next day ......
San Francisco

12th May 2010

First Steps on the Western Seaboard

    The week prior to flying out was pretty hectic; making sure all bills are paid, direct debits and standing orders set up, and building a large repository of data covering bank cards, security, insurance, contacts etc etc. Indeed, when I think about it, the fact that I will have all these shackles and possessions with me on my trip induces a vague paranoia for what I might lose or can go wrong. When I was in my teens I went hitch-hiking around Europe with a girl with just a bag on my back; sleeping in fields, barns and even a graveyard, without a care in the world. Even waking up one morning in Italy to discover all our money and passports had been stolen didn't particularly perturb me; we just got on with it. Now I'm lumbered with paraphernalia, and of course I am a bit more attuned to the dangers lurking in the world, I do worry a bit more.
    However, the real emotional wrench leading up to my departure was saying farewell to my family and friends. We had a few get-togethers in the last week, but it was my final farewells to my kids individually which I found heartrending. I had this irrational sense of saying bye for the last time, I don't know why. I was strong and didn't give too much away, but when I was alone in my hotel room on the eve of my flight out, I must admit I did shed a tear or two. All irrational of course; I'll be seeing them again in the fall. I was saddened to also be leaving my grandson, Oliver. He is 8.5 months old, and seems to change daily and will no doubt be a totally different little boy when I get back. Memories of his beaming smile will tide me over in difficult times ahead.
    Checking in at the airport soon washed away all my concerns about have I sorted this out or taken care of that. It was too late now. The 10 hour flight was uneventful. I got chatting to Eric who sat next to me, who originally hailed from Auchtermuchty, Fife in Scotland. He was on his way to spend some time with his daughter and two grand children up at Eldorado Hills on the way out to Lake Tahoe. He and his wife take turns to visit, usually twice each year. He was telling me how he gets roped into household maintenance chores; last year he went through 26 gallons of paint giving his daughter's house a make-over. He chuckled as he told me about his two grand children, who have been out there for only three years but are totally Americanised. When he offered to bath them one night they put him in his place with "Hey grandpa, what's a bath? Oh, you mean the hot tub". He loved coming out here and enjoyed the outdoor life on offer, especially the fishing and hunting with the local sheriff.
    Eric trained as an Air Traffic Controller in Scotland and spent some time at Prestwick before moving down to Heathrow. Whilst in Scotland he occasionally had to spend the odd couple of weeks at some of the remote islands covering for the local air traffic controllers who were on leave. He told me a wonderful story about one of theses remote islands that he occasionally visited, which was so remote that there was virtually no TV signal to be picked up. The one or two TV sets on the island would just show a very noisy image with most of the colour (and sound) washed out. Then, a larger island nearby installed a repeater, which enabled a good signal to be received on the remote island. The effect was dramatic; for weeks the local ferry was full of TVs being brought across from the mainland. However, what was more dramatic was the effect on the local community. Now people spent time watching TV instead of spending time with each other. Even more dramatic was the impact on the island's women-folk. Watching the soap operas introduced them to a whole new world. They now saw women had rights, and were even allowed in pubs. This indeed induced a whole new culture change on the island. I asked him when this occured; only as recent as 1980!
    Eric was good and humorous company on the flight; a thoroughly nice guy. He was rather envious of my trip, but he pointed out that he too had a dream. He recently bought a Gibson guitar and had a chance to show his stuff at local jamming sessions - a frustrated rock band player. We parted company at the security check at San Francisco airport. Security was a nightmare. First of all the computer systems had crashed. Then I had my bags searched meticulously. About 2.25 hours in total
    A 30 min. train ride followed by a 15 min. walk got me to my hotel, which fortunately offered WiFi, so I whisked an email off to my kids to let them know I had arrived safe and sound. It was by now 1am UK time, and I had been on the go since 06:30 the previous day, and I was a wee bit exhausted. However, the local time was only 5 pm, too early for bed and I knew I had a fight on to shift my body clock around. So, best course of action, get out in the bright sunshine, take in what sights I can and have a good walk to blow away the cobwebs.
One of the Smaller Hills
A Powell Street Cable Car
