September 29, 2005

LLeft Coast LLama Update

Call me a traitor to the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy if you will, but I'm just going to come out and say this right away: I really like San Francisco. Overall, it's really much grubbier than I had imagined. But it's got all the eclectic energy of, say, certain Manhattan neighborhoods, but without the "What are you lookin' at?" edge underneath.

First afternoon there, I decided to do a walkabout. My hotel was just off to the southwest of the Financial District. As I came out the front, I looked up to the top of Mason Street and decided, "I want to see what's up there." So I started walking. Or hiking, to be more exact. I dunno how many hundreds of feet the street climbs in the course of six or seven blocks, but it's a lot. The sidewalks on the upper slopes are all cross-hatched for better traction. It happened to be clear and sunny while I was there - I wouldn't like to think what it would be like tackling that trail in the rain or ice.

Anyhoo, after a trudge, I found myself atop Nob Hill and next door to the Intercontinental Hotel. (The Top of the Mark bar at the top is supposed to be a coo-el place to take in the view.) From there, Mason Street runs downhill all the way to Fisherman's Wharf, passing between Russian Hill and Chinatown. Sighting the bay, my next thought was, "I want to see what's down there." So off I went. There's supposed to be a Trolly-Car Museum somewhere on that part of Mason Street, but I was so busy concentrating on not tumbling down the slope that I missed it. However, about halfway down, I did notice the sudden great view of Alcatraz - all the more reason to keep going. (By the way, no, I did not ride a trolly. But I almost got hit by one as I was jaywalking.)

Anyhoo, I finally made it down to Fisherman's Wharf. I must say that this was the most disappointing part of the trip. The food may be great there, but the streets all smell of pee and the waterfront is loaded down with cheesy tourist trap novelties like Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not Odditorium and a Wax Museum. Thanks, but no thanks. Oh, and the place was jammed with, well, cheesy tourists, most of whom, for some odd reason, seemed to be Germans.

Hanging a left, I went out past The Cannery, Ghiradelli Square and the Maritime Museum and headed up the bluff to Fort Mason. I dunno the historical significance of the place, but there is a spot on the path going up the slope where you can sit and see Alcatraz to your right front and the entire Golden Gate Bridge off to your left and a serious part of the Bay all around - I could have sat there for hours watching the way the clouds worked off the mountains on the far side and kept covering the northern tower of the bridge.

After a bit, I decided to head back the other way. Coming back up Mason Street, I took a detour left and hiked up Telegraph Hill to the Coit Tower. I didn't climb the tower itself (I was getting tired), but the view from the hill is still pretty good. For the final push, I reclimbed Nob Hill from the north side and got back to the hotel feeling that I had earned some seriously large amounts of food and drink.

I'll say here that I was immediately taken by the geography of the place. In Northern Virginia, we live in the shadow of the Blue Ridge which, I've read somewhere, is one of the oldest mountain ranges on Earth. It is geologically ancient. It's quiet. It's hilly, but the hills are just gradually wearing down. Not so the West Coast - the land out there is still sorting itself out. Everything has a young, energetic, chaotic look to it, as if it's going to let fly at any second. And no offense to the folks out there, but if you people continue to insist on building your houses on cliff-faces and hillsides, well, don't come crying to me when they get shaken right off.

Anyhoo, the next day I had to go over to the Federal Building. Looking at the map, I saw that it was only five blocks over and three down from my hotel, and felt it would be silly to waste money on a cab. So off I went. Well, file that one under "Jackass stunts I won't do again." My path took me through what someone told me was called the Tenderloin District. It was full to overflowing with wine-o's, potheads and other derelict riff-raff. And here I was, marching down the street in a blue business suit with a green silk tie. "Okay," I said to myself, "Just keep your game face on. Don't make eye contact. Look like you know what you're doing." Fortunately, nobody gave me any trouble. Later on I reflected that, at 9:30 in the morning, they were probably incapable of giving me any trouble, but as I say, I don't think I want to try that one again.

That evening, after I was done with my business, I went with some friends to a place called La Barca on Lombard Street in the Marina. Having grown up in South Texas, I often argue that there is no such thing as good Tex-Mex food in Dee Cee. This place was much, much closer to what I remember growing up. Much fun was had. Many thanks to Brigid, Rob, Kate and John for taking me along there. (By the way, rather disappointingly, this was the only place where I saw any kind of weirdness that might fall under the Left Coast rubric, and it was only a group of thirty-something women celebrating the birthday of somebody's three year old kid in the bar.)

Not much else to tell about my stay. However, even though it was a hit-and-run visit, I was definitely left with the feeling that I'd very much like to go back and stay longer. That doesn't happen with me very often, so you can imagine how impressed I was with the place. (N.B. - This does NOT mean that I would want to live there.)

Now permit me, if you will, to get in a little rant on the subject of flying. Heading out was pretty uneventful. But the flight back last night was among the most turbulent I have ever been on. And it wasn't just the odd pocket here or there - of the five or so hours in the air, the seatbelt sign was never off for more than half an hour at the most. I had bought a snack, but couldn't eat it. I had bought a drink, but couldn't pour it. I had hoped that forcing myself to watch Adam Sandler in The Longest Yard would act as a sufficient counter-irritant to make me forget the shaking and jolting, but both the audio and video kept cutting out and skipping. I spent the flight clutching my arm-rests so tightly that I got off the plane with forearms like Popeye's and my fingers are still numb this morning. Let me say it plainly: If Llamas were meant to fly, they'd have wings!

Posted by Robert at September 29, 2005 09:46 AM | TrackBack

I love San Fran. I could never live there. But visiting is always pleasant. Glad you had a good time. On my first visit I, too, was disappointed with Fishermans Wharf. But I did enjoy the Ship Museum just down from Fishermans Wharf. From there I managed to go down to Ghiradelli Sq. I'm not a huge chocolate fan, but it was cool too. (If touristy.)

Posted by: The Maximum Leader at September 29, 2005 11:31 AM

Yes, I forgot to mention that I wandered out onto that pier to have a look at the Liberty Ship and the sub.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at September 29, 2005 11:33 AM

I've never been. But it looks plenty grubby in the early 1970s "Dirty Harry" movies.

I realize, of course, that the world has changed several times over since then.

Posted by: The Colossus at September 29, 2005 11:41 AM

I love San Fran. I wouldn't want to live out there, either, but it's a neat place to visit. It's too bad you didn't get the chance to visit Alcatraz, Robbo---you would have got a kick out of the flora. Not only is the prison cool to visit, they have some of the most gorgeous flowers on the island, growing in amidst the ruins. There were Calla Lilies there that were as tall as I am (5'6") and the lilies themselves were as big as my arm.

Posted by: Kathy at September 29, 2005 11:54 AM

Soon you will be hanging out in the Castro and getting ink done.

Posted by: LB buddy at September 29, 2005 11:56 AM

The sprawling layout and the trash, dirt and weeds are things I don't like about the City. The architecture, history, huge variety of food, infinite number of espresso bars, one of my favorite museums (the Palace) and one of the best parks to drive through make it the Mecca it is. Hope you enjoyed it! Did you get over to Ameoba?

Posted by: tee bee at September 29, 2005 12:29 PM

I'll go along with most of the commenters--always enjoy my visits to SF, wouldn't want to live there. The hothouse ultra-left PC atmosphere gets old pretty quickly. And, like other cities with caring, progressive municipal governments, the rents are absolutely ridiculous.

Posted by: utron at September 29, 2005 12:30 PM

Tee Bee,

Based on what you just said, you should check out PDX.

Posted by: Brian B at September 29, 2005 01:25 PM