We visited the Sear’s Tower while the sun made its guest appearance for 10 minutes. The picturesque views of the city against the slab of water also featured the sight of a group of Amish looking folks, who peered out of the window and at foreigners around them. We bolted for the Union Street Station in the cold rain, and the grandeur of the building was warming to the core. Also the fact that the movie ‘The Untouchables’ had a whole epic sequence there…the station was laced with stalls, adding a sort of vibrancy to the stone coloured look of the city. After that we then slogged it in the near-blizzard conditions to the newly transformed mall called the Water Tower Place-enduring frostbites, pain and intense hilarity at the expense of others around me, who were closely observed, finishing off with a pungent cognac and hearty ribs. I was actually allowed to fall asleep at the restaurant and in the cab back to the hotel!
As we tore ourselves away from the warm train we lept into the cold platform and made our way out of the retro-beat infused station onto a road that dwarfed us by the size of the buildings that were planted there. We didn’t know where we were going, and kept walking straight, ricocheting off blocked roads that lead us to the place where we’d started from.
But the walk about was amazing. I caught a line of black women outside the Contemporary Theatre of Chicago, all straight haired with their agents by their side. They were let in after set intervals, and went through their lines as they waited.
The site was so entertaining that we bought these massive caramel-almond kernels of popcorn from Garret’s. There was a street parade on, where people had collected to do stuff they learnt and liked. For instance, break dancing was definitely the most popular, hula hooping and Brazillian Jujitsu.
We wandered about and talked to as many traffic controllers as we needed to. They were more than helpful as well. Giving up hope on walking then bussing our way to the Museum of Science and Industry, we thankfully chickened out and waved a taxi down.
After reeling with awe while we spent hours out of the Museum with the U-505 submarine tour still in our minds, we went to Navy Pier and had our chancy share of being extra German at the Oktoberfest. It was more than a packed day, leaving me useless enough to sleep on every mode of transport back to the hotel.
Started off with a mission to find the Mission Street Murals that epitomize the Hispanic-Afro influences on the San Franciscan community, through a street long series of graffiti-but guess what, couldn’t find a thing! I don’t think I walked far enough. During my search, I came across a 50yr old Barber shop that only had to change one thing in its physicality; a single beam that runs across the top of the entrance, that too because of the recent destruction of the earthquake in 2007. Products that lined the belly of the shop were ancient!
I found the most perfect independent bookstore with paged opinions, wisdom and priceless words taking up every little space there was inside. There was so much I wanted to buy and settled on getting a book from The Best American Series, figuring out that life was bloody unfair at times too.
I waltzed out in a tizzy to find time a little too excessive on my hands. Museums and Galleries open after 10.30am and the clock had struck 9.15. I had to lunch with my Father at 12pm and was keen to check out the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art that day, which I knew and was told that even if I’d rushed through everything, it’d still take me no less than three hours. So then began this slow motion exploring of the tight city centre.
I sipped a hot chocolate at the Cafe del Museo which costed me only $2.95-the cheapest hot chocolate in America, I think, and read the Monocle. I then sat there and indulged in my usual past time of studying people around me ad nauseam. I saw an Indian looking I.T buzz cut struggling with some American coffee that was too strong for him, a pair of old men performing their tea ritual in silence, a woman over-acting her professional role by talking on the phone in some weird software language too loudly (and she wore a red sleeveless top with a string of pearls-okay we get the message!) and a clan of Tejanas, tossing and catching pieces of a loaf of bread, pouring their soups for one another, gesturing at each other, laughing, widening their eyes at some gossip or taunt. They were the most lively and I was the most jealous. I stared at them while I drank, and tipped the cup too much so that I got a nice goop of the salty-chocolate sediment that had settled at the bottom. Then I had to leave since people were waiting for a vacant table. That was the toughest.
After being told again that the ticket counter wasn’t open and that I needed a minimum of 3 hours at the Modern Art Museum, I went over for some more self loathing- to the museum bookstore. The treasure in there was so beautiful, it broke my heart when I knew I had to walk out empty handed. Humorous notebooks that were illustrated, books about different epochs and different art styles, photography. It just killed me. But oh well, you have to move on, don’t you?
During all this while, I kept passing an old church like structure attached to a big warehouse looking thing. It was the Contemporary Jewish Museum that hosted an exclusive Houdini exhibition. The woman at the ticket counter set the mood of my visit to the gallery, she oozed with warmth and familiarity, since her sister had studied in Delhi University for a year in North Campus. The security guard was really helpful..and the old man at the cloak room had such a typical air about him, it really added to the anticipation of how they handled parts of their history in terms of artifacts and well, facts themselves.
