San Francisco, 2003
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In the morning I decided not to bother stopping by the conference, only to
change my mind and head out for adventure – I just headed out for
adventure. I’m in the groove, on my last damn day, picking random
destinations and trying to get there, finding adventure and misadventure
along the way. Sometimes I don’t even get where I’d planned but that’s the
joy of foot travel – the distractions.
The view of Alcatraz
from the pier.
The boat to the left is a WWII submarine open as a museum.
Down the street from the
places offering boat tours of the by and Alcatraz is Pier 39.
In 1989 a few sea lions moved in to the Pier 39 area, taking up residence
on large docks.
The sheltered area and plentiful herring are thought to
have attracted them. Then they told two friends, then they told two
friends, and so on, and so on. Now the docks host upwards of 600 sea
lions, depending on the time of year.
Pictures and text just don’t do them
justice. I really should have a recording of their constant barking,
perhaps a video of their sumo wrestling for space on the docks.
In the distance you can see
Coit Tower on the left,
and the pinnacle of a famous SF skyscraper.
incredible sight and only a few feet away from the neighboring dock where
you can sit and watch until you’ve had enough, or get too hungry to stay.
Just up the hill from the pier and down the hill from Coit Tower are
Washington Square and the North Beach neighborhood, sort of a Little Italy
where 4 out of every 5 storefronts are little Italian restaurants with
menus in Italian first, fine print English second. There aren’t this many
Italian restaurants in Italy!
I hit Caffé Roma, a little café with sidewalk seating where all the
patrons know each other by name. I settled in for cappuccino and a pastry
and a long chat with Larry, long time SF transplant from Boston. He’s seen
everything from the rise and fall of the hippies to the rise and fall of
the .coms. A perfect day for sidewalk dining – sunny, slight breeze, cute
girls sitting at the next table, and nothing to do but wonder what to eat
|Larry and the girls recommend a few places so I walk around the
neighborhood until I’ve reestablished an appetite and hit L’Osteria, just
across from Caffé Roma on Columbus.
I got a big Parma ham sandwich, served warm and very tasty, and a huge
side of roasted red peppers, soaked in olive oil. The peppers weren’t the
best I’ve had, but good, and a glass of Montepulciano white wine was a
perfect compliment to the sunny, clear day. Their pizzas look good and the
walls are adorned with “Best Of SF” awards from the local press.
What a week. If it weren’t for the cost of living, I could probably stand
the normal San Fran weather enough to live there. Too bad the dot-bomb
leveled the economy, particularly in my sector, worse in SF than perhaps
anywhere on earth.
And if you’ve read the torrid
tales of my past you know San Fran is haunted by ghosts for me. Each
new neighborhood finds me looking over my shoulder, wondering “Does she
live around here?” Some asked if I were tempted to look her up. A tiny
part of me has such thoughts, but it’s the same weird part of the human
psyche that wants to leap off a precipice when it gets a look down,
simultaneously fascinated and terrified. Fortunately, the rational portion
of my mind retains control.
I banish these thoughts in the light of a beautiful day and start my
meander back toward the hotel. To think there’s a few thousand fools
actually watching PowerPoint slides at this very moment. For that matter,
the teeming masses working 9-5, while the sun shines on we few who have
stolen a moment to enjoy the day.
And Johnny Cash is in a morgue somewhere today as a reminder of our
Goddamn, I have got to win that lotto.
You can give my other suits to the Salvation Army
And everything else I leave behind.
I ain’t takin’ nothing that’ll slow down my travelin’
While I’m untanglin’ my mind.
I ain’t gonna repeat what I said anymore
While I’m breathin’ air that ain’t been breathed before
I’ll be as gone as a wild goose in winter
Then you’ll understand your man (meditate on it)
Understand your man (you hear me talkin’)
Understand your man (remember what I told ya)
I hit the hotel and got directions for my next stop, recommended by
degenerates JH & LH, The Tonga Room in the basement of the Fairmont Hotel.
It’s on California at the peak of Nob Hill, a swanky hotel full of swanky
people. Fortunately I was dressed in my best, so I didn’t feel entirely
out of place.
Tonga Room is a tiki bar in every possible sense. An indoor pool
serves as a lagoon, complete with a boat in the middle that
functions as a stage for live music. Grass roofs cover many of
the tables and most of the staff are vaguely Asian.
Polynesian fare and fruity drinks, but the real deal is happy hour.
From 5-7 the drinks are discounted, $6.50, and you can get the
all-you-can-eat buffet for a mere $7. (You can’t get a cheese sandwich
in San Fran for $7.) The buffet features lots of salty and/or sweet
finger food, fruits, cheese, etc., well worth the $7. Every half hour
or so, a pipe in the ceiling opens up and spews fake rain into the
lagoon, though it comes down in streams instead of sprinkles, sort of
ruining the effect. It’s like drinking at Disney.
