Friday, August 13, 2010

James Stewart, Kim Novak

Jesus H Christmas California is massive. What looked like a short distance on Google Earth took about 8 hours on a coach, complete with a mid-stop Burger King break (small means large here) and a terrible African-American Rom-Com about falling in love with a bus driver (subtle eh).

I’d met Bridgette the night before when I was playing drinking games with a group of people on the hostel’s porch. For the next 8 or so hours this girl from Adelaide had to share my trip and listen to a whole heap of philosophical verses that came forth from my mouth. Still, it was nice not to do one of these trips on my own.
The trip itself took us through some vineyards in a desert valley, lego-land townships and massive wind farms. As soon as the bus came close to civilisation, the previously sweltering conditions gave way to a cool change, fronted with ominous dark clouds on the hills. San Francisco in the summer is a bit like late Autumn back home, warm in the sun, but not anywhere else. It was time for my solitary jacket to have a brief &  triumphant return.

The bus rode through Oakland, and over the famed bridge, giving brilliant views on one side of an industrial harbour, complete with giant cranes and containerships, while the other showed a metropolis, built upon the region’s natural beauty. There were glimpses of Alcatraz and The Golden Gate Bridge, but these were limited to the inclement conditions.

Once in San Francisco, Bridgette and I went to dinner at a Thai restaurant. It was the same one I went to 3 years ago, and was a meal I had been waiting to have again ever since.  It was typically American, with more food than you can eat, but more importantly, the food was just as good as I remembered and served as a pleasant reminder to why I’m back in the states. After dinner we walked around for a few minutes, observing the hotels that neither could afford before returning to our separate hostels.
San Francisco is so busy right now that I had to change accommodation for each night, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing after the first night. I shared a room with a young Korean man who was politeness personified. The other gentleman in the room stretched the meaning of the word. I initially thought he was a homeless man who had saved his pennies for a night out from the cold. During the night he would get up to piss 3-4 times, each time turning on the light and leaving the bathroom door open for all in the room to see. When he wasn’t getting his old arse out on display he was snoring loud enough to shake the bunk, before waking up at 6am, making an effort to prevent as much sleep for me as possible.

I was happy to check out of this hostel and moved round the corner to another for one night. In between checking in I walked around the city looking to sort out my travel plans with numerous bus & train tickets. I like to walk around cities without maps as it offers a different level of acquaintance with the place. Once sorted, I met up with Bridgette again before going on another wander.
We went through the hordes of tourists at Union Square and continued to overtake them through Chinatown. I stopped and bought some of those tiny crackers that explode when you throw them at the ground. My immaturity got the better of me as I threw a whole heap around Chinatown’s streets with little regard for anyone’s safety or my own reputation.

My maturity (generous term) re-emerged as we left Chinatown. At the exit was City Lights Bookstore, famous for its association with the Beat writers and most notably for me, Jack Kerouac. Finding his books in Wollongong is a tremendous pain in the arse, so seeing a whole heap of his in one place was almost tempting enough to embrace credit card debt. Instead I settled for one, Maggie Cassidy, Jack’s book about his high-school love affairs from a town near my US university.

After the books, Bridgette and I grabbed some lunch in the Italian part of town. I had some pasta with gorgonzola & tomato pesto sauce and followed it up with a coffee from Cafe Trieste round the corner. It’s another beat hangout, and I make no excuses for trying to follow in their footsteps in my own tourist-friendly-student-pseudo-lefty-word-nerd kind of way.
After another map-less wander that circumvented the city’s famed hills I went back to the hostel to get some washing done. By pure chance I had the luckiest room in the hostel. It was the one where the other guests didn’t show, so for the first time in what feels like a while I was offered some sort of privacy and peace and quiet.

Bridgette and I took a walk through a dodgy part of town, with the all too common sight of homeless people about everywhere. For all of their compliments towards Bridgette, there seem to be a whole lot more of them from last time, or maybe I’m just more game to walk through different streets at night. In the middle of this dodgy neighbourhood was a giant vintage cinema. The inside had been converted to a multiplex across 4 stories, but the facade and foyer looked like something from The Great Gatsby. We ended up watching Toy Story 3, and I’ll tell you, the end began to get to me. It was just like saying goodbye to Nan and the family at the airport all over again...but cartoon induced.

Chuck Ragan was playing in town that night, but after the film I couldn’t be bothered trekking to the other end of the city to see him (I’ve already seen him 3 times, and really recommend everyone checks out his music). I’d also managed to skip dinner, instead gorging on some chocolate coated bullets and a few cups of black tea.
It was a shame to leave this hostel in the morning. They had a lovely lounge area, where you could watch the homeless mumble incoherently as skateboarders took on the city’s hills. They also managed to play two of my favourite Bob Dylan songs and some Jawbreaker over their sound system.

However, what they couldn’t offer is an alarm service. I elected not to travel with a phone, completely overlooking its function as my alarm. Through some sort of miracle I managed to wake up on time and I’m now on my way to Monterey to couch surf for a few nights. I’m sitting in some station, drinking a grape soda (ala Jim Halpert (Pam, are you there?)), that contains natural flavours, yet no juice. Anyway, John Steinbeck’s book Cannery Row is set there and is one of the reasons I was happy to ditch San Francisco for a few nights.  I’m also desperate to swim in the ocean on the west coast that swallows the sun at the end of the day.

I have not stopped listening to Steel Panther and Lucero since I got here. This song is by Lucero and is pretty removed from their sad cowboy tunes and happens to have a pretty cute film clip. Enjoy.

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