I phoned my cousin David in the morning to let him know that I would be there that afternoon. He informed me that he and his wife Denise would be out until 5pm, killing whatever remained of my ‘impressive arrival’ fantasy. Since nobody was home anyways, I decided to head directly into the city with Justin and take the ferry back to Corte later that evening. I would not, after all, feel that I had truly made it until I crossed the Golden Gate bridge.
There were a lot of twists and turns on the way into the city. Justin and I were thus forced to stop every 10 minutes to pull out the guidebook and memorize as many lines of directions as we could before forgetting the names of streets, or which way we were supposed to turn. Normally I would not have minded all of the stopping and starting, but the anticipation of being so close to the finish line made it difficult to go slow.
About a mile from the bridge, we ran into a cyclist Justin had befriended earlier on in Oregon. He was somewhat of a character, and went on at length about his experiences in the city thus far while I mustered up every ounce of patience I owned to prevent myself from sprinting onwards. Sensing and sharing my edginess, Justin tried to rap things up with his friend, who thankfully obliged. One final push up a hill and we were in the parking lot looking out over the iconic suspension bridge leading into San Francisco.
Despite my feelings of normalcy about the day, this was undoubtedly a milestone. Even the blustering wind and spitting rain could not ruin the moment. I pestered Justin to participate in several photo ops as we rode along the massive red towers with our hair blowing everywhere and the city waiting for us on the other side of the water (in all fairness I did warn him that there would be a photo shoot when we got there…and despite his nonchalance he asked me to send the pictures to him later!) And then we just rode. I watched the host of cyclists passing us along the bike and pedestrian path, and wondered what it would be like to ride over this bridge every day. It’s funny how travel can create such special meaning in places. Though perhaps the significance of a regular landmark in one’s life is ultimately deeper.
The rest of the afternoon was stressful for both of us. Justin’s phone died out of the blue, leaving him communicatively stranded upon arrival in the big city. The journey back to my cousins seemed simple, but turned out to be anything but. The first challenge was to find the terminal for the Larkspur ferry, which David had told me to take. It seemed obvious enough on google maps, but as I rolled through the swarms of people along the embarcadero, passing pier after pier, I had no idea what boat launched from where. Unfortunately neither did any of the dozen or so people whom I stopped to ask, most of whom had never even heard of Larkspur.
I finally found my departure point at the ferry building and boarded the boat only to have the woman in charge command me to take my bike upstairs – kind of tricky given that I could barely lift it. I tried to explain that I was physically incapable of doing so, and that there was plenty of room for the bike on the main level. She responded by insisting, via a mixture of gestures and broken English, that I unload the bike completely in order to get it up the stairs, or disembark the vessel. As I stood there at a loss and visibly flustered, a middle-aged man thrust a plastic glass of beer in my hand, instructing me to hold his drink while he lifted my bike up the stairs. Whew! Crisis averted.
The saga continued on the other side of the bay. Following the directions I had written down earlier in the day, I got about 50m down the road from the ferry terminal before hitting an eight lane freeway which did not seem very bike friendly. There was a small sidewalk alongside the freeway, but I had no idea how long it was or whether it was heading in the right direction. At a loss once again, I ran into another friendly stranger who was eager to help. We both looked at my directions together, and then he suggested that I call his girlfriend who lived just around the corner, and had an impeccable sense of direction. I figured it would be simpler to simply ring up my cousin, who informed me that I was in fact on the right track, and tried to explain the way to his house. My friend continued along the path with me anyways, and we soon ran into his girlfriend, along with another elderly woman who was walking by. I had flashbacks of getting directions in India, as all three of them huddled together to discuss the best route to take as though pondering an important political problem.
Although I was pretty sure of the way by the time I left them, the roads were confusing
and I had to stop once more to make sure I was on the right track. Finally I figured out where I was. As I stopped into the local grocery store to pick up a bottle of wine, I got a call from David, who was certain that I was lost. “Nope I know exactly where I am. Be there in 10 minutes.” I assured him proudly. A few minutes later, I was at the house. Only it wasn’t my cousins’ house anymore. They had moved three years ago, the woman who answered the door told me. I had the wrong address! So much for my smoothe entrance.
After yet another phone call to David, I managed to find the right place, which was thankfully just around the corner from where I was. David and Denise gave me a warm welcome, treating me to a delicious Japanese dinner and lending me clothes while I threw all of mine in the wash. A hot shower and soft bed never felt so good.
Throughout my trip, everybody told me that I would love San Francisco. They were right. I tend to find large urban areas stressful, but there was something about the rows of pastel-coloured houses, hilltop vistas and palm-tree lined waterfront that made this city feel lighter, as though it had room to breathe. This was complimented by a truly impressive array of fresh, light and flavourful food. Take it from a girl who knows – in addition to sampling just about every type of Asian cuisine à table, I happily grazed my way through farmer’s markets and grocery delis, delighting my senses with to-die for dips and previously unheard of fruit hybrids such as the kiwi-pear. There was nothing less than delicious to be found. If you want to eat local and eat well, this is the place to be.
With the exception of my weekend with Barbara, nights brought me back to the peaceful family life in Corte Madera, where I was grateful for the chance to get to know my cousins beyond the backdrop of a family wedding or funeral. I also took a few days off from the city to bike around the gorgeous Marin headlands, and get some quality play time in with David and Denise’s adorable little ones, Hannah and Jay.
Much as I was enjoying my city adventures, I must admit that all of the texting and commuting began to get the better of me. It all fell apart two days before the end of my tirp. First, I decided it would be a good idea to bike across the city from the ferry building to Golden Gate park, in the rain. I was able to avoid all the steep hills by following a bike route called “the wiggle,” but did not quite manage to ride between the raindrops, which were quickly increasing in force and number. Now soaking wet, I met Justin and proceeded to get drunk. Granted I only had two beers, but I am a lightweight, and the Korean tofu soup I had for dinner was not pulling its weight in the alcohol absorption department.
Then I left my bike on a city bus. If any of you have ever done this - and it is easy to do - you know that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize that something is missing. Something important. Oh shit. It only took me five minutes to apprehend this, at which point I turned in my tracks. The first instinct when you forget something is to go back for it. Sound logic, but not really applicable in this case, I soon realized.
Now, I understand that people have their reasons for stealing fancy electronics, but in my opinion it is just plain mean to steal a person’s camera. The gadget is obviously replaceable, but the memories frozen in time aren’t :( Luckily I had most of my pictures from California saved on my cousins’ computer. And, although the Washington and Oregon pictures were gone, I had at least posted some of the best ones on my blog already. In the end I told myself that it was a lesson in letting go. My trip was amazing and the memories were with me – the images of it were just a shiny surface that didn’t ultimately matter.
|the beats used to hang out at this bookstore in |
Rose ended up having family business to attend to, so I had the day free in the city. After hunting for my camera to no avail, I decided to take advantage of the sunshine to finally see some of Golden Gate park. As I wandered through the fantastic conservatory of flowers, I kept wanting to pull out my camera for a picture. At the same time, I began to realize that it was nice to have an excuse not to do that – to fully immerse myself in my surroundings and enjoy, without the underlying voice nagging me to document. Sometimes you just have to break off.