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February 6, 2013

Vagablogging Field Report: Superbowl Sunday San Francisco

Cost/day: $50-70 a day

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

The collective depression of San Francisco’s denizens after their beloved 49’ers lost a thrilling Superbowl against the Baltimore Raven’s was a strange and unfortunate phenomenon to witness. Red-clad, boozed and bleary eyed folk sat in the few bars that bothered to stay open, mumbling incoherently to themselves and shaking their heads. It was a painful loss, given that the 9’ers had responded to a first half spanking and a 35 minute power outage by surging back and, very nearly, pulling off a preposterous comeback. But it wasn’t to be and, instead of partying in the delirium of a win, the city grumbled, cried, drank heavily and then went to bed early.

Impromptu sidewalk dance party. Not that strange in San Fran.


Describe a typical day:

Superbowl Sunday was anything but a typical day in San Fran, however I’ve been to the city many times before.  Usually I begin my day in downtown and walk north up Powell past trendy clothes shops into Chinatown. I brave the abrasive nature of the Chinese lady behind the counter at Good Mon Kok Bakery and order some pork buns and shrimp dumplings. Stuffing my face, I sit in a nearby park inhabited by couple of diminutive Chinese elders who sit on benches whilst they feed the pigeons.

Numerous hills allow vistas across the city and the bay so walking is never dull. I continue north into North Beach for a coffee at Cafe Trieste. My ambling often takes me past strange characters. People dressed in outrageous clothes (think mankini), a homeless man doing a headstand on the sidewalk or a street performer using a plain old bucket as a drum. Strange figures are part of the normal fauna in SF.

After a coffee I  continue down to tacky Pier 39 to laugh at the sea lions groan, fart and fight as they bask in the sunshine. If I’m lucky the street performer ‘Tree Man’ (I’ve no idea if this is his actual title) will be sitting on a milk crate with a couple of tree branches held in front of his face. Disguised as regular foliage he surprises unsuspecting tourists walking along by swiftly removing the branches away from his mug and shrieking at them. They shit themselves and the small crowd gathered around watching laughs heartily. Mission accomplished. Tree Man appears to derive no enjoyment from his day job. When the tourists startle he just sits there stone faced. I guess he’s just scared too many people.

I continue along the Embarcadero past hard bodied fitness freaks going for their daily jogs. I eat an organic, vegan something or rather in the Ferry Building. The options for the afternoon are numerous. Perhaps I’ll rent a bicycle and ride over the Golden Gate Bridge. Maybe take a bus to the Golden Gate Park and visit the Calfornia Academy of Sciences, de Young Museum or simply lay in the grass enjoying the lush surrounds and scent of marijuana that always seems to permeate the area.

I walk up to Clement street for dinner and eat at one of my faves, either Burma Superstar or King of Thai (one).  If I’m feeling up to it after dinner I may head to a bar along Polk, Union or the Mission to down a couple of Anchor Steams.

It’s hard not to love this city.

 

Chinatown. There is some Banksy art under there somewhere

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

As we caught up over a couple of beers my friend Kaylo told me about her job at an organic baby food start up. I couldn’t possibly think of a company more likely to be based in the Bay Area. The city and it’s surrounds have long been a hub for tech, organic and entertainment start ups. Some people may scoff at the hippy vision of SF, however there is a palpable creative zest here and a shared excitement that everyone is trying to do something new and innovative to improve the world.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

I love SF’s weird energy, variety of entertainment options (sport, comedy, live bands, awful poetry) and sublime food. These factors are enough to keep me coming back again and again. It helps that the weather is pleasant in winter and the accessible public transport (a rarity in US cities) makes it a cinch to get around.

SF has an overabundance of homeless people. I hate seeing people live in squalor, particularly in such an affluent part of the nation. I’m not overly fond of being hassled for money constantly either. The people that find themselves on the streets are not just lazy bums but, more often than not, afflicted by mental illness and/or drug problems. It’s far from an easy problem to fix, however access to better mental health care would certainly be a start.

There’s no denying that San Fran is an incredible city, however it’s tiresome when you’re constantly being told how much better it is than other cities. It’s quite common for a local to profess their undying love of the city by the bay prior to their eyes glossing over when I mention other cities I’ve lived in or visited. Obviously there are other cities in the world worthy of praise, but some people are blinded by their infatuation. Whenever I find myself in one of these conversations I think of South Parks take on this perceived elitism.

Describe a challenge you faced:

I didn’t face any challenges this time around. Dealing with the crestfallen locals was unusual but not necessarily a challenge. It’s refreshing after several months of travel in unfamiliar destinations to find myself in a place that I know fairly well. 

What new lesson did you learn?

I love SF but I wouldn’t want to live there. Even though it’s a relatively small city I find it a bit too busy and the homelessness problem really gets to me. Perhaps I’m a 97 year old trapped in a 27 year old’s body or it might be that I’ve reached a new level or assholery. Either way this is how I feel, but I’ll always be happy to visit.

Where next?

Back home to Australia after 11 months of travel

Were you in SF for Superbowl Sunday? What was your experience? How do my thoughts on this wonderful city compare to yours? Feel free to post comments below. 

You can follow me on twitter @ash_jordan and instagram @ashgjordan

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Category: General, North America, Vagabonding Field Reports

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