I headed off down Geary Street, and when I say down I mean down; there are lots of hills in San Francisco. Adjoining Powell Street, with its streetcars heroically climbing the long hill, lays Union Square. It derived its name from pro-Union rallies held here during the 1861 - 1865 Civil War, and is now at the heart of the city's main shopping centre, not that I'll be doing much shopping mind you. It was here in the square where I heard a rock band playing, so I investigated. I was amazed, the music was being performed by groups of kids who were 9 - 11 years old. One group would play a couple of numbers, then another group of youngsters would have their turn and so on. These kids were good, and what was nice was the audience was appreciative.
Kids Rock Band in Union Square
    After some time watching them, I headed further on to Market Street; a main thoroughfare. This street runs diagonally through the east-west street grid creating angular intersections and a family of V-shaped
A Flatiron Building
on Market Street
flatiron buildings. A brisk walk down hill brought me to the Ferry Building Market with its collection of seafood restaurants and farm shops. This was the main gateway into San Francisco and its environs at the beginning of the 20th century, with over 50 million passengers per year passing through during the 1930s.
    I headed west from here along the Embarcadero, marveling at the hundreds of joggers and walkers who seem to stream continuously along here, of all sorts and sizes with speeds ranging from whippet to snail. I had great confusion trying to decide if one poor old dear was actually jogging in slow motion or just walking with a good arm swing. I was tempted to speed up my pace and overtake her, but I was pretty whacked by now.
    After a fair walk I stumbled upon Pier 39. During the 1970s, Warren Simmons was looking for places to expand his restaurant chain, and he too stumbled across the pier that at the time was full of junk cars and old fridges. He immediately had the vision to create a quaint wooden fishing village on the pier, complete with restaurants, shops and specialty stores. The local authorities were not at all keen on the idea. However, he persevered, and the result is a delightful and popular meeting place. I found a seafood restaurant, which was almost full but they found a seat for me and I surveyed the menu. I opted for a glass of Steam Anchor, a beer brewed in San Francisco, and clam chowder in a sourdough bowl with side salad. I first came across clam chowder when I was working in Boston, MA in 1980, and took to it then. This sourdough bowl was new to me. Basically it consists of a loaf of sourdough, 15 cm in diameter and 8 cm deep, with the centre scooped out and filled with clam chowder. It was truly delicious and the sourdough bread made a good nibble.
    I needed some fresh air after this hearty meal since the long day was catching up on me and I was becoming quite exhausted. As the sun was setting I wandered to the bay end of the pier to discover Alcatraz silhouetted before me; it almost looked like a ship in the twilight. To the west, all lit up, was the Golden Gate Bridge. Sadly I was too whacked to take it all in. My enthusiasm for snapping pictures had waned by now and I just wanted to tackle the hike back to my hotel. The fifty or so sea lions lying on the pontoons by the pier bade me farewell as I left.
    I took a different route back to the hotel, and didn't feel intimidated by the city in anyway. When I started out at 5 pm I was aware of lots of beggars. Now there were fewer beggars but lots of huddles of rags in shop doorways. A block from my hotel I came across a hole in the wall. A double take revealed a sort of stable doorway; the top half open, the bottom half you swing to open, a bit like the old saloon bar doors on the cowboy films of my childhood. Inside was a narrow bar with some characters sitting with their drinks, and a baseball match on the TV. I was feeling thirsty, and I needed a final nightcap to really knock me out, so I went in and ordered a beer and sat at the end of the line of four customers at the bar. The three guys furthest from me were chatting away in a similar accent. My brain was getting fuddled due to lack of sleep by now and I couldn't quite work out all that they were saying, or how the communication process worked with the old lady running the bar, who seemed to know exactly when they needed topping up with minimal verbal commands. The guy sitting next to meet had a different American accent, which again I just wasn't following. However, I did sense that the rest of the bar was humouring him in a discrete way. A tall guy with an eye patch shuffled into sight from an opening at the far end of the bar, causing the rest of the bar to momentarily fall silent, and he slowly made his way out into the street. I sipped my beer taking all this in, then made the decision that I definitely needed sleep right now; it was 06:30 UK time and 10:30 local time. Following a short walk to the hotel, I went straight to bed and collapsed into oblivion.

next day ......
San Francisco

Uploaded from Adante Hotel, San Francisco on 13/05/10 at 11:12 PST

Last updated 14.5.2010