San Francisco, 2003

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Arrival Day & Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 & Departure

Day 2

In the morning, I decided to actually attend the conference. The weather had turned typically San Franciscan anyhow Ė dense gray fog spitting out a constant misty rain. There were some seminars covering things Iím doing at work, the exhibitorís pavilion opened with more free swag, and I had free lunch.
A computer conference is much like a sci-fi convention Ė geeks huddled around talking obsessively about subjects nobody else could possibly care about. But with the recent crash in the sector, the event lacks the festive atmosphere of the sci-fi convention and you donít hear a thing about big room parties. Then again, maybe it is a lot like certain sci-fi conventions Iíve attended recentlyÖ
I decided to skip the afternoon sessions and hit the road. Iíd been told by my native guides that Polk Street was an interesting walk so I headed that direction. I got through the Tenderloin district, an area known for muggings, porn, drugs, etc. and thought to myself, ďInteresting walk, yes. Fun, no.Ē  But apparently I hadnít hiked far enough up the mountain. Eventually you get to Nob Hill and other neighborhoods Iíll cover shortly.
But the rain and cold discouraged me from a longer walk. If you donít like the weather in San Fran just walk two blocks. If you donít like it still, wait 5 minutes. If you still donít like it, SF might not be the town for you.

Things I noticed walking around:
A) There are other people walking. Iím not making this up. As a native Atlantan, itís weird to see anyone walking. But there are neighborhoods in San Francisco with an average of less than one car per person. Anyone in Atlanta without a car is a freak. In San Fran, itís commonplace. This is the result of dense, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and easy mass transit.
B) This creates neighborhoods that actually have a neighborhood feel instead of the bland, endless strip mall Atlanta has become. There are neighborhood bars, restaurants, coffee shops and stores that are small, charming, and have some vague connection to the area in which they reside. Areas are known for a certain type of resident, business, and style. And residents in those neighborhoods actually know each other! I know, itís strange, but people in cafťís I visited knew each other by name and actually talked. Weird.
C) Thereís not quite as much cellphone fetishism in San Fran. Itís close, but not quite. Itís odd to me in a town where thereís so much to see and do, people would still prefer to stick a headset on and talk to someone whoís elsewhere, or clamp on headphones and tune out the environment. If only someone would invent some kind of device that emits smells at the same time you could tour flower gardens full of chirping birds or pleasant music while actually walking down noisy city streets, stepping over puddles of urine and ignoring everyone in your vicinity!
D) Speaking of, SF is overrun with homeless people. Apparently the city has a plan by which you can receive $350/month in an effort to help get you on your feet, if you can prove youíre homeless in the city. Instead of cleaning up the streets, this has resulted in surrounding counties shipping their homeless to San Francisco to get rid of them. You get hit up by panhandlers at least once a block. It became so frequent I actually stopped making eye contact with these people, which makes me feel bad. I donít want to make them feel invisible or less than human, but after a while you just donít want to be hassled any more.
E) Despite the number of street people, the streets are otherwise fairly clean. I donít think itís just a populace that is leftist and concerned about the environment. I think the fact that there are trash cans every block, many with recycling bins atop them, is equally responsible for the clean streets.


City Hall and one of the thousands of homeless.

After giving my feet a break and freshening up, I returned to Polk Street via the cable car and found the Nob Hill area much more fun than the Tenderloin neighborhood end of Polk.
Cable cars are loud, crowded, labor inefficient, dangerous, wonderful ways to travel. Were I installed as dictator of San Francisco thereíd be no other form of transit in the downtown area. Of course, thereíd be a bloody coup within days, probably with Schwarzenegger in the lead, my body strapped to his Hummer like a hunting trophy followed by a convoy of cabs full of yelling cabbies and angry tourists. But what a great couple of days. The cable car forces you to realize your traveling. There is almost no way to zone out. Subways, airplanes and cars all encourage you to forget your journey. POOF, you arrive at the destination without a thought as to what comes between point A and B. But a cable car puts you in the environment. You feel the car's operation through the floor and the clanging and grinding noises. You have to watch where youíre going so you donít get swiped off by a passing truck or miss your stop and have to march uphill a block. The streetcars are nice too, but the cable car is the superior experience.


