A Long Walk in San Francisco

I was determined to fill my last full day in San Francisco and the USA, so spent most of the 18 hours of the day on the go. This is going to be a long one, so bear with me!

Having had the briefest tastes of the Golden Gate Bridge I wanted to go back and have a better look. Before I went to bed, I researched the numerous bus routes in San Francisco to find the one that would take me near or better, over the bridge. As luck would have it there would be a bus just after 7am which stopped just down the block from the hotel.

So I was up early and ready for the day, and so were the workman doing whatever workman do, the issue for me was that they were working exactly where the bus should have stopped. So as I wandered down the street trying to work out where it would stop, it rolled straight passed me and back the way I came. I’d missed it!

As I trundled back to the hotel I re-assessed my plans for the day, perhaps I could get a later bus, or do something else instead but the thing was, I really wanted to go to the bridge. Outside the hotel were three taxis, who I haggled with in turn trying to see who would drive over the bridge, the sticking point was the toll they would have to pay on their way back. I can’t remember how much it cost me, let’s just say it was more than the bus.

I was dropped off on the north end of the bridge where the coach stopped the day before. DSC_0310I knew it was going to take a little while to walk across the bridge and I was fully prepared for it, or at least I thought I was. I’ve had an issue with heights for a long time, it’s not so much a fear of heights, rather a fear that I will throw myself off of a high structure. This isn’t a suicidal feeling more a ‘I wonder what it would be like’ feeling, I’ve written about this before. The French call it L’appel du vide or Call of the void.

I thought I had this feeling and the fear part in check, however they both came back not long into my walk across the bridge.

Walking across the bridge, you are over land for quite a way but still high up.DSC_0318 The day I walked across, there were a few other (more confident) walkers and lots of cyclists. The traffic moves across the bridge at a fair pace too.

Looking back towards Horseshoe Bay. It’s roughly at this point where I am only just about getting over the water.DSC_0329A long way down.DSC_0330This tanker gives an indication as to how wide this stretch of water is.DSC_0321A long way to go, the bridge is nearly two miles long. This photo is taken from the pathway that goes around the tower, what you can’t see and what happens in each of the photos whilst on the bridge, is my left hand gripping the railing. Yes, I couldn’t even stand there and take a photo. There are people walking, running and cycling passed me and I’m holding on to take a picture!DSC_0331This is the bridge patrol vehicle that travels up and down the walkway, as a sad reality of this bridge is that people commit suicide by jumping off into the water below.DSC_0339Dotted along the span are these signs.DSC_0353It may be crass but having an issue with heights, as I walked across what sprung to my mind was ‘how do people jump off, it’s so high up’ they must have an immense amount of courage to stand on the railing or on the wrong side of it before making that final step.

There is a film I watched a few years ago called ‘The Bridge‘ by filmmaker Eric Steel, who had cameras recording the bridge which captured people making their final leaps. The film talks to the families of those who have jumped and even a survivor, as people do occasionally survive the jump albeit with terrible injuries.

DSC_0340DSC_0363Alcatraz Island in the haze.DSC_0352I made gentle progress across, feeling happier as I got over halfway, there was a gentle breeze blowing that felt like a gale, and I shrank against the railing nearest the road whenever anyone had to come past me.

A look into Fort Point which looks better than it did at the end of ‘Point Blank (1967)’ starring Lee Marvin, I’ve also read that it features in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ but I’ve not seen that – which is remiss of me as a film fan, for Christmas I bought myself the recently released Hitchcock collection, so I can rectify that soon.

DSC_0365Safely on the other side and terra firma. It took me about 45 minutes to walk from end to end.DSC_0372The man who built the bridge; Joesph B. Strauss.

DSC_0375 DSC_0376On this side of the bridge there are several hands on bits for you to play with. They show how the bridge works in different weather conditions, I think there were also examples of the different designs that were considered at the time.DSC_0379Getting up and out early, meant I hadn’t had any breakfast so I considered getting the bus back into the city but thought better of it and just kept walking.DSC_0385I walked along a path that followed the shoreline and ended up at the Warming Hut Cafe. I had a pain au chocolat and a hot chocolate. I sat in the cafe but the view just outside was pretty much the photo below, not a bad place for breakfast.

DSC_0395There was a Park Ranger along with lots of others on a wharf just to the right of this picture. Most were fishing but the Ranger was catching rather large Dungeness crabs with a line for a talk to some youngsters later in the day.

