Eric's weblog


Saturday, March 29, 2003

This evening, I heard about an a cappella group having a show at Ghirardelli Square, and, having no other plans, I decided to go check it out. From my company's location south of Market, I took the #30 bus, which drops off right at the entrance to the square. I found the stage, was underwhelmed by the group, and wandered off after a couple songs.

Since it was still light out, I walked around the headland to the path overlooking Fort Mason, where I got a nice view of the Golden Gate Bridge outlined against the fading colors of the sunset. I sat up there until it got dark, and then headed back to Ghirardelli Square to hop the bus back.

But it was a nice night, and, since I still had no plans, I decided to walk back through San Francisco. One of my favorite things about Boston is that it is walkable - it's entirely reasonable to walk all the way across the city. I've known that San Francisco, while a little bit bigger, has the same property, but I've never done it. For several years, I've meant to walk around the city and get a pedestrian's view of it and figure out how the pieces fit together, but had never gotten around to it. So tonight seemed as good a night as any to start that process.

From Ghirardelli Square, I wandered down North Point St. While walking down the hill there, a petite Asian woman called me over for help. She was trying to push her boyfriend's BMW up the hill - I guess the engine died or something, and she was trying to push it into a parking space with him steering. I made an effort, but it was quickly apparent to me that two people were not going to be able to push a luxury sports sedan uphill no matter what she was thinking. So I wandered onward and left her to talk it over with her boyfriend what they should do next.

As I turned the corner onto Columbus, following the route of the #30 back, Critical Mass came rolling through. For those of you who don't know, Critical Mass is a "spontaneous" gathering of bicyclists on the last Friday of each month. They get together and ride through the streets of San Francisco, tying up traffic, but making the point that bicycles deserve part of the road as well.

Tonight had a bigger turnout than normal, because the anti-war activists had decided to join in. It kind of makes sense, since the activists had been blocking intersections with their protests.

Anyway, the phalanx of bicycles came rolling down Columbus, accompanied by bell whistles, shouts, chants, music and all sorts of other noise. Lots of chanting of "No Blood for Oil", and various peace signs. I saw a guy sitting on the back of a tandem playing a guitar while the guy in front pedalled. Another bicyclist was towing a stereo system behind him playing music, while another had a bass drum on the back of his bike, which a friend was banging in time to the chanting.

Seeing ten blocks worth of bicyclists and peace activists roll slowly by put a big smile on my face. I'm not even sure why. I think it was probably because it was a very San Franciscan moment, and I appreciate people doing their own thing. Eventually though, it had to come to an end. The last few stragglers were blocking an intersection; in particular, they were fencing in a white BMW and yelling at the driver, who I think had honked or yelled at them or something. The police motorcycles who were riding at the end of the cavalcade flipped on their lights and siren and chased the bikers onward, and traffic returned to normal.

The next thing I saw was the North Beach Playground, somewhere around Lombard Street. A bunch of people were playing basketball on the courts there. On the other half of the concrete expanse, a group of guys was playing football, running around wildly in a way that I don't think I would on concrete, cuz I'd trip and scrape myself up or something. By this point, I had turned the walk into an observation of life on a Friday night in San Francisco. What were other people up to on this fine evening?

Coit Tower is striking at night, lit up from below. Just had to say that.

Onward and onward. There's a Ben and Jerry's store on Columbus. Given that it was a warm evening, and I'd been walking for a bit, a mint chocolate chunk ice cream cone was irresistible. Plus, is there anything better than walking around with an ice cream cone? I mean, at least for me, that's a guaranteed smile. By this point, I'm into the Little Italy section of town, so there's cafes overflowing onto the sidewalks, Italian trattorias everywhere, and people all around.

Even though I'm eating ice cream, I'm thinking dinner might be in order, so when I see a place called Buster's advertising cheese steaks, I start salivating. Yes, yes, I should have gone for pizza since I was in Little Italy, and I had planned to, but for some reason, the cheese steak sounded better. While they're making the sandwich, I sit down at one of the little tables on the sidewalk.

Across the street is the Stinking Rose, the famous purveyor of garlic. I've only been there once, but it's completely over the top. Basically every dish there has several cloves of garlic. Per person. It's yummy, but kind of excessive. Definitely a San Francisco institution.

