Thursday, December 23, 2010

I Went to San Francisco. I Took My Camera.

It all started with Eve Bunting.

What? You mean you've never heard of Eve Bunting before? But she's an award winning author!

I was in the fifth grade and for some reason I felt compelled to check out her book from the Brattain Elementary School library. The very weak plot of the story is that Danny, a shrimpy teenager, tangles with a motley crew called The Outlaws (whose threatening gang monikers include Jelly Bean, Priest, Maxie, and Cowboy) and flees to Alcatraz Island, where he hides from his pursuers in a dangerous game of cat and mouse. Oh, and there's a romantic subplot, too, involving a redhead named Biddy. So anyways, the book totally sucks. And especially you should not read it as an adult because her writing is sexually suggestive if your mind tends to wander at all toward the gutter. But I was a naive ten-year-old who completely missed those references (phantom pounder!) and on that day in Springfield, Oregon in 1986 a dream was born.

I knew that someday I would make a pilgrimage to Alcatraz. Was it for Danny? For Biddy? I guess we'll never know, but for sure I was going to make it to that rock at some point in my lifetime. Then, this fall, along came Amberlee with her talk of the annual GeologicalphysicrockformationSANFRANCISCOsymposiumlavaearthmantleblahblahblah Nerd Fest, which just so happened to end on MY FIRST DAY OF WINTER BREAK! Clearly the divine forces were calling me to Alcatraz. Clearly.

It is a true friend indeed who will track down an out of print relic from your childhood and special order it to be delivered to your doorstep. This is the same kind of friend who will memorize the words to this song just so she can sing along with you.

For the record, I was not the Sarstedt fan. Additionally for the record DO NOT BUY HIS GREATEST HITS ALBUM! We thought Eve Bunting was a perv. Sheesh.

Back to the narrative here (whoa, Eve Bunting! Stick to the plot!). I was to meet Amberlee in the city and I swung by Arcata to get our friend Emily, who I will henceforth refer to as MLE because 1. I know a lot of Emilys and sometimes I write about Emily (hi Emily!) and I wouldn't want anyone getting confused. 2. because it's cool to write the name MLE out in letters like that (makes it more difficult for people to find "oracle" anagrams in your name like Mallard Beer Doe and Acid Ass Sores). And finally 3. it makes her seem kind of French, as in Mlle, the abbreviation for Mademoiselle. So yeah. I'm avoiding confusion here.

So MLE and I rocked out to some serious Peter Sarstedt as we drove down the coast and we arrived late and hungry to meet Amberlee, who had taken the company of a delightful young man by the name of Tom. Although we begged our new friend to join us in our dining excursion, his pressing social engagements interfered and we bid him adieu.

Au reviour, Tom. Bonjour pizza. And wine. And staying up really late in our hotel room (which was totally awesome and a steal of a deal, if you don't mind the sixth floor. We did not) and taking turns reading aloud from the book Someone is Hiding on Alcatraz Island. Because that is just how freaking rad we ladies really are. Poor Tom, he'll never know.

With two days to kill before The Rock, we embarked on some serious tourism. Because we are hardcore, we went running down to the wharf on that first morning before we walked about twelve miles in Chinatown. And we also climbed up to the gigantic phallus that is Coit Tower. It was a good thing we found some kick ass coffee back near our hotel. I mean really, they make their own almond milk! Who does that?

Just what exactly is Dim Sum? We may never know for sure, but I'm happy to report that we ate some from the Good Mang Kok Bakery. Yes, we ate there based on name alone. Yes, our minds were totally in the gutter at this point in the journey. I blame Bunting and Sarstedt.

We walked into the restaurant and saw this:

So we just did the whole point and smile and hope for the best routine and we ended up with a lunch feast of mostly edible items for $7.50. Yum! I guess I like Dim Sum, whatever it is.

Chinatown totally rules. I had no idea.

(in bed!)

I've been to San Francisco plenty of times before, but I don't know, this time the city spoke to me. Maybe it was the trolley cars, the holiday lights of a big city, the Irish coffees, or the parrots of Telegraph Hill. For whatever reason, I fell hard for the city. I love that place.

At last the big day came: Alcatraz or bust! Except it almost was a bust because we slightly (ahem) underestimated the walking time to get to pier 33 and ended up making a mad dash to the ferry boarding area just in the nick of time. Well, with about twenty seconds to spare.

If you don't know about the Native American occupation of Alcatraz during the early 1970's, you should read up on it. Some serious sh*t went down on that rock. In fact, if you don't know much about the history of Alcatraz, I suggest you stop reading this drivel immediately and get yourself on over to Wikipedia post haste.

I found the Christmas menu to be strangely fascinating. Consomme?

The whole Alcatraz experience was slightly creepy at first. We opted for the night tour, and the sinister effect was definitely achieved. I thought the escape stories were pretty cool (even though the audio tour guide kept saying "excape") and you find yourself rooting for the escapees ("excapees", as it were), even if they were mob bosses and serial killers. Oddly enough, most seemed to be bank robbers. I had always thought Alcatraz inmates were more of the axe murdering persuasion. Ah well, live and learn.

But once we got up into the hospital and saw the surgery rooms and the solitary cells where they kept the mentally ill inmates, I started to find the whole thing kind of depressing. That place definitely has some weird juju going on.

But mission accomplished! Dream realized! And so to celebrate, we ate at The Stinking Rose (get your mind out of the gutter, it's a garlic restaurant!) and then picked up some tiramisu from a bakery in Little Italy.

We left the city the next day and drove north to Arcata. We stayed the night at MLE's house and watched the lunar eclipse from her backyard, I geeked out about her antique Singer (treadle!!), and we were treated to a Dutch baby for breakfast.

So yes, to answer your question, I had an amazing trip. Adjectives do not do it justice. But if you've ever driven a station wagon through treacherous and icy northern California hills while rediscovering your love for Metallica with one of your best friends in the world, you maybe have an idea what I'm talking about.

Oh, and if you are wondering what happened with Danny and Biddy, I'll loan you the book. But be careful, it just might inspire an epic road trip adventure to Alcatraz.


  1. I'm glad that you ladies had a good time...I'm slightly jealous as well. I have been waiting to hear about the trip since I read your last entry, then Amberlee called and I put the two together. I know it's nice to be back to your boys. Merry Christmas to you all! Bonnie and Max

  2. Glad that you had a great trip! Merry Christmas!