- 01. Minutes of the COCKUP
- 02. A Public Service
- 03. The 22% Solution
- 04. On The Campaign Trail
- 05. Athens of America
- 06. A Yankee’s Yankee
- 07. My Canadian Family
- 08. Edmonton? Why?
- 09. Prairie Singers
- 10. Deconstructing Calgary
- 11. My Kelowna
- 12. Wine Whine
- 13. Fire Mountain
- 14. A Stopover and a Popover
- 15. Inspiring Victoria
- 16. Planet Rosehip
- 17. Carry On Grunge
- 18. Street People
- 19. The Curse of Portland
- 20. Mean-Spirited, Powerful Justice
- 21. Amtrak’s Jewel
- 22. Managing Yosemite
- 23. Yumpin’ Yosemite
- 24. Parched
- 25. Brave New San Fran
- 26. Over The Hill
- 27. Greatest Again
I woke up feeling great. At the age of 54, that doesn’t happen too often, at least not to me. Except walking and drinking, I hadn’t done any exercise for a week. I told Frank I was going for a run to Golden Gate Park, just over Seventeenth Street. I regaled him with a vivid description of my favourite San Franciscan run, over the hill, through the park, past the de Young art museum and the Japanese garden, around the Botanical Garden to the polo field, down the to the mighty Pacific and the beach, within view of the famous Cliff House. “D’ja wanna come with?”
“Sure….” Frank responded, leery. “How far is that?”
“I used to do it in an hour. Or so. Each way.” I chirped.
“Uh-huh. When, exactly, was the last time you ‘used to do it’?”
“Oh, well, let’s see — probably 1995.”
“That was twenty years ago. And what you just described is four times what your doctor says is the maximum you should be running, what with your bad back and strained hamstring. However, if you agree to go a quarter of that — 15 minutes out before we turn around to come back — I’ll come with you.”
What a buzzkill, I thought. “Sure!” I lied. Off we went.
Those of you who have visited San Francisco, or perhaps read of its topology, are likely to be aware that the peninsula is renowned for its precipitous undulations. That is, it’s fucking hilly. I have been called many things over the years, but no one has ever called me a hillbilly. My level is sea level. I like flat. I get altitude sickness when discussing lofty ideas.
It should not have come as a surprise, then, that my jogging assault on Mount Seventeenth Street had less in common with Sir Edmund Hillary’s assault on Everest than Hannibal’s on the Alps, with me playing the hapless elephant. To Frank’s relief, I lasted exactly fifteen minutes before turning around, most of it walking whilst gasping for air. We got nowhere near the park, much less the beach. Which is sad, because Golden Gate Park is a wonderful place. The next time I’m in Golden Gate Park, I will probably be elderly and rather demented, enjoying a Grey Line Tour. Talk about a buzzkill.
Undeterred, after a shower we set out again, this time to fulfil the plans laid at dinner the night before:
- Buena Vista Park for the view,
- Lunch in Haight Ashbury,
- Long walk through Pacific Heights
- To the Presidio, where the Disney Museum had an exhibit about Walt’s relationship with Salvatore Dali, nudge-nudge wink-wink.
Despite the swirling mass of streets around it and the inability of any local we asked to give coherent directions, we made our way to Buena Vista Park. Directional hint: go up. It was another day in the unending drought, providing warm weather and sunny skies — although the air, unwashed for weeks, was less than clear with accumulated smog and smoke from distant wildfires. Still, the trek up was worth the view.
Moving on I found that Haight Ashbury remains home to the hippies that made it famous during its “Summer of Love” in the sixties, although now the hippies are in their sixties and more concerned with investment banking than love. Tourists, many on busses, still ply the streets seeking some glimpse of this endearing past. The remnants that remain are more descendent than genuine, commercial enterprises spruiking holistic new earth old hat: crystals, yoga, reiki, tarot card reading and so on.
My interest was drawn to the hundreds of Victorian homes modernised to within an inch of their original glory.
The Victorian era saw the invention of mass-produced detail, and these houses had it in abundance. Our stroll morphed into an architectural tour.
I marveled at front doors, counting the paint shades used in the decoration of each – as many as seven, just on the front door! A few buildings had such complex colour schemes all over — windows, arches, transoms, architraves, finials, all done in paint-by-numbers sized splotches. The accountant in me began calculating what it must have cost, outlays I guessed may have gone into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I imagined some homeowners very proud of their elaborate works, like medieval popes. There can be little doubt some painters were happy about it, having earned enough to afford leaving the now-unaffordable city they were raised in. Certainly I was getting a kick out of it. The results are awe-inspiring. But at what price art?
