san francisco – north beach

day 2 – monday, october 15

We left Santa Cruz yesterday, heading to Oakland via Los Gatos and Santa Clara. Los Gatos to check out the final day of the local Burning Man. Many twists and turns off the beaten track up narrow, winding roads, but to no avail. Burning Man was not to be found. As we turned Dexy around to weave our way back to the highway, I was reminded of Jack Kerouac coming down from San Francisco to visit Neal and Carolyn Cassady on one of these roads that winds among the foothills. Unlike us, he probably knew where he was going.

Back on the highway, it was a short drive to Santa Clara – which appears to be its own little town with San Jose encroaching on all sides. But it hasn’t been swallowed up entirely. We were sipping lattes and chai teas in the park in the town square with Mitali Hindi, Sean’s college sweetheart (we just happened to be driving by!), enjoying the charms of the town center. There’s only time for one cuppa, though, because we want to get to Oakland while it’s still light out so we can find our digs for the next three nights. We would have liked to stay in San Francisco, but there was nothing we could find within our budget. Oakland prices we could handle, and the backyard cottage we’ve booked through airbnb is a decent walk to the closest BART, which will take us across the bay into San Francisco.

Once we got into San Francisco this morning, we set off on foot – in a northerly direction toward Fisherman’s Wharf, with much to see along the way, and hills to climb of course. We headed north through Empire Park where it meets Chinatown – following a lead I’d read about the area having been a working-class Irish neighborhood during the 1850s Gold Rush. Walking the pavement 160 years later doesn’t reveal much about history, but it does get us to our next stop – the corner of Columbus Ave and Broadway …

… home of City Lights Bookstore and The Beat Museum.

City Lights is a funky bookstore, with its nooks and crannies filled to the brim – esoteric might be the right word.

But we don’t stay long, and we don’t shop.

Inside the Beat Museum we decided not to go for the tour, but instead wandered around in the store instead. All sorts of interesting things to find: a DVD called Beat, starring Kiefer Sutherland and Courtney Love, which I did not buy but did make note of to follow up on. Another find: A copy of Carolyn Cassady’s Off The Road priced at $35. I feel like I’m on “Antiques Road Show,” rubbing my hands together in glee that I’m sitting on a $35 goldmine at home. We picked up a copy of a book of Jack’s letters for a gift, and we were on our way.

[As I write this many months later, I’m listening to Hard Nose The Highway playing downstairs, and upstairs I’ve got my current bookmark in Dennis McNally’s Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, The Beat Generation, and America. Good book, and great album. I don’t draw a huge connection between Kerouac and Van, and in so doing, I find it fun when the two synchronize – it just doesn’t happen often. In fact, the last time it happened was this day in North Beach.]

As we’re doing our little Jack homage, I’m thinking about Jack and Van (and countless others) being drawn to San Francisco. And why wouldn’t they be drawn? It’s very hip culturally – in Jack’s time, in Van’s time here, and today while I’m standing here. I like culturally hip, things are always happening. And indeed, in San Francisco, something is always happening. The city is alive.

Janis spotting at the Beat Museum

Heading north we continued on toward North Beach, and looking west we could see both Russian Hill and Lombard Street that would have entailed going down one long hill and up another. We had another hill in mind – Telegraph Hill, and the good thing about Telegraph Hill is that it’s on the way. I have this fantasy that the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill will burst out in flight when I reach the top of it. That’s the other good thing about Telegraph Hill – the parrots. There is a wonderful 2003 documentary that follows the story of Mark Bittner and his relationships with the parrots that come to roost in the trees of Telegraph Hill.

We don’t see a parrot all day. Maybe they’re all gone now. Our climb up to Pioneer Park, on Telegraph Hill, may not involve any birds, but it does provide us with a close-up of the art deco Coit Tower in all its phallic glory.

Down the hill we go, the homestretch to Fisherman’s Wharf, which on this mid-October day is relatively quiet. We turn around to get a view – that’s Coit Tower up on Telegraph Hill …

And the view the other way: Alcatraz.

There are sea lions all along the Pacific Coast, and here in San Francisco, you can catch them resting on the pier …

With the sun going down, it was time to get back to Oakland, but first, let’s pop into a watering hole…

… and watch what’s left of the Cardinals-Giants Game 2. Cardinals won Game 1 last night, 6-4, in an away game for them.

The tables have turned tonight. Top of the eighth, Cardinals at bat, two out, nobody on, and Giants lead 5-1. A much better game for the Giants fans.

The Giants went on to win 7-1, and we headed off to Oakland for a night of pounding away at the laptop keys. Our exploring continues tomorrow – where among other things, we are off to …

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