Golden Gate

Saturday, May 25th

So a full day in San Francisco with a wakeup in our hotel down by Fisherman’s Wharf. We elected to stay at the Holiday Inn Express which, let me just say for the record here, is a strange name for any hotel. Especially when it’s located right next door to…the Holiday Inn. So, Express? Like a rolling stop at an intersection? Please don’t unpack? Or get too comfortable? Sleep fast and move on, please? As opposed to our other establishment just ’round the corner where you’re invited to relax and enjoy a more traditional, unrushed overnight in a proper hotel? Hmm. When we tried to check in to the wrong one yesterday (twice, actually – once each at two different entrances) we were beginning to wonder if they were hiding the Express on purpose. Emma finally asked the clerk in the wrong one what the difference was. The lady explained that the regular Holiday Inn was a “full service” hotel and that the Express did not have food. Ah. Much faster that way. So imagine our confusion when, upon finally checking in at the correct location, the nice girl at the desk made a point about us not missing breakfast in the lobby. I surrender. Anyway the place was fine. In its non-stop kind of way.

The problem with one whole day in this town is, that isn’t nearly enough time. Which has kind of been the theme this whole voyage. Bill in particular has been lamenting that we’ve not spent time enough in any one of the many great places we’ve landed overnight. And he’s absolutely right. But that’s the drawback of a trip like this. I’ve been using the metaphor that this is really our America 101 survey course. And only the first semester at that. If nothing else, we’ll pick some spots we want to come back and explore in more detail another time. But that didn’t make planning today any easier.

What did help focus our agenda was the car. Our hotel allowed us to leave it be all day so we decided to hoof it until we got tired, then take public transportation as necessary. And I demanded that we walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. So we headed out through the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf section of town and headed more or less West toward the entrance to San Francisco Bay. We stopped for a big breakfast along the way, then followed the shore line about four miles to the bridge. The weather today was spectacular – cool and breezy with pretty good visibility. It was also the start of the Memorial Day weekend so there were tons of people out, tourists and locals alike, running, walking, on bikes, with kids, with dogs. Just a steady stream of people enjoying a gorgeous day by the bay.

So my fixation with today’s destination. My dad was an engineer, spent his professional life modeling the effects of wind and other impact effects on large structures, and did a significant amount of work on big, long span bridges. Including the Golden Gate. So that bridge is special to me and my family. And it’s amazing. The four suspension towers are almost seven hundred and fifty feet high, and the main span between these massive structures stretches almost a mile. The entire bridge is hung on eighty thousand miles of spun steel wire making up the cable bundles and the whole thing runs about nine thousand feet from the anchor points at both ends of the straight. The deck is two hundred forty feet off the water with only a basic railing separating pedestrians and cyclists from the drop.

Which is an issue. It’s one of the most popular suicide destinations in the world, if that’s the way to put it. More than sixteen hundred people have jumped from the deck since the bridge opened in 1937 with the most recent totals topping thirty annually. But that tragic legacy notwithstanding, and it was in the back of my mind the whole way across today, that bridge is a uniquely spectacular piece of engineering. And breathtaking to walk upon. Pelicans hover overhead in the constant wind, porpoises and seals surface regularly underneath you. Sailboats tack desperately to escape the bay or heal over on a dead run back to port. Huge container ships ply back and forth, coming from or going to God only knows where across the Pacific. We saw a sightseeing helicopter fly up, over and then down under the span – pretty cool. And today, hundreds of visitors on bikes and on foot. We walked the whole thing over to Marin county and back – about three miles total on top of what we covered to get there. Thrilling. Nostalgic for me. And then we were ready for a seat on a bus.

But a cab pulled in to the visitors’ center just as we were trying to sort out the public transport schedule, so we piled in and told the driver to take us to the Haight. I’m not sure why everybody who goes to San Francisco has to take a picture of at the corner of Haight and Ashbury, but I did it. The neighborhood, which became the center of the hippie / revolutionary / music / artistic / drug scene in the 60s, still generates and profits from the considerable nostalgia that era evokes in people. That and maybe a little residual regret for the lost momentum, the sellouts and the death of heroes. Or whatever. Now it’s all quirky shops and bad street music and lots of guys like me wandering around trying to figure out what might have made this place so special once upon a time. But it was still cool. Some very good second hand shops. A handful of interesting restaurants, including a sleeper Thai place where we had lunch. A couple of amazing music stores from which we had to pry poor Bill. And lots of bizarre street characters. Including one entrepreneurial young man with dark shades and what I presume was a backpack full of marijuana and cash who was insistent that I needed to purchase some “heady nuggets” from him. I have to say I was pretty flattered by his persistent overtures since I in no way seemed to be fitting in otherwise with the street scene. Somewhat reluctantly I managed to shake him with, “you’re very thoughtful to ask, but no, thank you…”

Then just like that, our clock ran out. We had to spring our car from the hotel garage. So we grabbed a cab back to the hotel which ride featured some insane maneuvers, including one downhill descent at speeds more than double anything that made sense. Quick ride, happy to get out, tipped extra.

Then we headed back out of town with a quick detour to drive up Lombard Street but…it was full. I mean Lombard Street was literally full of tourists driving Lombard Street. Cops turning us away at every intersection. Damnedest thing I ever saw. So Bill missed out on that experience. Hopefully the circus cab drive made up for it.

Random thoughts from today: Nic only ate one more meal than we did today (hot dog and root beer at the bridge). He’s a furnace. Emma and Nic are making us dinner (pizza) as I type this. They’ve been amazing hosts here. Going to be really hard to leave on Monday. Need to catch up on what’s going on with the Stanley Cup. I haven’t read a paper or watched the news in over a week. The Golden Gate Bridge made me homesick. Should we move here?

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2 thoughts on “Golden Gate

  1. You have done justice to this great country in three marvelous weeks.
    Next thing is to take your “gotta come back here” list and start over.

  2. Major algia of impossible nostos… Nice you closed the pilgrimage at “our” bridge.
    Nothing better with breakfast at the Ritz than Glennblog . Robert and I excused ourselves from a State Department dinner to watch the Bruins finish off the Rangers, then came back to the table and drew oohs and aahs over our hockeymaniacal ways.

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