Traveling to the west coast always makes me feel I have entered a Zone where people Exist Differently. San Francisco is a big city with plenty of traffic, but nobody honks the horn. The noise does not assault you the way it does in New York.
Bay City people are mellow, and yet one feels remnants of a pioneer, wild-west attitude, the kind that reigns in more conservative places like Wyoming. They still love their steakhouses, and I was shocked at how difficult it is to find vegetarian-friendly restaurants around Union Square. The norm was one token meatless dish per restaurant.
San Francisco was the epicenter of 1960s counterculture (and drug culture) in the US, and has become the unofficial capital of gay pride. Everywhere we went, there were rainbow flags honoring the victims of Orlando. The city also has a very large homeless population.
Sitting in our hotel restaurant, we watched a man order breakfast (with a Bloody Mary, oddly followed by a mimosa) and then try to skip out on the bill. When he was caught, he fought with the staff and screamed that he has lost everything he owned. Once ejected from the restaurant, he punched the curtained window glass right behind my head (yikes!) and lingered at the other door, gazing balefully into the space. If he’d had a gun, I suspect he would have used it.
On the other end of the economic scale is Telegraph Hill, a huge outcropping of rock crowned by an art deco masterpiece, Coit Tower. The tower was built in 1933 with money from Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a trouser-wearing, cigar smoking woman who is said to have passed as a man in the gambling dens of my birthplace, Long Beach.
The split between the famously rich “one percent” and everyone else is very apparent in this place of opulent homes on hills, and people sleeping in doorways. The natural beauty is so overwhelming that you wonder who would not want to live here. But I wouldn’t, because of the earthquakes. They had disastrously huge ones in 1906 and 1989.
The California Pioneers’ Museum in the Presidio preserves relics of pre-1906 San Francisco, when it was all about the Gold Rush. I love this sentimental painting by an unknown artist ca. 1850, titled “The Miner’s Dream.”
In spite of San Francisco’s urban environment, there are plenty of opportunities to connect with nature. Golden Gate Park, in particular, feels wilder and less manicured than Central Park. And it’s bigger.
In spite of my complaints about meat-heavy menus, we ate well. The LSH enjoyed bowls of Vietnamese Pho while on his cycling trips, and I loved the delectable, soft fresh corn tortillas in the Mexican restaurant we visited. And then there was this:
I think the sign for Gott’s Roadside says it all.