While I'm sitting there, five Asian girls are standing on the sidewalk in front of me chit-chatting. I'm trying to figure out what their deal is, when an Asian guy pulls up in a minivan and they all pile in. Duh.

Looks like there's a followup set of protestors on foot following the bicyclists. They're on the other side of the street, walking up the sidewalk, chanting loudly but none of the words are at all intelligible to me. A guy at the tail end has a bullhorn and is saying things like "Why doesn't America start teaching critical thinking (next time through, it was the Constitution) in the first grade?" They have a large police escort, walking in the street next to them. I'm not quite sure what the police escort is for, except maybe to make sure they keep moving and don't try blocking intersections or anything.

My sandwich comes, and I start munching it while watching the people pass by. Fifteen minutes later, the protestors come back on my side of the street. Since they're close, I can make out what they're chanting: "Stop this racist war today! San Francisco, what do you say?" They're pretty mellow, and they've even started to lose their police escort (a police SUV pulled up, and several of the escort jumped in).

As I start walking again, I notice that the protestors stall for a couple minutes in front of the "adult" clubs and stores on Broadway at Columbus. This amuses me.

I cut over on Pacific to get into Chinatown. One of the neat things about walking like this is realizing that all these neighborhoods are right next to each other, and even blend into each other somewhat. I go and check out Meriwa, which I like for dimsum, but I had been told had a fire earlier this year. Yup. It's closed. Bummer.

Chinatown is kind of dead. Surprisingly so, considering how amazingly crowded it is during the day. But most of the stores have closed, and there's only small groups of people walking quickly to or from their dinner.

On the south end of Chinatown, I find one patch of activity - at an activity center on Sacramento, a group of people are playing volleyball on one court, and basketball on the next. It's not a particularly high level of play, but everybody seems to be having a good time, so that's what matters.

I exit out under the big Chinese gate at Sutter, and into the yuppie part of town adjoining Union Square. I walk by the offices of, a website I've actually looked at recently, and am, as always, a little bit weirded out by finding the physical location of a website. It feels like looking at the man behind the curtain.

Moving towards Union Square, I check out some Ecco shoe displays through the window. My Ecco boots have served hard time over the last four years, and have started to fall apart, so it might be time to consider getting a new pair. Of course, the shops are closed, so all I can do is look, but it's nice to see what's available.

Arriving at Union Square, I find that the space has changed. I used to work right off of Union Square, but haven't been back much in the past two years. In particular, I haven't been by since they reopened it after remodelling. It's weird. There's a statue on a big pillar commemorating some triumph by Admiral Dewey. The big pillar stands in the middle of an empty stone plaza, with little benches around the outskirts of the plaza. It feels somewhat sterile to me, but, surprisingly, a large number of people have gathered here, in twos and threes, to hang out, chat and people-watch.

Last time I was in Union Square, there was a fairly large homeless contingent. Those have been chased off, partially because of the policemen standing at the corners of the square, and partially because the benches are designed as three single seats, each of which have armrests, to prevent people from lying down on the benches.

While sitting there, relaxing a bit and watching the people, I notice the Borders billboard and am reminded that there's a bookstore just across the street. So I'm compelled to go visit. Some books that look interesting that I'll have to try to track down at the library: The Winter of our Discotheque by Andrew Beierle, Girls' Poker Night by Jill A. Davis, and Lamb by Christopher Moore, purporting to be the fifth gospel written by Jesus's buddy, Buzz. After poking around for a half hour, and resisting the temptation to buy more books, I'm back out on the street and heading for home.

While walking back through the Union Square plaza, I notice the square stone tiles and am immediately reminded of the time Brad organized human chess at MIT. I wonder how hard it would be to put together a game here without getting the cops annoyed.

I hop a bus for the last stretch from Market Street to my office, since I've walked that section many times from BART, and there's not a lot to see, especially at night.

I don't really have any deep insights or anything about San Francisco. But it felt good to get out and see people going about their lives. It's too easy to fall into a rut and go to work, go home, watch TV, go to sleep. I need to do more things like this to remind myself of the wider world and the variety of people that inhabit it. Anyway. I've rambled on long enough.
posted by Dork Butt 12:13 AM

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