Francisco Day Trip
After 2 days in America, at last I was going to go into San Francisco.
Unfortunately, being a weekday, Sergio had to work in his office so
he couldn’t come with me. But he could take me to Walnut Creek
Station just 2 miles (3 kms) from his home.
Getting a train
ticket was a little confusing, so I asked a lady to show me how to buy
my ticket. The ticket machine took paper currency only, but didn’t
give change. It cost $4 for a one-way ticket to San Francisco, and Sergio
was going to bring me back.
Moments later I
was on the 9.35 am train and arrived in San Francisco about 50 minutes
in the heart of San Francisco, stops right at the entrance to the San
Francisco Shopping Centre and next to that was the Tourist Information
Centre where I collected lots of tourist brochures and maps. An all-day
transport ticket for San Francisco was only $9, and seeing I wanted
to ride on San Francisco’s world famous cable cars, which cost
$3 per ride, it seemed like a cheaper option. In Melbourne, we call
our public transport system, the MET. But in San Francisco, they call
it the MUNI, short for Municipal Transport System. This surprised me
because San Francisco has the largest Greek community in the USA, and
muni is not a very nice Greek word. But then, maybe it was a Greek’s
idea of a joke!
My first ride was
on a streetcar, which is just like an old Melbourne tram. It was a 1950’s
model, and actually, I thought I’d just jumped onto one of their
cable cars! Dah!
I was looking for Pier 41-and-a-half (go figure) because that’s
where the ferry to Alcatraz Island departed from. But by the time I
got there, they’d sold out! And I was reluctant to buy a ticket
for the following day because I wasn’t sure if I’d be able
to come back again. So while I was browsing through a postcard rack,
I noticed a photo of seal lions at Pier 39, just metres away. This looked
like something not to be missed. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Pier 39 - home
to 1,340 ‘sea lion-ebrities’.
Seconds later I
joined dozens of other tourists looking at over a thousand huge sea
lions lying on wooden pontoons at Pier 39. These sea lions were as long
as 7 ft. (2 m) and as heavy as 850 lbs. (400 kgs.) There were 44 pontoons,
and each pontoon had about 30 sea lions on it. Total 1,340 sea lions!
Most were asleep or sun baking in the warm sun, with only about 2 sea
lions making noise on each pontoon as they defended their territory
from unwelcomed guests. But the noise was deafening! These 80 plus sea
lions barked incessantly the whole time I was there, but that didn’t
seem to bother the other 1,280 sea lions fast asleep at their …
er … flippers. These sea lions (which are different to seals which
have internal ears) are dubbed the ‘sea lion-ebrities’ and
are famous internationally, ever since they discovered Pier 39 in 1989
after an earthquake. Thankfully, rather than trying to move them out,
the San Francisco authorities were convinced to abandon Pier 39 and
give it to the sea lions!
As I left the pier, I noticed the wind had become much stronger. A black
lady, buying popcorn, watched helplessly as the wind blew much of her
popcorn out of her paper cup before she even had a chance to pay the
street vendor. This attracted the attention of the pigeons, which chased
the popcorn as they rolled along the ground. Which in turn prompted
the young children to chase the pigeons until the birds flew out of
These piers were on Fisherman’s Wharf, and along the bayside road
were lots of cutesy vehicles, which could be hired by the hour. Scootcar
Rentals offered pretty little buggies for $49/hour. GoCar Rentals offered
a computer-guided tour. Electric Time Car Rentals offered the opportunity
to drive an environmentally clean electric car. And you could also hire
motor scooters, bicycles, tandems and even roller-blades.
It was getting close to lunchtime, so when I saw Johnny Rocket’s,
the Original Hamburger Restaurant, at 81 Jefferson St, I immediately
took a detour inside, a detour, which also took me back into the 50’s.
Jukebox music was
going non-stop and every table had one. They operated by dropping a
nickel (5 cents) into them, so the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, The Four
Seasons and Sam Cooke were playing all day long. The staff wore white
shirts, white pants, white aprons and white caps. The bar stools were
red and fixed to the top of long chrome poles. And the notice on the
wall delivered the Big Promise …
as a whistle
Just look at this … JOHNNY ROCKETS
Notice how cleanliness predominates.
IS YOUR ASSURANCE OF BEING SERVED WITH PURE AND WHOLESOME FOOD.
OUR EMPLOYEES STAND BEHIND THIS COMMITMENT.”
I ordered a Rocket
Double Burger, which was 4 inches (10 cm) thick when it arrived (made
the Big Mac look like a tiny-tot). And it was made with real meat! Actually,
it was made with 2 fresh patties, 2 slices of Tillamook Cheddar Cheese,
fresh lettuce, ripe tomato, onion slice and special sauce, all for only
The drinks menu
featured shakes made with hand-dipped premium vanilla ice cream. And
a very unusual flavour caught my attention. Chocolate Peanut Butter
Shake for $3.99. So I thought I’d try this unusually flavoured
drink. The milk shake came first, in a tall glass topped with whipped
cream, and the balance of the shake was also delivered, still in the
old metal milk shake cups they used to make them in. I put the straw
in and tried to drink, but nothing came out! I’d managed to poke
it into a huge dollop of peanut butter, so it’d become blocked.
The waiter had also brought me a long handled teaspoon and rested it
on a small paper doily, so after a short stir, I was soon able to taste
the chocolate and peanut butter in my drink.
