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San Francisco - Day Three - Tea Leaves PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Saturday, 26 December 2015 21:11

ith day-long rains predicted (where’s that drought I heard so much about?), our first trip (stepping around the sing-along hobos outside) was down Haight to Robert’s (aptly named) Hardware where we bought a tiny flash light (for late-night suitcase digging) and an umbrella (duh!). As we came out, we realized that right across the street was a cool looking bookstore.

After taking the place apart brick by brick ($150 later) we returned back to the apartment to drop off our swag (the ‘boes had drifted off to their day occupations, leaving their gin bottles and urine stench behind). Then we embarked on a casual trip, walking north to Panhandle Park (double meaning in this town) and then tracking it west to the Golden Gate Park. A little drizzle but a nice walk all the same. The park closes its primary road on Sundays so no traffic, just joggers and cyclists and shoe-leather-burning tourists.

We would have gone right by the Conservatory of Flowers save for the banners announcing a garden railroad currently on display. Hey, that sounded cool. It turns out it was about as threadbare a display as a circus animal, just a loop of track in mistmatched scenery buildings (pried from other uses, it looked like). Still, the rest of the plants were nice – sectional areas in the cold greenhouse, each at its own temperature and humidity. Really neat.

After that, we walked through the largely empty park (like the Omega couple in the rain) over to the Japanese Tea Garden. Had a nice lunch, tea and small Japanese sandwiches (are there such things?). Watched an egret fish in the pond below our seats. Then we went for a free tour of the place with a guide (and his dog), a nice hour spent learning the story behind the garden. By the time it was done, it was starting to come down cold and wet. JB and I made one more loop of the gardens to collect photographs and then headed for the art museum next door.

This turned out to be a bad idea – apparently every citizen in San Francisco decided to go to the museum on this rainy Sunday. JB and I decided it was cold and wet enough. As we are not clever, tech-savvy and urbane enough for Uber, we walked the mile and change back. Actually, nice walk, just strolling down the middle of an empty four lane highway, the rain tattooing off the umbrella. Cold, yes. Wet, yes. But enjoyable.

After we got home (the other parties were coming in, everyone drenched) we went next door (how convenient) to the coffee shop. Sat in sunken comfort in a thick sofa, sipping our steaming brews and listening to the rain come down.

After home, naps and reading, it was time for dinner. Turns out pretty much everyone (with the exception of the gentle tea-gardeners) stuffed themselves sick on chowder for lunch. So, following the house’s guide, JB and I took an umbrella and went out looking for a nearby Thai restaurant.

Two problems with this. The restaurant was no longer in existence – a sad Thai legend. And secondly, the driving rain filled Haight with dozens of tramps, bums, junkies and runaways. JB and I went up and down the drag, even calling my sister for an exact address. Hacking wreckage cramped in doorways. Raving lunatics screamed into the rain. It was like walking through a live shot of Blade Runner. Finally JB and I decided to just head home – going five blocks through this artistic and eclectic tenderloin district after all the shops closed didn’t seem like a good idea.

At the time of this writing, we’re waiting for a pizza to be brought in. So, that wet day is behind us.


Last Updated on Saturday, 26 December 2015 21:29
San Francisco - Day Two - Gates and Lights PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 25 December 2015 19:07

oday was a big off-site family deal, everyone into the van and go. And for this, we wheeled out Moby Dick (the massively unwieldly van) and headed out towards the bay. Best yet, the weather had broken gloriously and the sky was a radiant blue.

After a three-point turn-around or two, we finally got ourselves dropped on the Golden Gate Bridge’s south side park. From there, we snapped our pictures of that massive bridge (the same ones you’ve seen everywhere, even here) and then started out across it. Now, the west side, it’s only for bikes. Our side is pedestrians. Now, this was exacerbated by the fact that they were running some sort of cross-and-back-and-cross-again foot race (the same joggers in the same blue shirts). But out we went, wind crackling, traffic blowing by. And I’ll say this, if the devil of vertigo occasionally rides your back, you’ll feel him hanging from your shoulderblades on this walk, whispering about how high it is, and look up at those towers! Gulp!

But we got across. By the second tower, I was pushing this troublesome genie back into its bottle, actually leaning back to look up (gulp!) at the high towers and even take a couple of pictures. Eventually we got to the other side and picked up our van again (my brother had ferried it across). And off we went to the Point Reyes lighthouse.

Now, nobody had asked my opinion on how far forty or whatever miles was really when you were driving along the Pacific Coast Highway (my wife and I’d had our own experience some years back, south of the bay, when it took hours just to cover crow-fly distance). So I just read Moran’s Earth Winter (review pending) while getting shaken like a bean in a can as we hamfisted about on the narrow twisting roads. Yeah, I have issues with vertigo, but motion-sickness, no problems.

We finally got there and it wasn’t quite what we expected. Sure, you had to walk a long windy half-mile just to get to the site (JB and I had a large deer cross our paths as we walked under the wind-wrenched Cyprus), and yes, there were 30 flights (no exaggeration) of stairs to get down to the actual light house (a little dinky thing). The wife remained topside with the older ladies while I descended. Got some nice pictures and tried to record the sound of the fog horn with the camera (the wind noise turned out to be too much). And then I climbed that long slope, puff puff puff. But I made it, pretty much in one go.