There are lots of beautiful classic cars in San Fran,
and people actually drive them instead of locking them away.

I hit the Good Vibrations store, an adult toy and porn shop thatís like an upscale boutique for people interested in sex, forgoing the usual nervous porn store experience in favor of a classy environment. A lesbian couple was consulting with a helpful sales girl about which strap-on harness was the best. Another lady asked about the difference between silicone and latex toys. I browsed their interesting display of antique massagers and vibrators and tried to keep my giggling to a non-lecherous tone.

I had a tasty dinner at Cordon Bleu, on California Street just up from Polk, a place about the size of the average American household laundry room, barely room enough for the 6 person counter and the grill behind it. Several Asian people busily prepared dishes of grilled meat, fried meat, and grilled and fried meat.

I ate nothing but the most calorie-intensive foods my entire week, but I was climbing hills like a goddamn mountain goat, so calories be damned. Bring on the fried meat, crŤme sauce, extra cheese, and wash it all down with a hefty beer! Water, can I get some more lard for my bread? Thereís a fly in my soupÖ and HE'S NOT FAT ENOUGH!

I wandered up Polk Street looking for a neighborhood bar without too many rainbow flags flying. Not that thereís anything wrong with that, but I do like the occasional straight girl to ogle. I ended up at Kimoís, a tiny little place at Polk and Pine. The bartender said "thereís live music upstairs for $2."
I can afford that even without the taxpayer-subsidized trip. Downstairs, Kimoís isnít entirely straight. In fact, itís pretty darn crooked. But upstairs is a small room with a tiny bar and tiny stage for live music acts, packs in a comparatively straight crowd, except for the trans-gender bartender.
The room is covered in graffiti, giving it a punk rock basement feel. The ďmaximum capacityĒ certificate on the wall says 7766 persons, but upon closer observation the first and last digit were drawn on afterward with a permamarker. But I canít even imagine cramming 76 people into that tiny room.

Perfect.

Bars in San Francisco are smoke-free, though there are occasional rule-breakers. Itís great for me solo, but when I went with SW last year it meant I had to step outside with the rest of the addicts to spend time with her and she missed most of any show we attended. Were it up to me, every building on the planet would be smoke-free. Better yet, there would be rooms inside for smokers so the rest of us could step outside for actual fresh air instead of the smoking hordes surrounding the doorways like and army laying siege to the building. Then the smokers would be corralled into little chambers with tar-brown walls and have to stare at each other with their tar-brown teeth and tar-brown fingers and wonder what they hell they're doing.
But I digress.

First up on Kimoís little stage, The Wearies, straight up garage rock with a bit more harmonic pop in the vocals. Theyíre also a bit cuter than the average garage band and bring with them a few more female fans as a result, not a bad thing in my opinion. Moments of Elvis Costello, sans English accent. Their guitar licks all sound familiar, i.e. unoriginal and predictable, but with some improvement in that area theyíd rate high by me.

Next up, Feral Moan. Their first tune wouldíve been called ďgrungeĒ just a few years ago, though their poster calls it ďlibido rock.Ē For me, that title is, and will always be, held by AC/DC and Feral Moan sounds nothing like AC/DC. Itís more Seattlesque, with moments of bass-heavy Primus. Good, but again too familiar without bringing enough newness or something.
Or maybe itís just a Tuesday night and Iím still 3 hours behind and I can feel the fall funk coming on.
Or maybe itís because Feral Moan didnít have the gaggle of cute groupies to distract me and the time and distance between me and SW is wear on me.

I look at the clock and itís only 11:30 local time. Goddammit. Iíll have hell to pay when I get adjusted, then move back to EST.
Horny, tired and lonely on the left coast - thereís a blues song in there somewhere and Feral Moan ainít playing it, strictly up-tempo grunge/new punk.

Yet another minor misadventure with mass transit ends with yet another multi-block march up and down mountains, but at least Iíve had enough vodka to numb my throbbing feet. Combined with a chill in the air and the excitement of a new city, Iím stepping pretty lively considering Iíve walked almost every waking minute since I landed.
Crap, was that justÖ the day before yesterday?

Arrival Day & Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 & Departure

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