Saturday, March 29, 2014

San Fransisco

First evening in SF, I strolled around in downtown, absorbing the environment. This city boasts of a very beautiful mix of people- right from Bankers, technologists to the creative ones. It's not all suits, the free spirit is very apparent here.

Sid and I went for a midnight drive to the Golden Gates bridge and the Bunker road in a BMW 3. We stood there soaking in the breathtaking view until the chilly wind forced us to head back. The spots at Bunker road have beautiful view-points and is visited by tourists and city dwellers alike. We came across a couple of photographers, light dancers at work and that's when I realized how prevalent art forms/hobbies are in this city.. 

The next day, I was out on my own.. It ought to be very simple now that had tips from Sid. To make things more challenging, the data service support on my phone was zilch. So I listened very carefully when Sid issued the instructions: I was supposed to walk towards Montgomery street, reach the station to get the MUNI.. No wait.. I ought to go to  Embarcadero station instead- get the ripper card (??!!), load it with cash so that it could be used in the BART as well. Then take the F line Muni to Pier 39 at fisherman's wharf. 
Well, I found that wretched unpronouncable station after quizzing some ten people. It is tough to ask for directions to the station you are supposed to go now that you have forgotten that dreaded name altogether; but miraculously- I managed. I got the clipper (not ripper) at that Embark-something station. Now a new problem confronted me. According to Sid's instructions, I was supposed to take something right now and BART later in the evening. Out here, I saw sign for the Metro, Muni and BART. What was I supposed to take? The Muni or the Metro?! After some contemplation, common sense prevailed and the brain concluded that Muni and Metro had to be the same thing. So I got on the N Muni\metro. It was a pleasant ride. As the Muni came out of the underground track, the bay bridge was quite a spectacle and the clouds were.... Wait... Bridge? Why was I heading in the Bay bridge direction?!! Yikes! Wrong train!!

Then it struck me. So N was the Muni we took yesterday. Today I was supposed to take the historic F route Muni. Backtracking.. Finding the F station. 30 mins lost.

Anyhow. Fisherman's wharf is certainly a very touristy place. Street shopping, the Pier 39, the Aqua museum, the battleship & submarine, cruise, Alcatraz. If you are still Mr./Ms. Grumpy calling such tourist spots 'Humbug', the colors and the joyful air of the place is sure to cheer you up. There's a lot to do. The city cruise sets you back by $30, but its definitely worth it. They take you around in a small ship to the sea, the golden gates bridge, the Alcatraz prison and run you through the history of the city.

Needless to say, the golden gates bridge is quite a symbolic structure testifying human grit to create the impossible. Witnessing it in person does get you in a different mood altogether. I say the cruise is worth it because it presents the town very beautifully with stories from history of the town accompanying the breathtaking view of the city. There's a surprise for you when you leave/reach the pier. There are hundreds of sea lions greeting you with their yelps. Not tamed, but dudes/dudettes who find SF cool enough to live here forever. The Mechanics museum is worth a mention as it takes you back some 30 years back with those mechanical video game parlors. 

Thanks to Sid, I was living in downtown and explored market street, town centre, fin centre and chinatown at leisure. The Coit tower was also raided and it promises a brilliant view; especially of the lit up city at night.

Haight street and Castro are areas Praddy & Sid took me to show the 'upmarket part of the town'. Noticing proud flags everywhere and countless couples, I later figured that there is something more to this place. Upon further inquiry, it was finally revealed that this was where the LGBT movement started and the area has become symbolic for the community. While you may be open minded, it usually takes a while to acclimatize to this environment.

Sid had a surprise- we are getting a nice ride today- he notified. I was still high on the Ford Mustang from yesterday and ignored what he said. You see: once you have lived your dream, you don't care what's happening (or not happening next). I mean, what can better than V6 legend that defines American muscle?

What I saw next gave me a big big shock. The Mustang was already overwhelming for my soul. Now seeing our ride for today, my heart flipped. Standing before us was the evil 350Z roadster!! 3.5L-V6, 6 speed stick shift. Evil.. Definitely evil. That thing thumping in my chest refused to sober up, it definitely needed clinical assistance to stabilize. We took turns and drove it upto twin peaks. This place provides another bird eye view of the city and more importantly, a brilliant winding road.


