Rambling travelogs from a world traveler

Thursday, June 9, 2011

San Francisco Walkabout

"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." ~ Mark Twain (Not)

Esteemed Readers and Loved Ones,

The Mark Twain quotation beginning this post is almost mandatory when discussing San Francisco.  I've heard it all my life - which is why I was surprised to find this link on snopes.com debunking Twain. Pressing on into the murk, the weather in the San Francisco Bay area is notoriously fickle and can change several times during the day - more on that later.

This is going to be a long and muddled mess. I apologize up front. The post will be organized around my favorite walk along SF Bay and I don't know how to organize it any better than this.  I’ve been walking this route for years and I intend to jumble observations together.  The upshot is that in mid April, I spent a nice 24 hour layover in San Francisco at the Tuscan Inn in the Fisherman's Wharf district. On Saturday, My FO and I walked out the base of the Golden Gate Bridge and back.

First, for your orientation, here is a google map of our walk.  I used the GPS in my droid phone to trace our walk.

View Saffron Cisco Walk in a larger map
I stole this picture from Wikipedia.  It gives a visual overview of some of the route from the opposite side of the bay.

We started the walk in the Fisherman's Wharf area of San Francisco.  There probably is no more "touristy" an area in the world. Since it was Saturday afternoon both the tourists and the locals were out in force on a very nice day. The range of folks walking around this area is huge - Tatooed, fat, skinny, old, young, Americans, foreign visitors - use your imagination - they are all there and thronging around the street mimes, restaurants and the street car station.

My favorite street mime really isn’t a mime - it's the San Francisco Bush Man.  He's an older codger who has a pair of artificial palm fronds.  He kneels down on the curb and crosses the fronds in front of his face.  With all the confusion and hectic activity, this simple camouflage seems to work perfectly and he blends into the chaos.  At random he spreads the fronds out and jumps up and screams ‘boo!’ It always works and he scares the clich├ęs out of people – then they move on a bit and stop to watch the next sucker get startled.  I have no idea how this works out to be a business model – there’s probably a government subsidy at work here - but he doesn’t appear to be starving to death.

As we went west towards Fort Mason and the basin just east, we passed a guy walking in a wet suit.  The top of the wet suit was peeled back down around his waist and he was bare-chested.  This being Saffron Cisco, my immediate reaction was ‘nice fashion statement.’  I had to revise this estimate as we approached the basin as there appeared a growing number of wet suited swimmers emerging from the frigid water.  It was some kind of swim competition.  We never did figure it what was going on.

Past the basin, you climb the hill up to Fort Mason.

Before I discuss Fort Mason, I want to discuss a “Pro-Choice Rally” I saw on this spot some years ago.  This is from an e-mail I sent out to friends and family before I started blogging – I will italicize the early stuff.  My observations back then were somewhat political for which I apologize.

I hadn't gotten a quarter of a mile before I ran into a "Pro Choice Rally". Well, it is Saffron Cisco, I expected to see all the usual suspects.  There were somewhere in the vicinity of 150 sandal clad, wire rimmed, hairy legged, Pelosi voting, Bush hating patriots shouting various slogans.  

I need explain no more, everybody's seen them.  I did note - despite the fact that I am somewhat aged, I'm still a red-blooded American male – that short of a massive makeover or change in orientation, many of the protestors were not likely to need the services of an abortion doctor any time soon.  I managed to escape getting any brochures or other consciousness raising literature and continued my walk up over the hill through Fort Mason.

Fort Mason is really a pretty vantage point for the San Francisco Bay.  Big old trees - Eucalyptus, I think, but my arboreal identification skills are severely lacking - line the sidewalk and frame the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, all the sailboats, and Alcatraz.

Fort Mason is also a rough demarcation line.  Most of the tourist types don’t/can’t climb the hill.  You begin to run into the locals and physical fitness types. 

At this point, I will return to my description of the walk years ago.

