The Golden Gate Bridge is at once an engineering masterpiece, a work of art, and an enduring symbol of the city by the bay.
She’s a graceful and elegant structure of gentle curves and taut lines, towering art deco spires and International Orange paint spanning a blue water inlet lined by tall grey rock. Few people thought it could be built due to the extreme current conditions, and the unprecedented 4000 foot main span, and many men died in the trying, but when it opened back in 1937, Mr.Strauss, the architect, should have been proud, because he proved the skeptics wrong.
San Francisco is famous for its fog, “creeping in on little cat’s feet” (Sandberg?), and the bridge is mysteriously shrouded in mist most of the time I’m here. Like a chameleon, she can be bright and sunny, radiant even, one minute, and dark and brooding the next, depending on how the dying light strikes her tall spires or how much of the superstructure is enshrouded by clouds. You can see this wonder a thousand times, and you’ll always get a new look. Today, she’s cold and foreboding, indifferent to the thousands of people gawking at her, and the great cords of 3 foot steel cable are the color of dark rust. Tomorrow she may be coy, hiding her long span behind a cloudy veil. Next week, she may be sexy, half dressed in clouds, revealing just enough of her red tower structure to whet the appetite for more. In a month, who knows? She may be strutting out in all her glory, shining a bright golden red like a steel beacon in the noonday sun under a clear blue sky.
I love this bridge. It’s the prettiest one I’ve ever seen, and one of the biggest reasons that San Francisco is my favorite large American city (with all due apologies to other favorites like New Orleans). We take as many pictures as we can, and I wish I could stay longer. Leaving her is like parting with a lover you hope to see again, and until you do, you’re a little jealous of her.
This morning, I got my eyes opened at the Bay Watch Restaurant, which serves up a fantastic cup of Joe for $2.10. It’s strong and aromatic, and it’s perfect for a cold morning like today. I’m actually amazed to say this, but in general I’m finding that prices in San Francisco for food are actually quite reasonable, even in the touristy areas, though of course the housing is still ridiculously hovering in the stratosphere at around $1000 per square foot, but I must say, if ANY city is worth that kind of dough, it’s SF.
We are taking the Grey Line Tour, which picks us up at our hotel. The trip we signed up for is in an enclosed coach, but when we are taken to the ticket office at Pier 39 after enjoying a huge and delicious croissant ($3.25), I decide that an open air, topless bus is far more preferable, since we can see the sights better and because we are perfectly equipped for this cold and misty day, with Jonathan sporting his obligatory uniform of T shirt and shorts. So of course we head for the upper deck, and soon our fellow tourists are staring in amazement, not only at the famous Fisherman’s Wharf (very touristy, but a must see) and the distinctive pyramid shape of Transamerica Tower (very cool!), but also the idiots in row 3 who are sporting beach wear in cloudless 60 degree weather while catching a nice breeze from the 40MPH headwind the bus is providing. Actually, I at least have on long pants and shirt…Jonathan is trying to act casual, but it’s not working. I know this because his lips are turning blue and he’s starting to get drowsy, but he refuses to go below deck, where the climate is less arctic.
So our Italian tour driver, who is hilarious, taking pot shots at pedestrians hesitating in mid street over a loudspeaker: “The only decision to make, lady, is to move or die”, and pointing out the fracas about to erupt between two vagrants in a seedy neighborhood “To your right, you’ll see something brewing” just before one of the guys starts throwing some incredible arm-over-shoulder haymakers that land with enough force for us to hear them over the diesel engine, is taking us to everything we wanted to see, from the Bridge, where we are allowed to get off for a few minutes, to Golden Gate Park (the largest man made park in the world-over 1,000 acres, and even the dirt for it was imported), to the tony and, as mentioned before, the not so nice parts of town, to the Presidio, to Chinatown, and even some TV sets like the Full House house, and we are enjoying every minute of it, except for the part where we are getting pneumonia. It’s the best $20 you’ll spend in this city, and I highly recommend it.
When it’s over, we decide to check out the seals on the floating docks at Pier 39, and they’re fun to watch, lolling around in clusters and comically barking for no apparent reason, then take a stroll to Fisherman’s Wharf, which is about as crowded as a subway, but it’s still fun in a tacky tourist kind of way, until we eat clam chowder in a sourdough bowl at Al’s Soup, and, though this meal is a San Fran favorite, and Al is famous as the soup Nazi in a classic Seinfeld episode, this broth isn’t worth the price. There are a lot of potatoes and not much clam, and it seems they try to make up for this with way too much hot spice. Go somewhere else for this treat.
We head back to the hotel, walking a mere 17 blocks to get there, and grab the car for the aforementioned view of the Bridge ($6.00 Toll to cross, and allow an hour for traffic), and also to go down the Most Crooked Street in the World (8 switchback turns in one block). To access this street we must go up some VERY steep hills. The angle is so high that when you crest the top you can’t see what’s there until you’re past the crosswalk. Pedestrians beware! But it’s worth the effort, because the street is so unique, and you feel like a celebrity as you ride down it with thousands of people snapping shots as you pass down the crooked lane. It’s so much fun that we do it twice so we can both say we did it. Here’s a tip: There are VERTY long lines waiting to drive down this street backing up three or more city blocks, and it’s a nerve wracking wait, since you’re bumper-to-bumper on a sharp incline. DO what we did and go around to a side road that parallels Lombard (any one will do) and drive up that. Then take a left at the top and you won’t have long to wait at all. It’ll save you thirty minutes of pain.
After our drive, we grab a bite to eat at Tacolicious, which was highly rated by Trip Advisor, but the sausage taco was surprisingly bland, and, thought he fish variety had a nice big piece of cod on it, it was too greasy to recommend. Only $26 with tip, but two thumbs down.
So the food part of the city wasn’t so great, which surprised me, but I know this place has some great restaurants, so I still love it. If you don’t like big cities in general, try this one. It’s a beautiful and romantic city by the sea, with a lot of history and culture, and, best of all, it comes highly recommended by me.
But I’m still dismayed at how the signs are everywhere that America used to make things, and now we consume them. Cannery Row is a shopping mall. Ghiardelli Chocolate factory isn’t a factory. It’s a store. We buy things. We consume things. We don’t make them, and that’s a recipe for disaster. We have a military fighting imaginary bad guys all over the world when what we should be doing is worrying about what’s going on right here at home. We need to get back to the business of business and let other people worry about their own affairs. You can’t consume your way to prosperity. The road to riches is paved with production.
Tomorrow, we go to Yosemite…stay tuned!