Fed and watered I carried on down the shoreline path. There were lots of people about now, running with and without dogs, walking with and without dogs, cycling with or without dogs, you get the idea. The weather was lovely just warm enough even though it wasn’t much passed 9am. I have to say, there were a lot of attractive women bouncing towards me or away from me in tight running gear, which made the walk even more pleasant.

Of course walking here you can always see the bridge, I stopped and had another look at it and saw the cloud closing in. I was thankful for two reasons; 1. I could get a cool picture of the bridge & 2. I wasn’t on the bridge in the cloud!

DSC_0408

Walking along I came to a sandy beach that was mainly full of dogs and their owners, I’m a little wary of dogs but I wanted a rest and to take in the scenery.

I approached the waters edge and decided to have a paddle. When we had our initial tour by coach, the tour guide reiterated something I was already aware of and that is the water is very cold here. With that in mind in gingerly stepped forward.

My feet were in that water for perhaps a minute and they were numb it was that cold. Which made me think back to the three guys who escaped from Alcatraz and supposedly swam or used an improvised boat to reach the mainland; well if they did and didn’t freeze to death in the process good on ’em.

When my feet felt like they belonged to me again, I carried on and I reached the Marina and Marina Park Green, a thin patch of green space along the waters edge. The houses that overlook the bay are really nice.

DSC_0414A San Francisco fire engine was parked up, I’m not sure why but the fireman with it put up the ladder and climbed it.DSC_0419DSC_0420If you’ve read everything I’ve written about this trip you’ll know that I was told to do random things; I played chess in New York and in San Francisco I played football or soccer as it is known here.

After taking photos of the fire engine I turned my attention to what was happening on the green, which wasn’t a lot. The only thing happening was six guys playing football. So I stood and watched, the price of being a football fan is that you will watch football anywhere regardless of the level being played. So I watched for about 10 minutes, as I was about to leave another player turned up, during a break in play asked if he could join in and he did. So now it’s 3 against 4 and I’m itching to play just to even it up.

Holding me back was my lack of fitness, the fact I’d walk nearly 4 miles and I didn’t know really how much further I had to walk and that I had on walking shoes that aren’t really meant for football. But I ignored all that and as the players stopped for a water break I wandered over and asked if I could play. I was welcomed into the fray and played for about 30 minutes which was just about all my dodgy fitness could manage.

I’m not a brilliant football player and the guys I played with were good, the only downside was a few of them were quite serious about it, and it only seemed to be a morning knockabout, which was another reason I cut short my participation. That and I nearly broke a someones forearm….with my face. Having played football with soldiers for 14 years, you learn to hit or get hit. The ball was near our goal, one of my teammates attacked it as did one of the opposition, and I came in from the side and took them both out, receiving a forearm across the face in the process, it didn’t hurt but the guy who hit me was howling in pain. All good fun though.

Here’s where I played football, which considering I’ve only played in a gym or football fields around Brecon and Crickhowell, ranks as the nicest and most picturesque place I’ve played, especially as it’s in sight of the bridge.

I left they guys to continue their game and headed onwards towards the city centre.

Looking down Filmore Street.DSC_0425I walked through a park which I’ve just found out is called Fort Mason Green, a really nice space but not enough shade for me to stop. It was getting a lot warmer now, having played football probably didn’t help my temperature either.

There were 4 maybe 5 guys playing a game here, I don’t know what it was but they appeared to be in two teams, and stood around a net or elasticated surface, they threw a ball down onto it and had to use their hands to knock it back down again until it was missed. I don’t know what it was called, the only thing I could think of was American Handball which is normally played against a wall and as they didn’t have a wall they used the net or whatever it was they had to bounce the ball off of.

DSC_0430Writing this months after the event, I was going to write ‘from here I went down Van Ness Avenue’ but because I took some photos of buildings around here I can correctly type; from here I went down Polk Street.

This building on the corner of Bay & Polk (or Polk & Bay I’m not sure which way around it goes!) caught my eye because of the fire escapes which are painted the same colour as the building.DSC_0431Of course once I’d seen one, I saw many.DSC_0434 DSC_0435For those that know San Francisco, or want to look it up, I walked from Bay Street all the way to California Street. I walked down this street for lunch, which I’ve remembered I had at the New Village Cafe which was a cafe recommended for our group to use, as it was good, cheap and just around the corner from the hotel. On they way, about a block from the cafe I went passed a place called Good Vibrations which is also the Antique Vibrator Museum. I didn’t go in but if I’m ever back in San Francisco I may do so, just for fun.

Once I had lunch I found a cable car to take me into the shopping area, which as I was now feeling a little tired, just kind of passed me by as I just wandered around. I wasn’t looking for anything and only went just to say I had. I missed a cable car to take me back up the hill, so walked up the steepest paved street I’ve ever walked up and caught another car back to the top of California Street and collapsed back into my hotel room for a well earned sit down….and the day wasn’t over yet.