One evening was dedicated to visiting relatives in Fremont. Now that I had mastered the art of climbing on to wrong trains, I treaded with extreme caution. The great determination, human spirit triumphed and I reached Fremont successfully without any trouble. However, catastrophe struck on my return journey. I was quite happy with the fact that I had managed to change at Bayview and was heading in the right direction. I was trying to get a better view of Oakland from the window when things started getting weird. The air-hostess came and offered me a non-vegetarian meal. I politely declined and told her that I was quite full indeed after the lovely meal my Didi had made. She took offense and started screaming in some indiscernible tongue. She started yelling that I ought to put my seat-belt on and I discovered that I didn't have any at my seat. At the same time, the bus driver from Vegas started stating that I ought to be careful while gambling. The house always wins- he concluded. Irritated, I replied that I was very well aware of that and he ought to get lost or get a bike. It was getting uglier by the minute. When I could not find my seat belt after hours of struggle, I started getting hysterical. Why was I being force-fed? Where the heck was my seat-belt?? And why on Earth was the air-hostess yelling at me??? Wait a minute... What was an air-hostess doing here???? Why was a seat-belt needed in the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train?????! Is this a joke? Or possibly a dream??

Poof!!! I woke up with a start and looked around in bewilderment. The eyes took a while to adjust to the light. The train was empty, the doors were open. I must have been sleeping for a while!! Lest they declare me clinically dead, I hurried out to the platform. I must have been asleep for quite a while for the board notified that I was at the Daly city station- the last one. Hysterical, I called up Sid & Praddy to notify them of the development and get further instructions on how to get back. The call was a futile one because while Vanchi and Praddy continued laughing, the last train for Richmond approached. By the time these guys got over with their hearty laugh and offered to drive down to pick me up, I was headed back.

The Muni and Bart will continue to haunt me for some time but all said, they are one of the few reliable public transportation systems in the USA. (I almost missed my flight in Vegas thanks to the oblivious bus system.)

Independent investigation on the matter of losing consciousness on the BART was not conclusive but chalks out two possibilities:

1. I was dead tired. 3-4 hours of sleep since the last week had caught up with me.

2. I was a victim of the California hippie culture. Let's be clear- I did not manage to become a hippie and return to India dum maaro dum ishtyle. What I refer to is the possibility of me being a victim of the hippie consumables in the BART. I had used the BART and Muni quite extensively and had witnessed marijuana smoke multiple times: mostly at the stations and sometimes on the train/tram. In fact, late that night- I have no doubts about what the hooded couple were smoking in the BART. Did the smoke from their stuff knock me out? This California culture is something to watch out for; and I am told it has to run parallely with creativity. When I inquired about this (smoking up in no smoking zones??!!), I was told that marijuana here is 'almost legal'.

I do not like too big cities. Well, everybody's busy running & chasing big money, and in turn are being chased by bigger bills. You could buy an island for the rent you pay here for a hut and you are always a nobody in the sea of people. Parking is a problem, everybody's busy murdering each other and running thereafter..
A big city like SF (and areas around) does have a lot of the characteristics mentioned above. However, I fell in love with the city for some things that set it apart. Unlike most American cities, it does have a history to boast of: spanning from the Spanish era right to the gold rush and resurrection from the fire and quake. After running for life in Mumbai, I find my pace of walking a bit more than everyone, but not in the SF downtown. The city is fast. The golden gates bridge and the bay area make for more than a scenic view, they are a part of life for all its citizens. Everyone I met has had a dinner, went for a trek, cycling or something to this region at least once a fortnight. The energy is high and it's not just the silicon valley, this city has several old banks, design firms and the creative kind. The Muni running down sloping blocks is as vital as the bay bridge, golden gates in defining San Fransisco and is a sight to be experienced.

...In the streets of San Francisco
Gentle people with flowers in their hair
All across the nation, such a strange vibration
People in motion
There's a whole generation with a new explanation
People in motion, people in motion
For those who come to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in their hair
If you come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there

-Scott McKenzie

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