Wednesday, July 18, 2012

California Dreamin': Day 5 & 6. -- I get around.

The infamous Full House view... Whatever that means.

When: May 30 - May 31, 2012.
Where: Castro, Alamo Park, Haight-Ashbury (day 5); Cable Car Museum, Mission, San Mateo (day 6).
Hippies: Present.
Hobos: Present.
Hippies that look like hobos: Yes.
Hobos that look like hippies: ... Weirdly, yes.
Things they have in common: Drunk and weird.
Where they differ: One of them would ask you for money and the other would ask you for peace... Whatever that means.
Utterly random thoughts: Starting to regret the decision not to buy sun-tan lotion before going on this trip.

[Before we start, let us just take a moment to remember that I suck very dearly at this blogging thing... Hence this travelblog picks up over a month later after I've already been back to Vancouver, graduated, got a year older, and worked a trigazillion hours at Sport Chek. That said, the memories are still fresh and the photos are all edited and done, so I am doing this now. Thank you for your attention.]

Day 4 kicks off with a visit to the infamous Castro district -- those of you who are familiar with Harvey Milk and the LGBT movement in the United States should be no stranger to this place at all. In the 1970s the Castro was the hot bed (rather poor choice of words here) for gay activism, and 40 years later it still shows. Strolling along Castro and Market street, one would find an abundance of evidence of the city's open-mindedness and acceptance towards the LGBT community. One that ought to be observed everywhere else, no matter your political or religious views.

The Castro Theatre.

Alas, it also turned out that the Castro was a pretty small district, so less than an hour later I went to the nearby Alamo Park for the infamous Full House view -- except the fact that I have never watched the TV series before, so I didn't care too much. Fun fact: the houses prominently seen in San Francisco are known locally as the painted ladies. Because, uh, the houses look like ladies. Painted too, obviously. Uh, yeah.

Pictured: A hippie crossing a street with a walking guitar.
The long-lasting stereotype of San Francisco is that it is a city full of hippies -- a bunch of peace-loving, guitar-playing, bearded people wearing tight jeans and headbands, while listening to Jefferson Airplane in their Volkswagens while being all tripped out on acid. Well... at least I thought it was a stereotype, until I set foot in Haight-Ashbury and found that hippies, like the zombies in Left 4 Dead, are absolutely everywhere.

Not that they are nasty or anything, it's just that they are, well, there. All the time. I made my way to my cousin Jessie's place -- who lives right in the middle of Haight-Ashbury, and found a group of hippies just camping outside her doorstep having a drink. Normally if I find drunk people in front of my door I'd chase them with a broom. Plus maybe a Remington shotgun. My cousin just gave them a nasty look and whisked them away, as if this stuff happens all the time. I guess when you live in the middle of it all does get kind of annoying.

"We come in peace," they said. Yeah, okay... 

Day 6 started with a cable car ride to the west side of the city. The cable car itself was pretty fascinating -- the car moves about by grabbing on to a network of moving cables underneath the roads. In a city as vast and hilly as San Francisco, one could imagine how complex the whole system is. Indeed, it is the only traditional cable car system in the world still operational today. Like the Golden Gate Bridge, it is pretty much a living, breathing historic icon... Albeit a very expensive one. Hopping on one would cost you $6 dollars. No transfers either. My particular line was finished in 15 minutes.

And the most disappointing part? You can't even chase a cable car down and jump onto a moving cable car like they do in the movies. Outrageous, I say.

That said, the experience is something that everyone should have a go at least once. As a way to get from point A to point B, however, it is hardly the most practical.

The rest of the day was spent strolling around the Mission District, which is a blended mix of a historic, artsy gentrified neighborhood with a gritty, lower-income areas with abandoned theatres and shady convenience shops and stores that's been closed down. Signs of the economic crisis in America is still pretty evident here -- and if I can be brutally honest -- the hobos around here are everywhere too -- and they are a tad... Nasty.

One of many abandoned buildings around the Mission.
If I can do a crude comparison here, strolling around the neighborhoods in Mission felt a lot like walking from Gastown in Vancouver all the way towards Downtown Eastside -- the further you go, the streets sort of descend from the high-end eccentric art stores to low-end hardware stores and shady grocery shops. The differences is rather mind boggling, too -- it is only about a half an hour walk from the forest of skyscrapers in the Financial District across Market Street towards the urban grittiness of Mission, complete with street art, aluminum can-filled shopping carts and hobos. Every major cities have their own underbellies, I suppose.

That said, it was still a fascinating experience walking around the Mission seeing all those Spanish-Mexican influences in the architecture of houses, churches and missions. Some of the street art in the alleyways were also some of the most eccentric I've seen. Not your usual touristy destination for sure, but certainly worth a visit in my view.

The rest of the day was spent with one of my friends from high school, Willie, who went to South Bay to dress in a suit and be in meetings all day. Definitely a lot of fun catching up and seeing a familiar face in an unfamiliar place.

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