I bought a notebook while I was visiting San Francisco last year and wrote down things about the experience. For this post, I have decided to copy what I wrote here.
When my sister (Alya) and her husband (Carlos) told me about their first experience crossing a bridge to San Francisco, that of claustrophobia and an irreversible commitment, I expected the same sensations to occur to me. Honestly, it felt like a simple drive into San Diego, though the immensity of the San Francisco Bay Bridge was awe-inspiring.
Entering traffic in SF with my sister, her husband, and Danny was more claustrophobic than crossing the bridge. I’m acquiring a dislike of one-way streets the more I encounter them. Pedestrians clog the sidewalks like cholesterol clogs a fat man’s veins. Danny told me the homeless population in SF is larger than the national average, and I believe him. Small moments of panic leapt through my chest every time I saw some poor, twitchy man stumble onto one of those accursed one-way streets, a car narrowly missing him.
The stench in SF is prominent; I never imagined urine could perfume a city so effectively, but there you have it. Alya hated it. Last night, after eating at a diner at two in the morning, she insisted on running all the way back to our hotel at full speed so we wouldn’t have to linger amidst the pee fumes. She sprinted the two blocks while I huffed my lungs out. Damn all the secondhand smoke from the apparently endless supply of cigarette smokers living here.
The hotel was unique from others I’ve been to. It felt un-hotel-like, even though it had all the trappings of a hotel. We were on the fifth floor. There was a lounge on the second floor that offered free coffee. The shower knobs were confusingly delightful. There were three; one controlled whether water streams from the lower faucet or the upper shower head. The other two knobs controlled the temperature. The beds were comfortable. The room was small, but I liked it.
Even though we had come from a long drive, we immediately left the hotel after dropping our belongings off so we could explore Chinatown, which was only a couple of blocks away. One of the streets was filled with quaint, tourist-y shops. They all smelled of strange, herbal incense, and most of their wares were brightly colored. And if the goods were not brightly colored, then the display cases were. Bright reds, deep greens, royal blues, and glaring yellows crowded shelves. And jade items were stereotypically present.
Restaurants were on every block. We ate at a sushi place for lunch. One thing I adore about SF is the sheer variety of food offered on a single block. I ate so much while I was there. Admittedly, at the sushi place, I only ordered gyoza since I don’t eat seafood. But Alya told me the sushi was superb. She insisted I try mochi, a bright pink dessert that was part ice cream and part powdered gummy. That was a satisfying treat with which to end our meal.
After thoroughly exploring Chinatown, we went back to our hotel, exhausted. We all took a nap, an especial rarity for me, and tried to recover from our night-long drive and subsequent tourist-ing. Upon waking close to seven at night, the boys were adamant we all should go out to a bar. Alya and I, daybirds by nature, were reluctant. Danny persuaded me, and Alya decided to come along too.
I don’t regret making that choice at all. The bar we went to was called Coin-Op, and it was designed to look like Flynn’s arcade from Tron. It had a good selection of arcade games and a delicious, salty prosciutto pizza that perfectly counterbalanced my sweet, yet strong drink. Alya gravitated toward Frogger, and I stuck with Galaga for the most part. I had one hell of a good time.
The next morning we all went to Fisherman’s Wharf. It was bitingly cold, especially the closer we got to the oceanfront. I hadn’t planned on buying anything tourist-y whatsoever, but I was not used to such temperatures. I caved and bought an SF jacket. No regrets. It was fleecy and soft, and totally worth it.
Danny made sure to show us a place his uncle recommended that has great clam chowder. And by “us,” I mean Alya and Carlos since I don’t eat seafood. They said it was good. I enjoyed taking in the scenery while they chowed down. With an enveloping jacket, the weather was wonderful, the kind of wonderful that lingers by an ocean. Seagulls flocked around the streets. Their calls always remind me of grey skies and a crisp climate. Street musicians played catchy versions of “Uptown Funk” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” (Not that the originals themselves aren’t catchy.) Despite not having anything in my belly, I was content.
After Alya, Carlos, and Danny were done eating, we went to a nearby penny arcade. (Yeah, I know, we have a thing for arcades.) It was simultaneously creepy and ingratiating. Old machines that were intended to entertain people were crammed into a large, warehouse-sized room. Some of them were quaint and enjoyable; others were disturbing. One such machine had a six-foot-tall, marionette-looking woman, and if you inserted a quarter, she would laugh for you. A horrifying cackle that occasionally devolved into a throaty cough. Our quarter gave us three minutes of that. Apparently, that passed for entertainment way back when. We also played a hockey version of foosball. Danny and I won. Danny is usually an unassuming person, but he can be surprisingly competitive at times.
