Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

San Francisco Travelogue

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.
I slipped inside to make a visit, and found a beautifully unspoiled turn-of-the-century church with large saint statues by every pillar and a beautiful high altar of milk white stone. (Looking over the parish history display case in the vestibule, I learned that the church had been destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and rebuilt the next year with the oddly short and square bell tower seen above.)

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.
Leaving the church, walked headed back down Mission street to where it dead-ends into the Bay, and offers a view of the Bay Bridge. (with rocket)
You can walk out along Pier 14 for a better view. The late afternoon was a sunny with temperatures in the low 60s, and a lot of people were taking advantage of the weather. As I headed down the pier a young couple and their photographer were trying to find just the right angle to catch the sun on a new engagement ring. As I sat out near the end, watching the boats going by, a couple with nearly impenetrable Australian accents asked me to take their picture with the bridge in the background.
I could have happily spent another hour or two on the pier, but my Blackberry summoned me to "networking" and dinner.

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.

It turns out that there's a technology and economics reason for all the piers along San Francisco Bay which are now tourist attractions, parking garages or industrial warehouses. Back in the days before shipping containers, cargo ships came up along the long piers to be unloaded by longshoremen. Container shipping, however, required large cranes and a big area next to the docks for containers to be sorted and loaded onto ground transportation. There wasn't room enough to put in all this in San Francisco, where the city went right down to the bay, but Oakland had space to spare, and so commercial shipping moved across the bay.

And sure enough, San Francisco's famously hilly streets run right down into the bay.

Across which bay, I could now see my destination in the distance.
And Alcatraz out in the middle of the bay. 
I passed Fort Mason and headed down Marina Boulevard -- yachts to the right of me, posh ocean front property to the left of me, expensive looking joggers and cyclists (by some strange rule of nature, the former invariably female, the latter male) passing me. I had told myself, on setting out, that if I got too tired I could always hail a taxis. By this point I was getting seriously footsore however, as it turned out, once you reach this more residential portion of San Francisco, taxis are not to be found.

Still, there is something to be said for finishing what one starts, and my destination now loomed closer.
A closed road and detour send me scrambling up the unpaved shoulder of a hilly road.  The one satisfaction was that traffic was completely gridlocked.  The out-of-place-looking pedestrian in "business casual" conference clothes tramping through the dust was making significantly better speed than the BMWs and Audis sullenly idling on the blacktop.  And the view back over where I had come from was beautiful.
And so I reached the bridge.  Afterwards I worked out this has been about a 5.5 mile trek thus far.  The sun was still in the sky for another couple hours, and the bridge didn't look all that long.  (Wikipedia now informs me it is in fact 1.7 miles across.)
So I set off.
It looms ahead.
There's a really cool fortress down under the start of it.

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.
And so I reached the far end and looked back.  (Actually, this is not the very, very end, but that picture is right by the road and doesn't look as interesting.  This is from the walk around the second tower.)
Speaking of which, the towers have a great deal of rivet-y, '30s charm.
And having waxed eloquent about container shipping near the beginning of my odyssey, I could not but with joy note a container ship passing beneath me, having set out from Oakland. 
What then, dear reader? It turns out there is a bus stop by the tourist center which was able to take me a third of the way back. A mile's walk then brought me into a tourist area where I could catch a taxi. For those not accustomed to buses, be advised that precise change is required. However, the bus driver had mercy on me (perhaps by this time I really looked rather pathetic, as I put my twenty back in my wallet and stepped sorely off the bus.

"Just go ahead and have a seat," he said. "Next time, remember to bring change." I will.


Brandon said...

I was glad to see you got a picture of one of the hill-streets; some of them have to be seen to be believed. There are places where it's like a city laid out by lunatics.

rhinemouse said...

"It's only two inches on the map, I can walk it" syndrome infected me the first time I visited Paris. Hahahahahahaha.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Thanks for the fascinating tour.

I was in San Francisco once, way back before you were a twinkle in your father's eye. I wish we'd been able to go to Mass at the church you visited. Instead we were in a modern building shaped like a washing machine agitator.

BettyDuffy said...

Now you know all these things for when you take Mrs. Darwin back.

I enjoyed this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your tour of my favorite city. I grew up in Silicon Valley, but our family has deep roots in SF (both my grandmothers were 1906 earthquake survivors). Glad you made it to the bridge - it is well worth the trek (though I never started from downtown!!!).

I've never been to St. Patrick's, but I know exactly which one the washing machine one is!

Anonymous said...

Oh, and that's Fort Point at the base of the bridge. We had a field trip there once or twice when I was a kid - very cool place! (They taught us to fire cannons!)

Rebekka said...

Aw. Homesick. And not coming to the US this year because of impending baby.

Thanks for the tour.

mrsdarwin said...

Rebekka! Congratulations! Hope you're feeling well!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this wonderful article. I haven't been to SF since six years ago and this takes me back. I figured the congregational makeup at St. Patrick's hasn't changed so drastically since, or has it? The last time I was there, it was mostly Filipinos, not Chinese.

Bernard Brandt said...

Thank you for your report. It was quite lovely, particularly the recounting the walk across the Golden Gate. When I was 20something, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, I hitchhiked from L.A. to Seattle, and back again, one summer. Most memorable among my many misadventures was my walk across the Golden Gate. Glad to see that people are still doing it.

Darwin said...


Um, yeah, well... While there's somehow nothing quite as simultaneously ignorant and rude and flagrantly mistaking someone's ethnicity, I should admit I could have called that one wrong, and you probably know better than I.

I'm better at recognizing some nationalities than others, and my thought process, as I recall, was along the lines of, "Not Korean. Not Vietnamese. Not Japanese. Oh, hey, Chinatown is just north of here, right?"

Thinking back, people didn't strike me as looking Filipino, but then, most of the Filipinos I've known personally have been half-Filipino so I may be way off there.


Herreid said...

St. Patrick's is a mostly Filipino parish. They do the Novus Ordo in Latin.

Next time you are in SF you should stop by Ignatius Press! Shoot me an e-mail (john at ignatius dot com) if you need directions.

Darwin said...

St. Patrick's is a mostly Filipino parish.


Anthony said...

Welcome to San Francisco!

The Washing Machine Agitator is St. Mary's Cathedral. It's actually nicer inside. The Orthodox have some great churches in San Francisco - there's a Ukranian church with a gold dome around 7th and Mission, and the Russian Cathedral, way out on Geary, is very nice.

Rebekka said...

Thanks! I am doing well, although everyone tells me it's because I'm in the happy middle trimester. ;-)