Before coming to the US I’d made tentative plans to go to a bar and see a band, the lead singer of whom I used to listen to in a previous band. Up till that day I still wasn’t sure if I was going to go, but it would have been an opportunity missed. So I once again got familiar with the bus schedules and once again I was lucky to find that bus went from near the hotel, and I didn’t miss it this time.

I wont recount that part of the evening as I’ve already posted a very fawning account here. I’ll just add that I wrote it at nearly 2am, I’d had a few drinks and my alcohol tolerance is very low.

It’s not that far from the mark though, I really enjoyed the evening, getting to see, hear and meet Emily was a thrill and seeing Go Betty Go whose album has been played a lot since I returned was also a highlight.

Before the bands played I met some Americans in the bar. I was there early as I knew the bar sold food. I sat down and it was just like those bars you seen in films, long and with a mirror behind. I ordered a coke and a burger which was really really good. Already sat at the bar were three youngish people (I found out later they were 25 to early 30’s). They were slowly getting drunk and chatting to the barman. Someone mentioned music and Green Day, being a fan I listened in without looking at them. One of the guys said he likes the new Green Day stuff but as a fan of Dookie his teenage self wants to kick his ass, I found this funny because it’s true, I laughed and agreed with him and the ice was broken.

As I finished my burger and they realised I was British they joined me and we chatted about all things American and British; particularly guns. As we are now unfortunately familiar due to the recent events in Newtown CT, a lot of Americans own and bear arms. It was no different with these three people. They were San Francisco natives but two of them, a married couple, live in Arizona, and the husband has a gun collection, ranging from pistols up to automatic weapons. We went back and forth in a lighthearted manner about gun control and ‘did they really need them?’, what they found intriguing was the fact that British police don’t routinely carry guns, but as I said to them, they have no need to do that…yet.

As they were all ready a little tipsy, some drinks came my way. Those that are familiar with my drinking habits know that I rarely drink and it’s even rarer for me to actually buy a drink! Although that has changed, on a recent night out I went out with £80 and came back with £5.

Anyway, I kept dashing to and from the bar to check if the band I was waiting for had started. I told my new friends that I would be back later, but they had planes to catch in the morning so I wasn’t sure how long they would be staying. My intention had been to see the band I came to see and then leave but I ended up staying for the whole show. So when I got back into the bar, they had all ready left, and I felt a bit bad for not buying them a drink.

I’m going to flash forward a bit now to early November. As I felt bad for not buying a few drinks, or even saying good bye to the three very nice Americans, I did they only thing I could do, which was track them down on the internet! I could only remember one first name, that of the wife and what she did for a living, which is a specialised type of work for a specific multinational company. So I was able to get a message to her via LinkedIn, firstly to apologise for not buying a drink and secondly to thank her, her husband and brother for their hospitality and kindness, and to say that if they are ever in the UK, to let me know and I’ll return the favor.

Now back to September – Music finished and a little tipsy, I made my way to the bus stop. My sense of direction let me down a bit and I made a very wide circle around different blocks to eventually find it. The music level had left me a bit deaf, and the alcohol in need of the toilet. I was picking the bus up at the bus station, so made my way inside, only to make a very comic about face as their was a line of very burly and scary looking Police inside. I wandered around the outside to see if there was another way in, alas there was not. So I went back and as people were just walking in and passed the Police, I did too. I was now quite desperate and was looking for a sign that would indicate I had found the right place but I could see no sign, only more Police.

I asked one of them where the toilets were and he told me three times, remember I’m deaf, before pointing to a door about 20 feet straight in front of me. He didn’t look happy, but I was relieved…in more ways than one.

The bus journey back was uneventful, that is unless you call men dressed in a lot of leather getting on the bus an event. Well that’s what happened and no one batted an eyelid, this is San Francisco after all. I got talking to a man not dressed in leather; in hindsight I think he was chatting me up, but hey ho I’ll take the compliment. He told me that there was a leather and fetish thing on that weekend called the ‘Folsom Street Fair’. A lot of people would be attending, not just gay people but straights who like to go down and photograph all the naked people walking about.

As he spoke I was thinking that had we been in the city one more day I would have gone for a look; as luck would have it, if you can call it that, I and the rest of the tour group would get a close up look before leaving the city.

I made it back to the hotel sometime after 1am and before 2am, which is when I wrote my original blog post before crashing out.

My American adventure was nearly at and end.