We then trekked to Ghirardelli Square. Danny had fond reminiscences of a milkshake he had ordered there once. I ordered a hot cocoa; it was light and frothy. Next door there was a luxury shop for dogs called Yap. Ghirardelli Square was made with deep red bricks for its courtyard. It feels clean compared to the San Franciscan streets near our hotel. My legs had been aching from all the walking we had done. Thankfully, Alya called for an Uber and we got a ride back to the hotel. I felt sore and weary, so, unfortunately, I got into a small disagreement with Danny. He wanted us to go out on a late-night drive and I wanted to stay behind while he went on with my sister and Carlos. I ended up going along though I was dead tired.
Danny drove us on a midnight tour through the confusing streets of SF. He took us to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was surreal, driving under a structure I had seen so many times in movies. The dull, golden glow of the lamps along the bridge gave it an ancient luster. Sounds corny, but that’s the vibe I picked up.
Then Danny drove us up Twin Peaks so that we could look down on the city entire. The city twinkled through the mist that throttled all its crevices. Both Alya and I shared the same thought: from our high perspective, the city looked like Batman’s Gotham. It was beautiful, but slightly sinister. We drove back to the hotel, and I slept soundly.
The next morning, Alya and I went to a diner for breakfast by ourselves, and we spent the most splendid morning together. Rain wasn’t dripping from the sky; it was clouding all around us. Despite the chill, it made our traipsing through the city more pleasurable. We went to an Ugg store and a Doc Marten’s store to look over our favorite shoes. We guiltily purchased some knick-knacks from the Disney store (they worked us like pros). And we laughed so much. That’s one of the great things about hanging out with Alya. I can be lighthearted with her one moment, and then serious the next. We returned to the boys in the highest of high spirits.
Next, Danny led us to the City Hall. It is far larger than any city hall I’ve ever seen. Which doesn’t mean much, since the only city halls I’ve seen are in the Imperial Valley. It has a vast rotunda that marble steps lead up to. These stairs were the setting for the last scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Alya and I tried to pose in the same positions as Indiana Jones and Marion. We more or less got them right. More or less.
That evening was the night of Hamilton, our whole reason for coming to SF in the first place. Danny and Carlos dropped Alya and I off in front of the Orpheum Theatre, and Alya and I joined the river of people flowing into the building. We were part of the mass of people excitedly thronging to hear Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece. We had balcony seats, so we gazed down upon the stage in anticipation and awe. The lights dimmed, then went out completely. The music pounded out its first beats, and then the stage was lit.
I’d heard the songs before, many times, but there’s nothing like hearing it and seeing it performed for you live. Voices echo with more power and emotion. Frantic, yet precise, stage choreography thrills to the cadence of each musical piece. Even though the entire play was basically contained in the soundtrack I had listened to many a time, I would not call seeing it live a waste. It was a magnificent boon. Familiar was made new, and it stamped itself in my mind as a happy memory. That is, unless I suffer from severe dementia in the future. But who knows? Maybe during my bouts of senility, I’ll still vaguely recall going to see Hamilton with my sister and think on it fondly.
Our time in San Francisco had to come to an end eventually, and the day after Hamilton, we packed up and departed. On our way home, Danny gave us a tour of UC Berkeley. I think he derives real enjoyment from showing me places and things from his past. Or maybe I’m being self-absorbed and he likes to show things from his past to just anyone. I think it stems partially from his love of revealing (the storyteller in him) and from a desire to share himself with me (selfish, selfish), which I would want to encourage.
Anyways, the college campus was enormous, especially in comparison to my own. The facilities that these college students have access to are impressive. I won’t deny the ounce of jealousy that coursed through me, but then I remembered that I fucking loathe school. It was a new experience though, so that made the detour worth it.
What I took from the SF trip was a definite net positive. I spent a lot of quality time with my sister and Danny, and they are my two favorite people in the world. We ate incredible food that I would never have eaten otherwise. The variety of food available in cities is their one redeeming factor. Though I had a blast, visiting SF confirmed for me that I could never live in a city. I hate crowds, I hate traffic, and I dislike the impersonal nature of the majority who reside there. City people might try to deny it, but the stereotype exists for a reason. People seemed colder and less inclined to smile. That could be due to the pee smell. Either way, SF is officially crossed off my possible-living-areas list.
Though I guess I wouldn’t mind visiting it again.
CAFFÉ PUCCINI FOR THE WIN!
Side note: I should have taken pictures of my time there…
6 thoughts on “My Trip to San Francisco Last Year”
My bride and I were in San Francisco for our anniversary a few years back. Although the aroma was as you describe, the city had its charms. You mentioned how bitingly cold is was at Fisherman’s Wharf. It was I grew up in the foothills of western Virginia, and am quite used to cold weather, but nothing compares to the fridged boat ride at night to Alcatraz!
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I live in a town where the summers can reach 114. I was totally unprepared for the frigidity 😛
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Your mention of Frogger and Galaga brought back fond memories of my childhood. I grew up in a seaside town with many arcades, and I spent way too much of my allowance in them.
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Lucky! There were no arcades in my town.
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