Wednesday, November 24 2004
setting: The Mission, San Francisco, California, USA
Today in San Francisco seemed to revolve more around my interests than they did Gretchen's, though I'd mentioned today's activities only in semi-jest, not thinking Gretchen would want to do them. But did them we did. First we drove through the old Presidio to Lombard Street, which we took eastward back to Fisherman's Wharf. We stayed on Lombard for as much as we could so we'd have a chance to drive down what is supposedly the crookedest city street in America right in the middle of the city. This section of Lombard has appeared in too many filmed car chases to count. But there it is, a one-way set of switchbacks with ordinary-looking houses and garages on either side. Imagine giving someone directions that includes "head down Lombard for three switch backs and then take an immediate right into my garage." As we descended, we passed at least a half dozen tourists standing around snapping pictures on this beautiful day. If one lives on this section of Lombard Street, I imagine the people with cameras have long since become tiresome aspects of the otherwise picturesque scenery.
At Fisherman's Wharf we somehow managed to find free parking and then set out to get tickets for the boat to Alcatraz. After that we had a little time to kill before the next boat left, so we went to look at the sea lions who haul out onto an array of rafts set out just for them at Pier 39. The crowd that had gathered to watch them was your usual set of adults and children, with the children asking lots of questions and the adults providing various answers, not all of them completely accurate.
We were hungry and craving burritos, but according to some police Gretchen asked the only burrito place within walking distance was on Pier 39, and it wouldn't be anywhere near as good as the Mission District. But with once-in-a-lifetime free parking, what choice did we have? As we ate our mediocre overpriced burritos out on the back deck, various pigeons and seabirds gathered around in hopes of getting a crumb. We obliged them all. It's amazing the size of a piece of soft taco that a seagull can swallow whole, even though it's not exactly done with one gulp.
The boat ride to Alcatraz Island only took about ten minutes. Once there, we were free to explore the place on our own. There were no organized tours, just informational signs here and there explaining everything, from the initial use of the island as a army fortress through its use as an army prison, it's most famous (though relatively brief) function as a federal prison, and finally its occupation by Native American activists during the early 70s. All these layers of history were there, frozen forever in a state of benign neglect. The signs telling prisoners what to do should they get sick, the Indian rebels' graffiti, all of it. Some of the buildings on the island were ruins, the result of an aborted attempt to raze the island following the Native American activists' eviction.
Somehow we managed to spend about an hour and a half on the island.
After Alcatraz we headed off to visit more of Gretchen's friends down in Santa Cruz, south of San Francisco along the Pacific Coast. We got there via the legendary and scenic Route 1. It's a good road to take if one wants to get a sense, as Gretchen put it, of "being on the crumbling edge of a continent." Mountains rear up from the east and are suddenly cut off mid-slope by the vicious waters of the Pacific. I was particularly struck by the eerie sight of an abandoned house perched precariously atop a plug of remaining soil its foundation had somehow shielded from erosion.
There weren't many other vehicles on the road, and at some point I started paying attention to whether or not vehicles had stick-on yellow ribbons, the kind that claim to express "support" for the "troops" and are seen on every third vehicle in the Hudson Valley back on the East Coast. I looked and looked and saw nothing and then finally I saw a ribbon, one of those slightly more extreme red white and blue kind, along with the yellow kind, both on the same vehicle. I don't remember whether or not this nutjob had driven in from another state like Montana or not.
The folks we were staying with tonight were another lesbian couple, though these actually had a child. It's not yet possible for two women to mingle gametes and produce offspring outside the nasty world of sperm, balls, and penises, though this couple had done the next best thing. One of them had been artificially inseminated with the semen of a man whose traits (Russian-Jewish) closely matched the other woman in the couple. The result was Jacob, a lively little kid nearing the age of terrible two.
When we arrived, though, the couple we had come to visit were not yet home, so we went and knocked on the door of the cottage in the backyard. Living there was another woman Gretchen knew from back in the days when she worked at an educational farm near San José. She let us into the main house; evidently she had a close relationship with the people living there.
It was a typical low-energy evening with hosts. We had vegetarian meal, Jacob sat in his high chair and put food all over his freshly-minted face, and I was the only one at the table to drink wine. Later Gretchen and the Russian-Jewish half of the couple talked about Isræl and Zionism. Every now and then I'd make a contribution to the conversation, and even though I wasn't the only non-Jew present, it wasn't too awkward given the fact that, of the three people present, I might not have been the least Zionist person there. It's not easy being a Zionist so long as nutjobs, the kind Christian Fundamentalists have hopes will precipitate Armageddon, run Isræl.
Telegraph Hill, viewed from the top of Lombard Street where it becomes "the crookedest street in America." Click to enlarge.
Sea Lions at Pier 39.
Gretchen waiting for the boat to Alcatraz.
"Alcatraz." Best said very quickly in a loud whisper.
A gull hovered above our boat, flying at exactly our speed as we headed to Alcatraz.
A corridor inside the old Alcatraz prison.
Gretchen viewed through an old visitor window. She's on the prisoner side.
Me viewed through an old old visitor window. I'm on the vistor side.
San Francisco, viewed from the Alcatraz ramparts.
The San Francisco skyline, viewed from the north. Click to enlarge.
A stop sign with the Golden Gate Bride in the background.
Marin County, viewed from Northwest San Francisco.
Bison in Golden Gate Park.
A house perched atop a plug of soil high above the Pacific coast along Route 1 south of San Francisco.
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