I’m goooooooooing to Saaaaaan Fraaaaaan-cisco!
We were sick of using the GPS, so we simply aimed for the Golden Gate Bridge. Oh so famous, oh so pretty.
I had grown up hearing a lot about San Fran; streets that went on in ribbons to the horizon, hills skateboarders dream of and liberal people living their blessedly aware lives.
The home of gay politician and general social mover-and-shaker Harvey Milk, architecture akin to Paris or Portugal and everywhere trendy motherfu*#ers drinking coffee, walking dogs, lounging in parks or striding to work.
It was a city very much alive with its population and I felt instantly at home in it.
High on the hill, looking out at the famous bridge. There was a sports car with giant teddy bears parked nearby, all wearing Giants baseball jerseys.
People were going nuts getting selfies beside them…but then the Giants did win the World Series last year, so I guess a selfie with a giant Giants bear was normal.
Looking across the water at Alcatraz it was impossible not to feel a slight chill as I imagined the desperate escapees plunging into the freezing water.
We stayed up high, as one should in a big city, and ate strawberries above the throbbing centre of 4th Street.
Walking around in this city was spectacular. The buildings were gorgeous and on every turn you were confronted with people rocking great shoes, cool jackets or fantastic hair. It was a very trendy place.
I decided to step it up a bit and wear Sketchers (purchased of course from a great Toowoomba op-shop) instead of Havaianas!
We meandered over to China Town, where the fruit and veg was cheap – ideal for hostel cooking. There was also good food for around $10 a meal.
A truck was parked outside the fish shop, a man pulling flapping catfish from its inside with a huge net. The whiskered things flopped madly in their captivity, probably sensing the end was near.
Inside turtles lay on their back, futilely pawing the air. A lady handed over $4 and three catfish said goodbye to the world via three efficient bashes from a lump of wood. Wham, bam thank you mam. Pleasure doing business. The frogs looked on aghast.
We walked on and soon hit a bottleneck of people at the top of a fantastic hill.
We were deep in the Nob Hill district, known as snob hill we later found out. Mercs were casually parked outside staggering houses.
The hill looked down onto the bay below, great ships turned museums waiting patiently for their long-dead captains.
But there was an even more impressive view. The skaters were here. On strange skinny boards that bent like planks they made their way down the corkscrew hill.
I watched as one guy waited for the cars to go, but losing his patience went anyway, GoPro on his helmet, pants low and hipness high.
Reaching the first bend he executed a neat 360 jump and was quickly at the back tyres of the black Chrysler driving slowly ahead of him. Dragging his foot as a break he gave a simple kick, a twist of his hips and was around it, speeding into the magnificent view at the bottom.
Skaters: Go to the corner of Lombard and Hyde Streets to test your skills.
We walked for so long in this city but never got bored, so good were the sights, the people watching and the weather.
At the bay we watched gobsmacked as people cut laps in the freezing water. A man was drying his ears on the bleachers, his wetsuit stripped back from his torso.
“Looks a bit nippy out there,” I said. “How long were you swimming for?”
“Around 50 minutes, it’s ok as long as you keep your hands moving, your face gets used to it after a while.”
“What about the people without wetsuits!? Are they sane?”
“Actually there’s a swimming club up there which you can’t be in unless you swim without one.”
One way of keeping the whingers out I guess.
Anyone who’s been to San Fran will probably tell you in their first breath what a cool city it is and in their second how bad the homelessness is.
Homeless people seem to be everywhere. Everybody in San Fran wears good, closed in shoes because there is undoubtedly a lot of grottyness at foot level.
I was waiting for a bus on Market St when the lady approached me. She had an old jacket on for when the sun drops and the wind shrieks through the CBD’s buildings. It was early in the morning. She had a face that looked like it had poured a lot out for other people over the years; been the comforter.
“Excuse me, I’m just trying to get something to eat, can you help me? I just wanna get two dollas for a…..for a hotdog or somethin’,” she said.
Everyone ignored her or looked away. It was around 9am.
Homeless people at the bus stop is like salt on chips.
She held out two silver tokens.
“I wouldn’t cheat you,” she said, looking at me with two brown eyes.
“You just put each one of these tokens in the slot machine when the bus pulls up and they get you a two dolla ride.”
I agreed to try it once the bus pulled up and hand the money back to her if it worked.
I didn’t ask her name, but she had been living on the streets for five months. She had slender fingers, which clutched her tokens, and she repeated her request often.
“The shelter kicks you out at 8am each morning and you can go back in at 12.”
The tokens worked and I handed back the $2, her face looking up at me like I’d just given her a house. I knew she was going to buy the hotdog she’d talked about.
I guessed they got the tokens at the shelter, but I also guessed they got meals there too. Who knows.
The city of San Francisco estimates the homeless population at around 7,350, based on a 2013 count. Of that, 1,902 were unaccompanied children or youth under 25.
One of many safe havens offered by the city is ‘A Woman’s Place’ shelter: an ironic salute to the domestic violence problem that underlies many homeless women’s situations.
An excellent article which explores the dehumanisation of the city’s homeless can be read here: http://www.sfbg.com/2014/03/25/san-franciscos-untouchables
The part about the kids with the video camera is particularly sad. In an affluent city like San Fran the homeless seem to be viewed as a pain, not a social issue.
In the 2013 Point-In-Time Count of homeless persons in the city, 59% were found to be unsheltered.
Anyway, it was Saturday night and Aussie band Big Scary were playing at Mission, the land of cool bars and understated venues. They were good too.
We caught a bus most of the way and then walked through some dodgy parts, past some dodgy people. And it was here I had my first encounter with a crack head.
We stood at the bus stop. I was wearing red lipstick, a backpacker’s secret weapon for looking good with limited space and money.
A homeless man dropped a coin onto the road and stepped down after it.
“Watch out dude, car coming,” I yelled out as a taxi ht the breaks.
Instantly he came over to us. Godammit I thought. Wild eyed and rambling he got right up in my face asking for money in a garbled gremlin speak. I could barely understand him. Coming from Australia personal space is a given.
Without thinking I put my hand on his shoulder and pushed him gently to the side, saying, “you can go up there, it’s better near the bus.”
Boom. Crack head went nuts. He spoke in gremlin again, animated and fast. I only caught “bitch.”
It boiled down to nothing and he went away. Luckily.
Lesson learned….never touch a crack head.
San Francisco however, was one of my favourite cities to date.