Oi Polloi

Dispatches from San Francisco

Published: Fri Sep 16 2016

Steve, Nigel and I recently spent two whole days in San Francisco. I can’t really talk too much about the reason we were there yet, but all should be revealed some time in the not-so-distant future. Until then, you’ll have to make do with some daft musings and a few photographs…

The voyage over was a bit of a slog. I don’t think the human body is designed to be propelled around 575 miles per hour a few miles above the earth in a winged Megabus. The food wasn’t too bad though, and the man I was sat next to on the flight from New York to San Francisco was pretty funny. At first I thought he was a creep because he kept staring at the air hostess, but it later turned out that she was his girlfriend.

He worked selling UFC equipment and, once he’d got the WiFi sorted, showed me photos on his phone of a fighter known as ‘The Cyborg’ who’d recently had his skull caved in like the top of a boiled egg. He frequently pestered his girlfriend to fetch us beer and peanuts, whilst he sat and watched Straight Outta Compton on the screen that folded out from his armrest.

We landed at about half ten at night. I took a train into the city, inhaled a slice of pizza and wandered down a long street until I found my hotel. 

Steve and Nigel had flown on an earlier flight to me, and seeing as my phone doesn’t work in other countries, my only hope of finding them was a badly written note on a small scrap of paper with some rough directions to their hotel. These days a lot of people rely on handheld cyber-devices to organise their lives and guide them around the world… but luckily no such gadgetry was needed to locate my comrades.

It wasn’t long ago that making plans with someone meant giving them a time and a place, sometimes a few weeks before, and hoping they’d show up. I think it’d do a lot of people good to go back to this every now and again. I’ve seen enough films to know that reliance on technology will be mankind’s downfall.  

Before travelling to San Francisco I’d heard a lot about how tech companies were sapping the city of its character, and rounding off its edge. Although I can’t really speak from experience as I don’t know what it used to be like, it certainly didn’t seem edgeless. There was a lot of people swanning around in Youtube hoodies, and I did spot a group of runners in a park warming up whilst chanting loudly about work, but I think everywhere these days is going to have a percentage of these sort of people. The old wooden houses were still there, and out by the beach a man lived in a camper van with six massive old Newfoundland dogs for company.

One afternoon when we had a bit of a free time I decided I was going to walk out to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a lot further away than it looked, and I spent a good three hours walking out of the city, along the beach and up to this fog-cloaked mass of steel. At one point I considered hijacking a tourist’s rented bicycle like some modern-day dandy highwayman, but common sense prevailed and I continued trudging along on foot.

If the Golden Gate Bridge was in England, there’d be an ice cream van somewhere nearby where I could have picked up a Fab or maybe a Strawberry Split, but for some reason there was nowhere to buy any sort of refreshments anywhere nearby. The bridge was impressive, and the views weren’t bad, but the city of San Francisco is definitely missing a trick not having some sort of wheeled ice vendor located next to the bridge.

By the time I’d got back from this long and iceless voyage, I’d earned myself a crippling bout of sun-stroke. Because of this, I could barely eat anything for the rest of the trip, so I can’t really speak too much on the food side of things. Saying that, I did have a cracking burrito from a small bodega which had a cat knocking around in the aisles, and there were some decent bakeries that sold nice, but fairly hard-to-eat, Danish pastries.

There was a 24 hour breakfast place on Geary Street called Pinecrest Diner that was pretty good too. There should be more open-all-hours places in England like this. Anyone who had the pleasure of eating at Antonio’s near Piccadilly Station at 3 in the morning before it was turned into a Waitrose will know that the atmosphere in these all-night places is quite something.

On the subject of ‘atmospheres’, San Francisco’s Haight Street has a strange one. It’s sort of like a larger, sunnier version of Affleck’s Palace. Countless shops flogged cheap tie-dye tat, and brain-frazzled casualties milled around like bizarre hippy cartoon characters.

I think maybe at one time, many years ago, this place might have been alright, but from what I could see, it seems to have become a bit of a caricature of its self. It was a bit weird really. There was a massive record shop called Amoeba at the top of the street that might be worth a visit though if you’re into that sort of thing.

Chinatown was much more interesting, especially early in the morning when the shop owners were setting up their stall for the day. Everything here was happening at once… in one corner a man in a striped shirt was throwing out bread to the pigeons, whilst a delivery man paraded down the pavement with a pig’s carcass over his shoulder. If every street was like this, the cinemas of the world would be empty.

But what else? The hills were steep. I remember we drove over one in a taxi with a gradient to rival Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach. Stray souls slept on church pews. One man blessed me with his hand on my forehead. He told me not to wear my baseball cap because god wouldn’t be able to reach me through the cotton. He told me he’d thrown his collection of $180 hats in the bin for this very reason. He was a nice chap though. 

I’ll round this off now. San Francisco is most definitely a city. It’s massive and it’s mental and everything, but there’s mountains in the distance and the breeze from the bay provides natural air conditioning to cool the mind. It’s not as intense as New York, but it’s certainly not dull. Just don’t waste too much time on Haight Street and you’ll be alright.