West of Ft. Mason is a long narrow grassy park in front of the waterfront district that used to be a landing strip – Crissy Field.  There is a plaque there commemorating the pilots who flew airmail in and out of SF there. 

As I walked down the hill towards the strip, I noticed several thousand people milling about.  I thought "Great, more protests."  As I walked closer, I noted that the signs being carried were "Pro-Life" signs and that bearers were more neatly attired than the previous activists I'd seen.  "Great," I thought, "it’s a Pro-Choice rally with Pro-Life guys on the outside.  Hope this doesn’t’ get violent. Maybe I ought to turn around.”  But then I noted there were plenty of SFPD

That's when I discovered that all of the thousands of people milling about were Pro-Lifers: all of them.  Imagine that: a huge Pro-Life rally and walk-a-thon in Saffron Cisco.  They literally dwarfed the measly crowd of Pro-Choicers I'd just seen.  There was a line of buses that had hauled them in.  I counted 25 Porta-Potties set up to handle the crowd and a speaker system.  This thing was well planned. 

Then I saw the coupe-de-grace.  Overhead, a Cessna 172 was pulling a huge banner up and down the San Francisco waterfront that said: "Stop Abortion Now!"

Gentle Readers, say your prayers and get right with the Lord because I think this is one of heralds of the end times.  It's gotta be in Deuteronomy somewhere.

One final thing to note: There is a sociological concept called the  "Roe Effect." The Roe Effect states that since Pro-Choicers reproduce at much lower rate that Pro-Lifers, Pro-Choice will lose political influence over the generations as their numbers decrease.  I think I saw this at work today.  First, the Pro-Choice rally was much smaller than the Pro-Life Rally by a factor of 10 or so.  Second, there were no children at the Pro-Choice Rally.  None.

On the other hand, children were running all through the Pro-Lifers.  Some were carrying the same signs as the adults.  Two little boys were having a sword fight with their Pro-Life signs.  Most telling, I saw one cute little boy thwack his little sister with his sign.  Once.  Then his Mom explained to him in easily understood terms why he shouldn't do it again.  I'm sure there's a parable somewhere in this, but I'll leave it as an exercise to the student, as my math teachers used to say.

The Marina area is wonderfully picturesque especially when there is no fog to obscure the view west.

The Presidio climbs to the south and is very lovely. Nor is the terrain and the Golden Gate Bridge the only view.  There is a wide jogging path along the bay shore with lots of physically fit people jogging by in spandex attire.  You see all sorts of folks splashing in the bay, many with dogs running around free with their tails whirling in happy arcs.  Hundreds of tennis balls and Frisbees add to the bedlam getting happily chased and chomped. 

There are lots kites too as the wind never stops blowing through the strait.

As I said earlier, SF’s weather changes.  As we got further west, the fog rolled through the straits, the Bridge’s foghorn began blaring and the bridge disappeared.  It also got increasing colder the further as nature demonstrated adiabatic cooling.

Soon you come to the main portion of Crissy Field which is just chock full of aviation lore.  The old hangars that line the field are now used for several touristy kinds of businesses.  Climbing Walls and Trampolines abound inside the old hangars as little and big kids have fun. 

At the end of the walk is Fort Point.  It is a fort that was built out of brick and mortar prior to the Civil War and intended to guard the entrance to San Francisco Bay.  Now it sits at the foot of the south support of the Golden Gate Bridge.  The literature says that it sits on the rubble of an even earlier Spanish Fort that occupied the same ground. 

In the big scheme of things, standing alone, most of us would find this fort to be a huge artifice.  It is 4 stories high and probably covers most of an acre.  It was built to house a lot of soldiers under siege and is massively thick and looming.

At least it would loom if it didn’t sit directly under the Golden Gate Bridge.  For looming purposes you can’t beat the bridge and it just dwarves the fort.

It was very cool at the fort and we were dressed lightly and somewhat sweaty from the long walk out.  We did not tarry long, but got some interesting pictures.

On that happy note,
I remain,

Dad / Geoff