San Francisco Part 1
Friday, September 19, 1997
It takes a long time to fly to San Francisco, especially when you have to connect through Pittsburgh. We were able to get on a standby flight, which got us there three hours earlier, but resulted in me and Jen spending five hours in the middle seat in different rows.
The first job in SF was to pick up the rental car. I wasn't impressed with it...a white Toyota Corolla with big black scratches on the bumpers and the interior smelled of smoke. But, we didn't have much of a choice, so we threw our huge tent bag in the trunk and hit the road at about 4 o'clock that Friday afternoon.
I regretted taking a car into downtown San Francisco as soon as I got there. Market Street was the epitome of chaos. Cable cars and buses attached to overhead wires own the center lanes of the road. You can drive there too if you're not afraid of getting run over and you think that you'll find a place where you can actually make a left turn. I felt as if I was in a foreign city and should've been on the other side of the road. San Francisco is considered a "pedestrian city." Simply put, the pedestrians get the right of way. And some of them don't even look for your car as they step out into the street.
We eventually got pretty close to our hotel, perched atop Nob Hill. I had no idea where to park so I dropped Jen off at the entrance to ask while I made a loop around the block. That's simple enough in most cities but here that means you have to drive up and down the side of those really steep hills. I was amazed at how people had parked on some of them; it looked as if you could tip the car on its side if you pushed just a little. Even with an automatic transmission, my car rolled back at least two feet when accelerating out of a stop up the hill. I eventually made it around and Jen helped me get the car onto the roof of the parking garage. Under the pain of my splitting headache, I vowed not to move the car until we left the city.
Our 'hotel' was the Grosvenor House. House is a good name because a lot of people actually live there. I kind of liked it as soon as we got there. People come and go as they please and there aren't hotel employees bucking for a tip at every turn. We took our key and hopped in the elevator up to the 17th floor. We had a great view of the south side of town including Union Square, but we missed out on what was probably a better northern view toward the wharf and the Golden Gate.
After a little relaxation from the maddening drive, Jen and I decided to head for Chinatown to get some dinner. Chinatown is about as touristy as it can get. Every other building on the sidewalk contains a cheesy Chinese souvenir shop, and those in between are Chinese restaurants. We were hungry for this kind of food despite the option overload. I shied away from one offering that looked like my high school cafeteria and we found a little place called the Far East Restaurant that had these great walled-in booths. It's kind of like having your own dining room there's even a curtain to close to keep out the waiter. So we had a good time sucking down rice, noodles, almond chicken, and jumbo shrimp while sampling Chinese beer (Tsingtao), which I really liked.
Since we were tourists, Jen and I checked out some of the junk shops and bought a few trinkets before trudging back up to the top of Nob Hill to spend our first night in San Fran.
Later that night while retrieving the alarm clock from the car, I was "greeted" by a local woman who saw fit to walk around naked in her apartment with the shades wide open. What a great city. Not to be secretive, I told Jen about it later and I was teased the rest of the trip.