This evening, everyone else went off to see StarWars. Now, yes, we’ll probably see it soon, but the thought of riding a bus to an opening release in a strange city, fighting for a seat and all that, no, not fun. Instead, JB and I had our own nice little evening; quick walk down Haight (I’ll use colorful here as a euphemism for seedy) and dinner in a nice little burger place. Interesting meal – we chatted while all sorts of strange people came in and the homeless circled about in the darkness like wolves. Ice cream afterwards. So Haight’s really become the new tenderloin district with gentrification crushing it from all sides – all sorts of colorful counter-cultural shops, every alcove filled with a crumpled human being, every sidewalk clotted with smoking, ill-used men, every cross-street lined with million-dollar houses. When we came home today from the outing, we found a guy literally passed out on the sidewalk – we weren’t sure if he was alive or dead. And now, when we came back from dinner, we found our own hobo jungle out against our garage door, at least three guys with their bundles, blankets and bottles spread about. So, yes, this isn’t the best place to stay. Even as I write this, I can hear one of the tramps yacking away profanely just under our window, a very colorful backdrop for our vacation. I could find this sort of ambiance just outside a rail yard. Great. Can’t wait to see what’s down there tomorrow.


Last Updated on Friday, 25 December 2015 19:30
San Francisco - Day One - Chinatown and Fishermans’ Wharf PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 24 December 2015 19:47

echnically, the part about waking up Hell happened the day before.

I’d been up early the day of travel, cross the country to California, the Earth’s rotation working against me. So a long day of effort. Got into San Fran in the early afternoon, ate dinner at a little Pub along Haight (and two dark-lager pints)  and I crashed at 6pm - felt like 11pm – lights out.

And I woke up to blazing heat and pounding noise. Hell!

Turns out the AC in the house we rented was set hot. And some busker was across the street doing amplified guitar riffs at 9pm. Fortunately some beat cops turned off his amps and he eventually drifted away.

So, our first day of San Francisco, we pretty much walked cross-town. We started off with an Uber ride (trust my app-head sister to arrange this) to Union Park. From there, we walked over to the business district, then over to Chinatown. There, I found out what happens when you take three women through a kitsch shopping area. Two hours later we'd finally bought all our nicks and knacks (I hung around against a dragon-topped lamppost, looking either like some serial adventurer from the 30s or the Midnight Cowboy). Fortunately, no businessmen tried to pick me up.

After a nice lunch at a walk-down Chinese place (we were the only Caucasians there) we headed across town to Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill. Stiff hike up to the top, 275 feet (or twenty-seven floors of climbing). But atop the summit, atop its tower, a sweeping view of everything! Took a lot of pictures out the open windows. Just wonderful.

After that, we walked down to Fisherman’s Wharf – as touristy as it comes now (and hell, I’m from Orlando). But we hung around the vintage arcade and looked at some of the old stereographic machines (WW1 and the great earthquake/fire of 1906). JB and I also got a chance to stroll the wharf, checking out the WW2 sub and liberty ship they have docked there. The sub we’d gone into before, and we really didn’t have time to go into the liberty ship.

Back in the wharf complex at pier 39, it really started to rain. My sister called Uber again and home we went. Dinner that night, we walked through light rain that turned heavy while we sat in our noisy Mexican restaurant. So again she called Uber. And I’ll say this about the service – I wasn’t hot about it. It’s techy and flashy and undercuts cab companies. But yes, it was pretty handy to have a driver show up within a minute or two, and get a quick and easy ride across town for a pittance. And even though I’m very resistant to change, I’ll give Uber credit for fast service across the bay area. Yes, that’s approval. I don’t do it often and it might be a little choppy.

So it’s late and rainy in San Francisco, the sort of night Sam Spade hangs out in a trenchcoat against a sheltered wall and watches a doorway for his mark. The nieces are out drinking, the wife is jotting notes in her notebook, and I’m wrapping up this blog. I’ll sleep good tonight (the rain should hold off the buskers).


Last Updated on Thursday, 24 December 2015 20:04
Reflections on my Kidney Stone PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Saturday, 10 October 2015 08:31

ne thing I reflected on as I woke up after the best sleep I've had in a week-and-change; I'm very grateful I live on the cutting edge of now. Yes, we have problems in this world, but also wondrous things, too. As Owen Wilson said in "Midnight in Paris", when asked why he wouldn't wish to stay in the magical 1920's Paris he's discovered, replied "Novocaine".

For me, I'm still thinking of that horrible 4mm kidney stone I carried for nine days. Drinking lots of water never moved it a bit. When we finally got flowmax in me, we managed to move it a little further down the tract, but it hung up again. Maybe I would have been able (with another couple of gallons of water) to move it. But stones should be out in three days, and they hurt like a war-lance in your back while they are in. And even with flowmax going, it was iffy if this would have ever come out.

The surgery they used was probably the only way I was going to get that thing out. Otherwise, had the blockage continued, it would have probably infected my kidney and (only a hundred years ago) killed me. Yes, I would be dead.

And my teeth - yes, I have crowns, but at least I have teeth. With the wisdom teeth removed and braces, I have wonderfully straight teeth. A root canal prevented a horrific infection. My glasses let me see clearly; again, these are wonders most of the people of the world never got until recently.

So next time you want to bitch about the world (as I will inevitably do), remember that in hunter-gatherer time, most of us might have made 40 years, tops, if we survived our childbirth and first critical years. And this is true through history, where most surgery was done with an unwashed saw and a dentist's tools were a chisel and a hammer. Yes, health care is still an illogical mess (made worse by the illogical people it serves and the monstrous corporations who profit from it). But really, toss out a prayer of gratitude for what we do have.

Or read
Quicksilver, a book set in the 1600's where the main character has a kidney stone and nearly dies from it.


Last Updated on Saturday, 10 October 2015 08:41

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