Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair

At least if you’re going to San Francisco 🙂

So I’ve been slack on the blog writing. I’ve kept the journal up but there are a lot of things in there that shouldn’t be aired here. And if I didn’t have the massiveness that is San Francisco to cover, this might have been another serious entry. Now I’m rambling…

After Yosemite, my dad and I headed to San Francisco. He had the hotel coupon books and was making phone calls. I was just plugging addresses into the GPS. So when we pull up to a hotel that’s in the middle of Cow Hollow, it’s safe to say I was a little overwhelmed. Normally, I bypass the big cities altogether. But when I don’t and I’m by myself, I’d rather just stay in a hotel near an airport or somewhere out in the suburbs because there’s less information that needs processing less quickly. And honestly, I’m just more comfortable with that since there aren’t any big cities in South Carolina I’ve had to deal with. So there was a tiny bit of a communication breakdown between the dad and I (my fault for not speaking up). No big deal though. We finally found a parking garage, paid the ridiculous $3.00 an hour for 3 and a half hours, and got a room.

Quick fun side story! San Francisco is fairly well known for their acceptance of the gay community. And there was even a gay couple in the hotel “lobby” when we got into the hotel. But the really funny coincidence is that since there weren’t showers in Yosemite, I was still sporting the same shirt from my birthday. Which just so happened to be my shirt from my old job’s softball team. When assigning names, the girls were supposed to take tough sounding nicknames while the guys took girly names. And mine happens to proudly sport “Petunia” on the back. So I can also say I survived San Francisco as a straight guy wearing a shirt that has my name as Petunia on the back. Or maybe you just had to be there 🙂

Since we spent my birthday night in Yosemite in a tent no where near civilization, my dad had promised me a birthday dinner once we got to San Francisco. So off, on foot, in search we went for some place that looked appealing. San Francisco is known for their seafood. But also for having the “world’s largest Chinatown outside of Asia.” They even have their own webpage. And for dinner, Chinese food sounded a lot better than seafood. So we walked up a hill. And down a hill. And back up another hill. And East. And South. And East again. After dinner, my dad guessed we walked “at least a mile.” Google maps says Chinatown is 2.4 miles away from Cow Hollow. So nothing like wrapping a Chinese dinner with 5 miles of walking. We did find a good place to eat though – The Empress of China. Apparently in the 60s and 70s, it was THE place to eat if you were a celebrity. There were pictures of tons of people my dad recognized. Not so much that I did. I saw Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Tony Bennett. All of the others were lost on me. For dinner, I had the Empress Egg Rolls (“Filled with tasty goodness” according to the menu…how can you go wrong with that description?) as an appetizer. My dad had Peking Pot Stickers. I’m still not entirely sure what they are. But I tried one. And it didn’t taste like anything. So I can’t say it was bad! For dinner, I got Hundred Blossom Lamb (“strips of lamb, sautéed in hot and sour sauce, ginger, mushrooms and onion”) because I don’t know if I’ve ever had lamb before. My dad got something like Four Seasons Lamb? It was all very good, but entirely too much food. Especially for someone who’s on the “I quit my job and travel the country” diet of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches with an occasional pop tart. Afterward, my fortune read “You have a reputation for being thoroughly reliable and trustworthy.” Aside from the fact that’s not even really a fortune, it’s a pretty good one to add “in bed” to the end. Then we had the pleasure of hiking the 2.4 miles back to the hotel. Up hills. With full bellies. Not good.

The next day, we got up early to try and hit Alcatraz. Their website didn’t look like they had any times available the night before, but I wasn’t sure if it was because they don’t like selling tickets online the day before or what. So we wanted to get there by the time they opened. But first, we had to hit Lombard Street which is famous for being the “crookedest street” in San Francisco. So I can now say I drove down that! Very cool.

From there, we made it to Fisherman’s Wharf, where everything is. Sure enough, Alcatraz was sold out for the day. So I made the decision to stick around another night in the area to do that on Sunday, since that was my big thing I wanted to do in San Francisco. So Plan B was to try and take the Ride the Ducks tour since I was so impressed with the Seattle version and my dad had never done it. But when we got to the booth, it was locked up and no one was there. Complete strikeouts so far in San Francisco. Funny thing though, while we were waiting around trying to figure out what to do, the girl showed up to get everything running. 10am was sold out. 11am was too far away to wait around, but too close to do anything else in the area. So 12pm it was! With time to kill, we did the Aquarium of the Bay. And why did we do that? Because animals make the day better! (Are you learning yet?) On one hand, I was completely disappointed. The aquarium is on Pier 39 at the water. In a bay town. You’d think it’d be amazing. But it was definitely a second rate aquarium (in my opinion). On the other hand, because it wasn’t spectacular, we had more than enough time to do it in the hour and 45 minutes we had before our duck tour. And we had time to grab lunch (clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl with a crab cake on the side! Delicious!) at Chowders. Very, very good for just being a “get in and out” kind of place.

