Thursday, July 07, 2005

San Francisco Trip - Part 1 (w/PICS)

Having recently returned home from 8 days in San Francisco for the JavaOne conference, I thought I'd inflict upon my faithful readers (ha) a little summary of my trip. We start with the first weekend in the city and I'll follow up with later days. Background info: this was my second time in SF and my wife's first. I know this will read backwards but such is the life of the blogger.


We got a ride to the airport in a "shared van" which cost us like 60 bucks each way. Considering the cost of parking for 8 days plus the convenience factor, it seemed worth it. There's a good chance the company will pay for this expense, making it even more worth it. They picked us up at 3 AM, and the only reason I even mention this is that when we left a skunk was chilling out by our back porch (as in, it ran away from me when I came out by running between my grill and my steps). After this little adrenalin rush subsided, the trip there was pretty uneventful.

We got to SF, exhausted, and were checked into our hotel by noon their time. We headed out for our first brief excursion by walking around the immediate area until we found a place that looked about our speed for lunch. We ended up at a place called the Daily Grill, which was quiet, casual (enough), and good. We ate sandwiches and returned to the hotel to nap for a few hours because, you know, getting up at 2:30 AM is tiring.

Late afternoon, we headed out for a little laid-back exploration. We walked to where my conference was held, and I picked up my registration materials. Along the way we got a little lost (Moscone West != Moscone, fyi), but it was no big deal. We poked around downtown a little, bought a weeklong public transit pass (great deal at 20 bucks per person), and settled in to dinner at some jazz bistro that was completely empty. The food was completely average -- I imagine the real appeal was the music, but we were too early for music. Remember, we were 3 hours off schedule and operating on weird sleep too.

Side story: a street musician, later in the week, responded to my friend Ura's question of where to go for some cool music by naming this same jazz bistro.


This was our real welcome to the city day. We started with breakfast at Sears Fine Foods, a short walk away and evidently a famous breakfast joint. Good food, but I'm not sure I understand how it got so famous. Maybe staying in business for decades and decades has something to do with it.

After breakfast, we headed downtown and walked pretty far down Market St (heading west). This was the Pride Parade day, and the street was blocked off and tons of cops were hanging around to set up. As such, we walked with confidence through some fairly sketchy areas :). We turned around as we got near the civic center, and walked all the way back to like 5th St or so, where we found a gap in the crowd and saddled up to the barriers to watch the parade.

The parade was MASSIVE. It opened with the 600-strong "Dykes on Bikes" and went from there. Jess was moved to tears at the start of it, which I wasn't expecting. She said it was sad to see these people who were so obviously happy with their lives and yet had to fight for the simplest recognition and respect. That gave me a little pause and cast the event in a slightly different light for me.

In any case, it was a freakshow. We saw a couple topless women and a couple bottomless guys, float after float representing various groups, companies, and causes, and just tons of people marching. Overall, though, it was much more tame than we were expecting. I guess growing up in Northampton, living in liberal Massachusetts, and traveling as much as we have, we've already seen a lot. Maybe the Internet has something to do with it too. But it wasn't the "OMG insane" freakshow we sort of were hoping for. It's like we secretly wanted to have our boundaries tested and pushed, and instead we just stood by and watched stuff we've seen before, and applauded with everyone else.

Side note: it was deeply moving to see the very strong anti-establishment crowd applaud as one when the (very few) gay veterans marched by, again when the gay police marched by (with partners), and finally again when the mayor marched by. You see so much stupid "I hate everybody" rebellion that it's nice to see properly directed "I can hate the war but still applaud the vets" energy.

Anyway, it was quite an experience. The crowds were huge, and friendly. We saw NO anti-parade protesters, which was another surprise. Plenty of anti-war, anti-Bush signs, of course. Heh. Eventually we grew tired of watching people march by, and it was clear the "big bang" stuff had already gone by, so we moved on. We walked east and ended up at the Ferry Building, Pier 1, Embarcadero. We had lunch at The Slanted Door, Vietnamese food, and just generally enjoyed the atmosphere of the building. Lots of little shops, small farmers' market, lots of people milling about, great views of the Bay Bridge (to Oakland), etc. Then we waited for the restored vintage subway car to take us to Pier 39.

At Pier 39 we just kind of walked around, went into a few shops, checked out the view, the seal lions, etc. We were really kind of wiped out, though, to get much out of this. We took the cable car back to our hotel and rested up a bit, meeting one of my Amazon Basin friends for dinner. It was supposed to be two friends but one never showed. In any case, she took us to the Cliff House, where we waited for an hour to get a table and chatted while admiring the killer views of the Pacific. If you haven't been up there, make a point of it next time you're in SF. It's downright surreal to see the ocean from that angle, and the sunset wasn't half-bad either.

So that was our first big city day; exhausting, long, but awesome.

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