreen just to walk around in the sunshine, I moved down the hill toward the highly recommended Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.
I wandered for a bit, lost in the residential area. I made it to Ashbury Street, and having seen nothing of note thus far I headed north towards what I later came to realize was The Haight. This was clearly the place everyone meant when they told me to visit Haight-Ashbury. I recognized it instantly. Mostly I recognized it because I used to live near it, or rather the exact carbon copy that exists in Seattle. From the thrift stores to the record shops to the Whole Foods on the corner, The Haight was brick for brick the same as Broadway on Capitol Hill. If there was any difference it was that The Haight had tourist shops.
I know Haight-Ashbury has history. I know it used to be “The Place.” When I was growing up, I was infatuated with the counter-culture of the 1960s. I used to think I was born 40 years too late, since everything would have been so much better if I lived back then. I thought there was nothing left to fight for, no civil rights or Vietnam. I was wrong of course, but I was twelve.
Over time I became less infatuated and more disillusioned with the Baby Boomer generation as it became clear that their failures could be just as monumental are their victories. So while 12-year-old Katrina would have been in absolute heaven staring at tie-dye Grateful Dead shirts and peace symbol necklaces, 27-year-old Katrina can only mourn both what The Haight once was, and what she used to believe about such places. I guess the consequence of changing the world is that you make yourself commonplace. As I made my way towards Golden Gate Park I tried to picture a flowerchild braiding the hair of “her old man,” but the thought was interrupted by a man reporting to two police officers that someone on the corner just offered to sell him crack.
Somewhat dismayed, I walked for too long in Golden Gate Park. I had this silly notion of going to the nearest lake and back, not realizing it would take me over an hour to get to that point in the massive park. I did manage to go through the beautiful AIDS memorial grove, and even managed that nap that I apparently now was able to take, despite nothing changing since my previous decision that it was a bad idea to sleep in the sun.
My evening ended at dinner with a few of my dad’s friends, and a hilarious incident that I won’t repeat here for their sake. I drove back to the Circus Loft, presently surprised that the toll on the bridge only goes one way. You pay to get into San Francisco, but no one cares when you leave.
After taking way too long to realize that Google Maps lets you drag and drop destinations, I’ve recently taken to adding locations at random and sorting them out later. This caused me to create the following image. The best part is that the journey starts in the center:
California Death Spiral aside, I eventually settled on a much smoother, coastal path through the state:
I’ve heard from a lot of people that Highway 101 is among the most beautiful stretches of road in the United States, so I’m excited about that. I had a pretty long list of things to see in California, but in the end nearly everything on my list was on Highway 101, in San Francisco, or near Los Angeles. There were a few interesting things on the east side (as demonstrated in above-pictured death spiral), but I think they’ll be destinations better served on a future trip. A trip with friends and proper hiking equipment perhaps.
I realized today on my drive to work that I haven’t thought about what I’m going to do and see in San Francisco. I knew I wanted to have expensive meal at Chez Panisse, and tour the Winchester Mystery House. But beyond that I don’t have much planned. I’ve been told by many people who know me and know the city that I would really like San Francisco, and I believe them. But so far I’ve been taking notes on what to see in America in general. Now I need to look at one city specifically.
The other day a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she was going to be in New York City for a few days, and wanted ideas for what she should see and do. A flood of suggestions came in, and now she’ll have to figure out how to cram it all into the few short days she will be there. Today I realized that I’m trying to do the same thing for a continuous 120 day period. I’m starting to see why so many fellow travelers have warned me against over-planning. The potential for being overwhelmed by this trip is incredible.
Perhaps I would do well to add only the Golden Gate Bridge to my list and call it good. No more plans for the city, I will figure it out when I get there. I can wander if I need to. Or rest if I want to. This is an adventure, not an assignment. I can’t do it wrong.
In my planning, I try to keep an open mind about where to go, what’s worth seeing, and what really qualifies as a detour. After all, nothing is really out of the way when you’re not going anywhere. My trip is a circle, and the phrase “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” is overly applicable. Things can only be out of the way if they make it impossible for me to see something else. So I’m going to have to prioritize. I thought it best to put together a “Must See List” to give myself more direction. So, as of right now, here are the eight things I feel like I Must See on this trip:
- Grand Canyon
- Niagara Falls
- San Francisco, CA
- The Deep South
- Roswell, NM
- Memphis, TN
- Glacier National Park
- The Oregon Vortex
One thing to remember about this list, is that it is personal to my experience. This is not a Must See for the United States. For example, if I had never seen any of the U.S. before, places like Mount Rushmore and New York City would be obvious choices. They’re not on the list because I have already seen them, so if I miss them on this trip it’s not a big deal.
There are a few other places that I originally thought were must see destinations, but in the spirit of setting priorities, I had to make some tough choices. When thinking of a destination, I asked myself if I might visit this place again one day. Certain cities, such and Chicago, IL and Austin, TX, are places I intend to see someday regardless. If not this trip, then the next one. More importantly, they are destinations by themselves. A year from now I could see myself flying to Chicago for a week. I can’t say the same about Niagara Falls.