Last week saw me in San Francisco for four days and five nights for a conference put on by the company which makes the pricing and analytics software that I use at work. A typical Southern California boy, I'd never been to Northern California until I flew to Silicon Valley a year ago for a job interview, and I'd never been in downtown San Francisco at all. The degree of my ignorance was shown by the fact that when our department admin had asked me, some weeks before, "Do you want a rental car or will you take a taxi?" I'd blithely replied, "A car if that's alright. That way I can get around and see some of the city between sessions."
Ha. Should you ever find yourself going to the financial district in San Francisco, do not attempt to bring a car. Parking costs as much as a hotel room in other cities. The fee for parking at the hotel (where they would let you get your car out on ten minutes notice) was so high that the during my first break between sessions I set out to find another place to put it -- and found somewhere slightly less expensive where they lowered my loaned Toyota into the bowels of Hades via a special elevator, to some level of the underworld in which wicked cars go to await their final judgement. As one would expect in the vestibule of hell, there were no "in and out" privileges, and so I was now a pedestrian for two days until I retrieved it and decamped to more driver-friendly territory at the airport hotel.
It was a relief, really. Downtown San Francisco is thick with taxis, such that one could step out onto the curb in good 30s movie style and flag one down in a moment, and those who did drive in the canyon-like (mostly one way) streets were mostly crazy anyway.
Setting out on foot amid this maze of canyons, I found a coffee shop and sat down at an outside table on the corner of Mission and 3rd to drink my coffee and people watch while charting my course via iPad. Watching the constant flow of pedestrians and cyclists going by, I felt like I should be snapping pictures for The Sartorialist. I'd never before been in the sort of city center where business men in designer suits zipped by on bicycles and women apparently do not consider five inch heels to be obstacles to rapid long distance walking.
But the fact is that while I am happy to watch people, I have not the lens courage to blatantly take pictures of strangers at close quarters without explanation. So I simply sat and watched and reflected that I had been right in deciding last year that the Bay Area was not my clime.
Coffee finished, I set off down Market (in the opposite direction than I meant to) and quickly came upon St. Patrick's, a parish dating back to the Gold Rush days.
The interior picture really doesn't do the sanctuary justice, but people were gathering from 5:15 mass and I didn't want to use the flash. When I returned for 5:15pm evening mass the next day, I found that the once heavily Irish immigrant parish is now home to a thriving community of Filipino immigrants. There were some hundred people there for a Tuesday weekday mass. Including the usual characters one finds in any downtown parish weekday mass: A couple of business men in suits, stopping in after work. A homeless person sleeping in the back pew. A grizzled old character in a leather jacket with a large American flag sewn on the back, who circulated constantly through the sanctuary during mass pausing at each statue to lay his hand on the foot of the saint and pray silently for a few moments.
Two days later, the conference over, I stowed my suitcase with the front desk of the hotel, hoisted my backpack (so as to be provided with iPad and camera) and set off to walk to the Golden Gate Bridge, unsuitable attired in "business casual". One does these things. Or at least, I do. There is something so very enticing about a city map, especially one which does not have a scale written upon it. It makes you look at it and declare stoutly, "This is a walking city, and I am a great walker."
I took Market down to The Embarcadero on the theory that if I followed the water from there, I couldn't get lost. Down by Pier 39, I found some of the locals hanging out.
And sure enough, San Francisco's famously hilly streets run right down into the bay.
Still, there is something to be said for finishing what one starts, and my destination now loomed closer.
One is advised against despair. (Wikipedia informs me that the Golden Gate Bridge is the site of more suicides than any other place in the world.) By the time I was heading back, and wondering how far I would have to retrace my route before finding a bus or taxi or something, I began to wonder if one could use one of these to summon a ride. I did not, however, make the attempt.
"Just go ahead and have a seat," he said. "Next time, remember to bring change." I will.