Tuesday, August 17, 2010


San Francisco in summer is cold. So cold, that I had to go out and buy some new clothes. But that is only half the story. Not for the first time in my life I was left with the option of washing some dirty clothes, or buying new. With the Australian dollar pumping right now it made sense to hit up the local Westfield (they have them here too) and grabbed me some new wears.
I'll be heading to Portland/Seattle next, so to get into the mood I grabbed a cardigan or two. If anything it'll help my aspirations of joining a grunge band. Not long after I sold my soul and went to Hot Topic, favoured hangout of America's emo & goth kids. Whatever. I walked out with a Danzig shirt which more than remasculates the whole cardigan & Hot Topic scene to begin with.
World's shitest Porsche. Bumper is cable tied on.
I decided to walk up San Francisco's famed hills after this. Despite the leg work-out and embarrassing fitness levels, the walk is well worth it. Nob Hill (legitimate name) and Russian Hill are right between the city's tourist hubs, but due to their muscle aching hills, are barren of tourists and bums.

The same can not be said of Fisherman's Wharf, a place I went to for lunch. See, part of this trip has already been nostalgic from my last visit to San Francisco. So much so, that I went back into the known tourist swarm, just to get clam chowder in a sourdough bun. Just like I did last time.
It's also advantageous coming back to a place like this. Having already seen a lot of the tourist things from last time (Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz & Cable Cars) there is little desire to do all of that again. Save for Alcatraz - which is amazing - I am not at all envious of the people riding their pushbikes over the bridge or lining up to take a slow, overcrowded and expensive 10 minute cable car ride.
After my delicious tourist friendly meal (seriously, all soup should be served in a bun) I decided to get a few quick snaps of the Golden Gate Bridge. One catch, it was missing. The fog that envelopes the city each night had made an early start and was shrouding the red gangplank from view.

The X-men stole the bridge again.

After not seeing the bridge I headed back up Columbus and went to check out the Beat Museum. I walked in and they were playing some Bob Dylan and had a gift store that was actually worth checking out. Once inside I did my best to put aside my hero-worship for Kerouac et al. I had first encountered the beats when I was about 11 years old. Through music I had heard Allen Ginsburg's Ballad of the Skeletons and William S Burroughs sing with R.E.M. It's a nice retrospective to experience the same scene with an approach not focused on novelty. Anyway, inside the museum was a great number of Beatnik historical nick-nacks. They had a whole wall of international On The Road editions and some great relic typewriters. As a side note, I recommend any guy who has ever had a girl make his knees feel funny read chapter 5 from Jack Kerouac's Maggie Cassidy. Amazing.
Ti Jean, little Jack
I grabbed a copy of the Ginsburg poem, Howl, and checked out Jack Kerouac Alley and City Lights Bookstore again. For the first time I'm disappointed that I'm only travelling through town, because I would love to spend a whole lot more time and money in those places. Still, that attitude defeats the purpose of the whole beat movement. It's probably more appropriate to be living out of a backpack and changing cities every couple of days.
After a quick Mad Men fix (we've all got our vices, even on the road), I headed to a hotel much nicer than my accommodation to meet up with my Uncle Dennis and Aunty Carol. We were originally scheduled to meet up in New York, but since my plans are flexible we both happened to be here at the same time. It was nice to see a familiar face so soon after leaving Australia. It's a mixed bag of emotions getting off a plane/boat/train and not having anyone know you. It can be the most liberating part of travel, but it's often equally hard. Being able to share an improvised evening of wine, cheese and bread (no glasses or cutlery) with family was a pleasant and accomodating way to spend the evening.
After leaving their hotel I ventured past a bum who had improvised a drum kit out of buckets and anything he could find on the street (lightpoles etc). It was pretty impressive, but the start of a tough row of homelessness. I had to walk to a cinema to see Scott Pilgrim vs The World and the quickest route was right through a myriad of bums and other unfriendly night folk. After the film, the walk back took me through the same streets, past the whores and vomit piles, but this time shrouded in a veil of mist.
Watching the mist come in at night is a remarkable thing. You slowly begin to lose the top of buildings, then certain hills before you are finally walking through what is essentially the lightest rain storm in the world. You see everyone covered up in warm jackets and surrounded by mist and have to remind yourself that this is summer.
After checking out of the hostel this morning I had the whole day to kill before my 17 hour train ride to Portland. I walked down to Geary St and began to look at some of the local art galleries. The first had an exhibit on Storm Thorgerson, famous for his album covers. They didn't have my favourite series of his (Biffy Clyro's puzzle + singles) but they were showing the full shot from Only Revolutions amongst others.
The next gallery had a whole heap of Warhol, Lichenstein and Picasso pieces. One of the guys working there informed me that between two paintings on one wall (a Dali and something boring enough for me not to notice) that they could easily get $5million for them. Sheesh. Regardless, the same guy was happy to show me around and explain some things about their Picasso etchings to me, despite my obvious inability to buy anything.
I went to lunch at the Thai place from a few years back knowing that it would be a while between meals. It was typically delicious and a nice way to postpone our short relationship. After the gastronomical stuffing I decided to head up a different hill this time, looking for spots to take some photos. For the most part houses block the scenery, but it's nice to explore some parts of the city I wouldn't have otherwise seen.
Golden Gate

Sean Connery
Oakland Bridge
I walked past Lombard St, and unlike last time didn't stop for any photos of the twisted road. Instead, I took some photos of the tourists taking photos. it's some sort of an infinitely meta photo and evidence of a terrible sense of humour.

I did manage to find a good view of the Golden Gate bridge, but not before I checked out the House of Days, a tiny shack that compiles images of the Bay taken every hour. The Path on the way was covered with bike riders, all struggling up the hill and crowding the look outs. It's an ironic shame for me, but I feel that there are a lot of places now where tourists are part of the area's mise-en-scรจne.
Now I'm counting down until I get the train to Portland. It's a 17 hour overnight ride, but it's a bed and a good opportunity to see some of the land and meet people. I noticed last time that the train was full of a lot of drunk people (presumably to help them sleep) and kids. It should make for an interesting night, and hopefully one full of stories.
You're doing it wrong.

Song! The Cribs - Cheat on Me. Johnny Marr is the best guitar player in the world. It's a fact, so there is no need to argue about it. He lives in Portland but he plays in the English band The Cribs. Their show in Sydney at the start of the year was amazing and Johnny tore it up. And hey, it was either this or Elliott Smith for the Portland themed tune.

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