The exhibition was pretty awesome, as I spent time reading and trying to visually soak up every item they had on display. I learnt so much about the magician Houdini and of the time he thrived in. His ‘magical’ acts were described and explained in explicable detail, which further enhanced the whole experience with the addition of the real objects that Houdini used for his tricks- such as the milk pot, locks and keys, the wooden barrel and water chamber, from which he escaped. I managed to talk to an exhibition guard who was on his 2nd day. Trilling jazz tunes and a smile on his face, he told me about his being in charge of one portion of the exhibition for a month at a time, and mused (with his Carribean accent) at the fact that he was going to be guarding the same exhibition for 3 months straight. When I asked him if, although he enjoyed his work, he’d get sick of the whole thing he smirked, “Oh I’ll be full of this stuff alright”.
Finally meeting up with Dad, we trammed it to Embacardero, a station near Pier 39 and I witnessed a Taco stall being setup, and a group of gangsters beginning to flock together, as well as some shirtless dude openly smoking a bong while waiting for another tram, with us…staring…at us.
We gave up on waiting with the weirdo and walked (yes, walked it!) back to where we started, since we caught the tram going in the wrong direction….which still seems a little strange to me. Anyway, we hopped on to another tram got off at Fisherman’s wharf, and walked again-this time 10 blocks in the rain to The Buena Vista for some famous Irish Coffee. Even though the walk was like a trek to purgatory, it was great to catch a sense of the Hispanic-Chinese strand of San Fran. The Coffee was stupendous and exactly what we needed for our 2 hours’ wait for the cable car to Powel Street. The wait spelled more rain, no cover and the company of this larger than normal Australian family (not only were the kinds whinging. Go figure). The ‘historical tram-turn about’ occurred around 4 times infront of us before we hurriedly hopped on the best part of the locomotive- the front! We said our adieus to the view of the misty Alcatraz and the Golden Gate bridge , with the knowledge that we were going to these places during the next few days.
Views on the cable car, were startling.
Union square is where we were forced to jump off at, and starbucks proved to be our sanctuary in the down pour.
I was alone in the evening and spent this part of my day at the Old Navy Store, trying on beautiful autumn hues which weren’t my size (too big they were, pfft!), saw tees for guys and desperately wanted an instant sex change, then scooted to the Disney store and smelled strawberry scented teddies and let my fingers run through some Nightmare Before Christmas memorabilia.Ugh pricey and beautiful. Damn it Disney. It was a delight though- literally gave me a dose of childhood joy. I noticed that the barbie collection was limited, sticking to the typical Belle and the Beast, the handsome thing from Tangled, Mulan and her partner, Jasmine-Al, Ariel and Eric (such a pansy he was), Ursula (woohoo) and the folks from the Frog Princess.
I absconded from cliques of homeless people, and clung to a seat in one of the many Walgreens staring at incontinence pads of different shapes, sizes of various plies. I even overheard a girl introduce the use of a tampon to a small-framed Asian, telling her to “let it slide in and find its way up”. We all shared a giggle on that one. This Walgreen didn’t even have a stationary collection-it was clearly one of the most downgraded. Well, the clock struck 9pm now and I leaned on the closed doors of the same old starbucks. I listened to the swish-swash of the mop inside held by a belushi look-alike, looked at the steam rising from the wet roads, the smell of cardboard and pizza, and felt a stillness that was hard to believe in such a bustling place.
I visited the Westfield shopping mall near Union square, and marvelled at the curved escalators. They were classy and innovative. I realized that the placements of shops weren’t so class-biased like the Paragon Mall in Singapore ( ”a city and a country” expressed by a man who sat next to us on the train. I would rather call it ‘a place’. That man exclaimed that his company was ”the third largest in underwears” in Europe) -in fact the Abercrombie & Fitch store was near the entrance of Westfield, plastered with a picture of a male torso’s lower half, during the act of unbuttoning his pants-that didn’t seem like Abercrombie & Fitch-ish to me.
After dillydallying in such a cozily familiar venue of the mall, it got pretty hazardous with all the no-name beauty product stalls in the centre spaces, where workers continuously yelped out “Excuse me miss…This is for you miss…Miss do you have a second?”
I ran down to the SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) for a quick peek at the various works of photography.