We lunched at a “craft brewery” named Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery. Good beer, lousy food. American French Fries become dead worms once cold, which happens too quickly due to their stringiness. I missed Australian hot chips. The steak sandwich was a disappointment as well. I missed food.
We realised we had neglected to bring our mobile stash of ibuprofen. Frank and I are ibuprofen addicts. It may be the only addiction that Frank out-addicts me at. Ibuprofen, for those of you that live under a rock, is an anti-inflammatory analgesic. That’s a painkiller most useful to address muscular aches and pains, such as those one experiences after mountain climbing or jogging in San Francisco. It is best taken on a full stomach, such as after a lunch of dead worms.
Marching on towards Pacific Heights a Target department store appeared, right on cue. Kismet. We needed to stock up on our ibuprofen supply anyway. For unknown reasons, ibuprofen in Australia costs about ten cents per pill while in the US it can be found for less than two cents a pill. Twenty bucks later, we had a thousand pills to bring home with us, several days supply.
Pacific Heights had more fantastic homes, only even more over the top. Here reside many of the city’s leading moguls, the old money, such as it is in San Fran. The streets were eerily quiet, evoking the notion that we were being watched, as rich neighbourhoods do. If somebody was watching, they were watching only us, groundskeepers and maids, occasionally dodging a speeding Lamborghini or Ferrari.
We entered The Presidio from its southern boundary. The Presidio was a military base for two hundred years, first belonging to Spain, then Mexico, and most recently the US Army. In February of 1994 the Clinton Administration instituted the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding service by gays, bisexuals, and lesbians in the military. All official sources indicate the subsequent closing of San Francisco’s premier and prestigious military post later that year was an unrelated coincidence, resultant of a bi-partisan effort to capture the post-Soviet era “peace dividend”. From my perspective, I find it more likely that the brass was leery of “not asking” so many San Franciscan soldiers who might choose to tell anyway.
My twenty-fourth campaign pledge: The USA has 220,000 active-duty military personnel deployed in more than 150 countries around the world. Hasn’t anybody in Washington DC ever read ANY history? Every country that has ever attempted to police the world has failed and bankrupted itself (financially and morally) trying. The Smiling Kodiak administration will bring them all home. We’ll start with the 1,243 in Djibouti, once we figure out where that is.
There was talk of giving the beautiful 1,500-acre Presidio to the city or the State of California, but then as now both were suffering perennial budgetary woes. So The Presidio got chopped up and developed, subject to all sorts of restrictions under the watchful eye of The Presidio Trust.
Now the base buildings of The Presidio are home to a smattering of businesses, many of them in hi-tech or the movie industry. We passed some handsome military quarters that remained stately red brick colonial mansions, now leased to private citizens. The Presidio remains quite beautiful, yet retains the character of an army base, only better maintained.
Somewhere along the line, the US National Parks Service took over a big chunk, including the Disney Museum area. This appears to be a good thing. It was the quietest national park I had ever been in. The lonely ranger in the Visitors’ Centre was delighted to see us, encouraging us most tellingly to enjoy the fabulous park.
By the time we got to the Walt Disney Museum we were tuckered out.
The idea of spending sixty dollars for the privilege of being subjected to the combined egos of Dali and Disney did not appeal. We had a cool drink on the veranda overlooking the bay, followed by a look around the freebie parts of the museum and its gift shop. Let’s face it, the gift shop is the best part of many a museum anyway.
The National Park Service, bless ‘em, had a free shuttle bus that took us on a wandering route through the Marina district and then Chinatown, all the way downtown to Market Street. We hadn’t intended to go anywhere near those places, but our feet hurt, it was comfortable, and, as I said, free.
As we alighted the bus, I recalled that I was due on stage in Ohio for the first debate with the other nineteen Republican candidates for the presidency of the United States. Damn! I hate when that happens. We dashed back to the Castro on the Muni, grabbing a pizza on the way.
Frank remembered he had half a joint he’d picked up (legally) during our recent travels through Washington State. After inhaling it (yes, I inhaled) in the courtyard (illegally), we devoured the pizza, leaving us in the perfect frame of mind to enjoy the complex political nuances of Donald Trump & Company. I cannot recall ever laughing so hard. I fell asleep before Jon Stewart’s final appearance on The Daily Show. One can take only so much black comedy in a day.