Then the duck tour! So, so much fun! Our guide (“Duck Rogers”) was so much different than my Seattle guide. The Seattle one was good, but this guy was great. It helped that he was a little ADD and all over the place. But he also got to drive a float/bus during the San Francisco Giants World Series parade a few days before. It was REALLY cool to hear how much passion and conviction he had towards that. And he made an effort to get everyone involved in the tour. My dad and I were decked out in orange and purple Clemson gear, so of course we stood out. And I was “Carolina” the rest of the way since they ask where everyone’s from. The water portion of this trip was into McCovey Cove, outside of the Giants stadium. But what was awesome on this tour was that everyone got a seat at the wheel in the water. Very fun! We got to sing “We Are Family” to everyone on Embarcadero to try and cheer up the homeless guys. Unique experience, for sure.

After that, we headed back to Pier 39 to scope out the sea lions. More animals, more goodness. They were fun to watch, even though there weren’t many. And there was a baby one who had to hold his/her own on the dock (that’s it bent backwards in the second picture). Such ornery animals!

After that, we paid another $15 to get out of the parking garage (you’d go broke if you lived in this city and had a car) and headed to the Golden Gate Bridge. We needed to hit that before my dad flew out so we could get our National Parks Passports stamped! We didn’t drive or walk across, but given the time we had before we needed to get to the airport, I think we did a pretty good job.

And with that, my dad’s time in San Francisco, as well as the passenger seat of my truck, was up. It was good to have him along for the ride for those five short days. It was pretty packed with stuff (Crater Lake, Redwoods, Yosemite, San Francisco, my birthday) – so much so that we had to cut a few things out (Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks). It’s obvious my dad enjoyed it, as I’ve been thanked for letting him come along every time I’ve talked to him since he’s left. And it pushed me to do some different things I wouldn’t have done alone (stay in the city, just take out walking to find a place to eat after dark in a strange place), so success all around! It even made me feel like my old self again. Being alone on this whole trip has made me be serious about a lot of things. I pride myself in being someone who makes light of a lot of situations and jokes and cuts up. And not being around anyone on a regular basis, it’s hard to stay lighthearted, I think. Hopefully, I’ll be able to pick that back up when I get back home or wherever I wind up. I miss that part of myself.

But life goes on! I was back to myself on Saturday night in a hotel room just relaxing. Getting a breather from life on the road, bouncing around from place to place.

Sunday morning, I woke up to rain. I jokingly say I bring great weather wherever I go. And for the most part, everywhere clears up by the time I get there and gets nasty after I leave. So what’s one day in the rain? And in some ways, it’s a little fitting that it was rainy on my Alcatraz day. It made it even more ominous and looming over the bay.

The brochure stated the tour would be 2 and a half hours. I figured that’d allow for 30 minutes on the boat, an hour and a half tour, and 30 minutes back. I left at 9:30am. And I didn’t get back until 2pm. So much for that being anywhere near right. But it was amazing! The self-guided audio tour was great. They told stories and walked you through the cell house from the perspective of four former guards and four former inmates. Very well done! I’ll just add my pictures and interject wherever I feel a story’s necessary.

  • Landing on the island
  • An open hallway – not sure where it leads to

  • Weathered roof
  • Inmate showers

  • Cell house
  • Isolation cells

  • The Pacific’s first lighthouse
  • One of the cells where Frank Lee Morris, John Anglin, & Clarence Anglin escaped Alcatraz. Very cool story, as they’re the only ones who ever got out. They weren’t heard from again for found, so chances are they died in the bay… But they’re still the only ones who “escaped”

  • The cliffs around the island into the bay. You can see how close the city is to the island
  • The prison yard and baseball diamond

  • Remnants of when the Indians took over the island in 1969 for 19 months out of protest
  • The skyline on the boat ride back

  • The Golden Gate Bridge on the left and Alcatraz on the right

With that, my trip to Alcatraz was over! It was funny though, because by the time I got back to the dock, the clouds had rolled out and sunny, warm weather was back. So even on bad days, they turn good for me! I made one more stop to Chowders for lunch since I was starving after being on “The Rock” for a lot longer than anticipated.

After leaving San Francisco, I took a drive down California Highway 1 which runs along the Pacific Ocean. It was gorgeous. There were cliffs and overlooks along the entire stretch. Just stunning views of the water once you got past the stretches where houses were practically built on top of other houses. And I stumbled onto a lighthouse – Pigeon Point Lighthouse. It was pretty cool because there was a hostel right there too. Amazing place to have a hostel, as it overlooked the cliffs and water. There were more sea lions too!

And of course I had to stop down the road at an overlook to catch the sunset on the Pacific Ocean. That means I’ve seen a sunrise on the Atlantic and a sunset on the Pacific now. Just cool things in life I’m doing on this trip.

And with that, the gargantuan entry of San Francisco draws to a close. Like I said, I was completely overwhelmed and hated it when I first set foot there. But after some slowing down and breathing, it wasn’t a bad place after all. There’s no way I could ever see myself living there, but I would definitely go back for a visit if it ever comes up.

The more places I see and more things I do like that, the happier I am I took this trip and have stuck it out. I get to see things people only wish they saw. And I get to learn things about the country, and myself, many people never get to experience. And I’ll forever be grateful for that.

Until next time!

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2 Responses to Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair

  1. Yep, the goods are so much sweeter when you go through a few downer moments. That’s what makes the trip memorable and sharper. You’ll always be glad you did this. Can’t say I’m not looking forward to seeing you home, though.

    • I can say I’m not looking forward to being home though! 🙂 I was telling someone this morning that I really miss the family and comforts home has. But I’m not looking forward to not moving on a daily basis. It’s got to end sometime though!

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