After declining a delicious order of fish burgers and real American shakes at the Diner near the Moscone centre, we ran down to Mission and 4th to catch a ride that took us all the way to the Golden Gate Park. We had a stroll in the stuffy, humid yet visually refreshing Conservatrium -which was fabulous. It housed plants that were practically extinct, from different parts of the world. It smelled great, like walking into a ginormous bouquet of green oxygen.
We managed to head to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, and while I was trying to zoom my lense past couples to get the magnificent suspension from a distance, in its totality, scenes of The Rain Man kept running through my mind (the part when Tom Cruise finally rides his brother out into the open scary world of the big city, with the wind blowing through their hair while Dustin Hoffman stares up at the beams supporting the bridge) so I bolted for the centre of the bridge to experience that reverse-vertigo feeling you get when you look at something really high in the sky.
Before I managed to hit the half way mark, the man who got us there approached me and grabbed my camera. He wanted to click my picture against the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge…And against Alcatraz-and island tinier than I expected, it didn’t have the sort of presence I thought it would, but looked mysterious and choked with some great stories. The Golden Gate however, was larger than life-a classic icon in its own right…I highly recommend that no one should miss out standing right in the middle of the bridge and looking up though!
After My yummy breakfast- a picture which I just posted to make everyone jealous, I got my stamina to venture out to the city again!
The Yerba Buena area was now flooded with red carpets, plastic tents, candy and margarita bars which were chomped on and sipped by suited, tagged men who talked in various indistinguishable tongues. It had begun to rain again, with big drops, releasing tiny cyclones into the autumn breath alleys of the city.
We made our way up hill again to Market and 4th, missing the tram we were supposed to catch (the ‘F’ tram) and witnessed the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement, which seemed to be catching on everywhere else .
When the tram finally came, it was ‘crammer time’ and we were constantly being pushed further down the trolley, while the background score of ‘Don’t you know that you’re supposed to get off at some time?!’ was expressed by some chubby local repetitively (he got a nice response of “yeah you’re the correct one aren’t you?” by some European woman-score!).
The Alcatraz landing of Pier 33 beamed from the grey exterior. The moment we jumped off the trolley we headed straight to the Krispy Kreme self service counter, prodding our tongs and clutching at the softest and saintly sweet doughnuts in the world. As we rushed ahead I also purchased the worst pretzel I’ve ever put in my mouth, in fact one of the most terrible things I’ve chewed on after soggy cardboard wrapping on a soft-serve cone…and Churros-which were a disappointment. Now to think of it, I’ve never had a good experience with those things.
We then set sail on the ‘cruise’ boat and bumpity-bumped to the ‘Isle of Sea Birds’ (aka Alcatraz!!). The entrance had an interesting sign which read ‘Indians Welcome’ -which baffled me. I mean sure, a lot of Indians come over to the bay and sit themselves behind computer trodden desks and do wonders for you lot, but a welcome scrawl on Alcatraz? Aw come on now! That’s what I thought. After the introductory documentary shot by The Discovery Channel, every thing was explained and hence understood.
Walking up the hill (which they really over hype, in terms of how steep it is) I looked at the remains of the residential community and military houses which looked as if they were on the edge of the island, over the water. They were overlooking the beautiful city and bridge views across the bay.
I underwent a psychological transformation when I entered the prison. It opened up into the shower chamber, where nozzles criss-crossed each other, and a locker room that had lovely replicas of the belongings of inmates, all assembled and arranged as if there was an emergency evacuation (God how I dig these things!).
We then carried on to the cells…Grimy, rusted faucets stand out from my memory (and the thought of prisoners going to the bathroom in front of so many inmates and correctional guards on duty), also the the tiny desk tops protruding out of side walls…Some of them had initials carved into them.
What was slightly bad taste was the display of fake bodies in beds (later I came to realize that they were there to demonstrate the paper-mache heads created by the 3 famous escapees in 1963).
I walked into a solitary confinement cell in D-Block (every row was named after a street apart from the alphabetical labels). I entered to get a feel of the space and stood in a dark corner (even managed to give an old man a fright) and felt the dismal-daunting essence of staring at the heavy door which was left slightly ajar. A thread of light flowed through from there and I suddenly felt my body jam up into a straight line, just focusing on the light shining through.
The area next to D block and the dining room had a strange stench , which women may identify with every month. It smelt dead and depressing.
Luckily, the recreational yard was out in the open, facing the cluttered city horizon over the thick slab of choppy water. Although they were only allowed 10 minutes a day in the yard, i think it served as a great reminder for what they missed out on and what they could hope for.