The Food Network was shooting some kind of Best Of Happy Hour special
while I was there and happened to set up right next to me at the bar.
As they taped the bartender mixing drinks, they passed the drinks on
down the bar so I got a couple of leftovers. Then they set up a line
of their finder foods, and I got leftovers from those too. The couple
next to me was there celebrating a birthday so the TV host interviewed
them and the side of my head may get 15 seconds of fame in there
somewhere, so look for it in January sometime.
Overall, the drinks weren’t as good as Trader Vick’s but the food was
excellent and the experience worth the visit.
I’d gotten tips on a good
venue, Café du Nord, and read a glowing review of an act that was supposed
to perform there tonight, so I headed out early in that direction. I hit
Market street and decided to skip the bus and wait on the streetcar.
The streetcars in San Fran are nice. They’ve taken orphans from cities
around the world that have abandoned them, refurbished them and put them
in use. I even rode one from Milan that still had all the “no smoking”
signs in Italiano. I still find the cable car to be more fun, but it's
nice to have anything than runs on rails still in operation.
After twenty minutes of waiting, I realized the streetcars weren’t moving
in either direction. So I decided to take the bus. Then I realized the
busses weren’t showing up often either and the one I needed hadn’t been by
in a while. I gave in and hopped one going vaguely my direction.
Apparently there was some kind of serious problem with the mass transit
that night and I wasn’t the only one grumbling. Two busses and a six-block
walk later, I finally arrived at Café du Nord, only to find the show sold
I picked some random locals who had also missed the show and asked what
they were doing. They were headed up the hill to the lower Haight in
search of fun, so I tagged along. First stop, Molotov, a serious punk bar
full of serious punks. Since I was only wearing one item of black
clothing, I couldn’t conform to their well-established anti-establishment
uniform and was looked down upon. Which was fine by me since the two girls
I followed were the only ones in the place and the pack of hungry dogs in
the room scared them away.
The girls got discouraged and decided to go home and rent a movie or
something so I tromped on back down the hill and stopped at Movida, a nice
little casual place somewhere between the Lower Haight and the west end of
Market Street, on or just off Castro. The crowd is young and hip, but not
so much of either as to make anyone feel out of place. Unfortunately the
debacle with mass transit and Café du Nord had killed the good buzz I had
going from the Tonga Room and Movida only serves beer and wine. With a
full belly, it’s tough to slug down a big, heavy beer and catch a buzz but
I managed to enjoy a local brew and people watch.
One depressing thing about being a lone male is that there are rarely, if
ever, lone females out after dark. Through the week, I had occasionally
found one in a café or somewhere and tried to chat them up, just to get
some tips about what’s fun and flirt a bit. But lone males always get the
“Are you some kind of psycho or something?” look. I don’t blame them, but
It doesn’t help that I’m somewhat socially inept with strangers. Yes, I’m
a psycho, but not the dangerous kind. At least not dangerous to others.
Sure, there are women roaming in packs but I have a hard enough time
approaching one. Is it my imagination, or do women en masse
“support” each other by tearing down any lone male that dare approach one
of their group? They must be confronted with equal or superior numbers to
get past their outer defenses. It’s doubly depressing because males
frequently “support” each other through derision as well, so we get abuse
from both sides while women are put on a pedestal as (usually
unattainable) objects of desire. Evolution hasn’t caught up with easy
access to birth control so the cruel inequities of supply and demand for
sexual favors generate frustrating behaviors in all areas of human
“First born unicorn
Hard core soft porn
Dream of californication
Dream of californication”
Red Hot Chili Peppers
I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel on my final night in town. Instead of
taking chances on another new neighborhood or new venue, I decided to
return to Red Devil Lounge, my favorite bar/club so far.
There were a fair number of addicts puffing up outside but it didn’t occur
to me it was indicative of the number of people inside. After coughing up
$10 cover, I stepped in to find the room packed to capacity and hot as a
furnace. There are quite a few places in San Fran that don’t have A/C –
they rarely need it. Unfortunately it was a freakishly warm week and a
packed house, yielding conditions appropriate to the name "Red Devil
Lounge" - as hot and crowded as hell itself. It took me 15 minutes just to
get to the bar and get a drink, which, by then, I guzzled just out of
thirst alone. After another few minutes of lurking at the back I decided
it just wasn’t worth it. Dub-cat was on stage doing some great ska/dub/reggae
stuff, but you couldn’t breathe in the place. I stepped out with the
addicts on the sidewalk and wiped the sweat out of my eyes.
A glance at someone’s watch confirmed it was about time for the last cable
car toward the hotel. Dive back into the lava, or take a cool, refreshing
ride back to the hotel and be somewhat rested for the trip home in the
Of course, I missed the
connection from one cable car to the other by mere seconds and had to
walk, cursing and smiling, one last time. At least it was all down hill.
"These people could put us out of
Photo Editor, Creative Loafing
no place like home... no place like home...
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