Finally I found the cable cars. At the end of the cable car line was
a turntable, and it took 3 cable car staff about 10 seconds to spin
it around. I sat on the polished wooden seats facing outwards. A few
stops later, a mother and her young son, about 7, jumped onto the running
board and stayed there. Just hanging on. Next time, I thought, I’d
ride on the running board too. The cable car was pulled along by an
underground cable. It was easy to see which tracks were the cable car
tracks, because there was a cable track running between the two wheel
one of San Francisco's famous cable cars.
San Francisco is
built on a hilly peninsula, so the streets are very steep. I still have
vivid memories of the car-chasing scene in Steve McQueen’s movie,
Bullet. And although we certainly weren’t speeding, the hills
remained just as steep nevertheless.
I got off at Chinatown, a massive shopping district covering dozens
of city blocks, and apparently the busiest part of San Francisco. Asians
and Hispanics were the norm here, and blacks and whites the rarity.
English writing was virtually non-existent and the Chinese shop signs
were overwhelming. Dozens of Chinese men crowded in a city square playing
Chinese chess on all the park benches. And a Chrysler PT Cruiser Cab
whizzed by. Neat!
Nearby was an unusually high pointed building. I continued down that
street until I got to it. It was the Transamerica Pyramid Building.
Wow! What an incredible beautiful structure in the heart of the city.
It’s also the tallest building in San Francisco at 853 ft.
Pyramid is San Francisco's tallest building.
I eventually came to Washington Square, a nearby park just opposite
the Sts. Peter and Paul Church where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio
had their wedding photos. It was still quite warm and there seemed to
be over a hundred people there, mostly lying on the grass. I walked
past the topless women lying facedown on the grass, sun-tanning their
backs. Past Frisbee throwers. Past pigeons. Past people walking their
dogs. And past the black guy wearing an Easter Bunny costume (on May
11!) seated on a park bench under a shady tree.
The top of another tower caught my attention. It looked like a tall
water tower, and not very appealing. But as I walked away, I noticed
several tourists becoming very excited when they discovered it. So I
followed them to see what all the fuss was about. Soon I was standing
on top of Telegraph Hill, the highest hill in the city, with the famous
210 ft. Coit Tower built on it. This was the best 360-degree viewpoint
of San Francisco. No wonder it was so popular.
Coit Tower built
is the best lookout point in San Francisco.
The entry fee was
only $3.75, and once I got to the top I had the most beautiful panoramic
view of the city all around me. Golden Gate Bridge was in the hazy distance.
The high-rise downtown buildings seemed to jut out abruptly from the
bland flat topped buildings in the suburbs. I could also see Fisherman’s
Wharf with the sea lions at Pier 39. And the islands: Treasure Island,
Angel Island and Alcatraz.
Coit Tower was built
in 1933 and is about 500 ft. above sea level. I got some of its history
from the Elevator Operator. He was an older Asian gentleman who had
probably said the same lines for decades. So much so, that his words
were very musical, and he hung onto the last syllable of the last word
on each sentence.
“This way sirrrrrrrr”.
“Have a nice daaaaaay”.
The bottom floor
of the tower had all its walls painted with interesting murals depicting
many of the activities taking place in the late 20’s and early
30’s. And standing very tall and proud in front of Coit Tower
was a bronze statue of Christopher Columbus.
A couple of posters in the Coit Tower elevator had attracted my attention
to a ‘Lombard Street’. And when I checked my map, I found
that it was just one block away.
the crookedest street in the world.
This street had
been designed so that at one end it meandered like a wound-up snake.
Unfortunately, once I got to the street, I realized I was at the wrong
end. A couple of kilometres later, having climbed down a huge hill and
up another, I finally arrived at the other end and watched the cars
snail-crawling along the sharp zigzagged bends of Lombard Street. Beautiful
green hedges lined the street so it looked like a maze, but were probably
also designed to keep larrikins from driving over the curbs in a deadly
Most of the day had gone by now, and it was getting close to the time
I had to meet Sergio in the city for a speaking event. Just then a cable
car stopped at the street corner, so I jumped onto the running board
(yes!). Hopefully it would be going the right way. It wasn’t!
A couple of stops later and we were at Fisherman’s Wharf (at the
end of the line) and there was a long queue of 150 people waiting to
catch a cable car back home. So I waited for 35 minutes before catching
the 3rd cable car out. If I’d known it was going to take so long,
I would’ve left much earlier.
While we waited,
we were entertained by a … (let me put it in his own words)
“If you don’t
like fat guitarists, get over it. I’m what Union Hall sent for
this evening’s entertainment.”
Then he sang a string
of very old ballads (one was from 1949). He’d got there at 5.30
pm and was gone by 5.55 pm. As he explained, Union Hall was sending
a number of entertainers over to keep the long queues of passengers
entertained, but they weren’t getting paid! They were all buskers
and had to ask for donations, and the only time they were allowed to
do this was when a cable car left, every 15 minutes. He was very sarcastic
with his remarks between songs, so I’m sure he didn’t too
well. His replacement started at exactly 6 pm. I wasn’t around
to see if he fared any better.
I was due to meet
Sergio at 6 pm, so I was running very late. Everyone was being squeezed
into the cable car like sardines, and as I was one of the last ones
on, I ended up standing in the middle of the car. Not the best seat,
but grateful not to be held up any longer. My cable car left at 6.05
pm and after changing to a bus on Sacramento Street, I finally arrived
outside the building holding the event at 6.40 pm. Then as I quickly
crossed the road I noticed a pain in my shoe. After a whole day of walking
up and down hills and staircases, I’d got a blister on the sole
of my left foot! Fortunately, Sergio would be driving me home.
article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey
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