California Tripping: San Francisco

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The Golden Gate Bridge in the early morning fog

I guess I’ll start by saying what this is – some sort of a love letter. I don’t think I’m the first one to have ever succumbed to romanticism during a prolonged trip to great places. But I can’t blame those people. Traveling exposes our weaknesses, it brings us closer to our fears, and it makes us more vulnerable. Traveling makes us more sensitive to everything around us. And when you’re surrounded by a city such as San Francisco, how do you keep yourself from leaving your heart? See what I did there?

Early in the morning the bus takes our group to the Tenderloin, where it stops in front of the Civic Center. The sky is overcast and the air is very cold – a far cry from the summer heat that has been starting to embrace California the past few days. But we separately get down the bus nonetheless. It’s the penultimate day of the bus tour, and I suppose you agree that it’s our obligation to maximize the stops. So I take a few pictures around and you walk with your friend – the tall one – and take a stroll along the row of trees fronting the building of San Francisco’s primary center of government. We don’t talk much, just like most of the time for the past 11 days.

The conversation begins a few minutes later, when we arrive at the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge. The fog obscures the bridge a bit, but I don’t mind. Along with the relative absence of traffic because it’s the ungodly hour in the morning, it actually makes it more heavenly. I survey the scene and then I take a couple of pictures. Then I gaze into the distance once more.

“Mister professional,” you call me. I shudder. I barely consider myself a professional. Maybe I’m more of a hobbyist who has been stuck somewhere in the purgatory of intermediate and advanced levels, but, heck no, I’ve never earned a significant amount of money by taking pictures. So despite a formal education in photography and the old DSLR I’m holding, I don’t really want to label myself as a professional.

But there you go again. “Mister professional!”

I turn to your direction. “Yeah?”

“Where do you think is the best angle?” you ask, holding your point-and-shoot. Your smile is disarming.

“I guess… here,” I say, setting my body straight to imply that, yeah, I’m standing on it. Nevertheless I step aside and motion for you to take my place.

“Wow, thanks!” you say.

“You’re welcome.”

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Russian Hill’s ridiculously steep steps

The tour takes us to Chinatown, where have our breakfast at a bakery, and the Lombard Street, where cars navigate hairpin roads on the Russian Hill, but nothing really much happens, other than we go down the bus, take pictures like good children obeying orders, and return to the bus promptly.

Lunchtime rolls around and the bus takes us to the pier next to the Fisherman’s Wharf. We have tickets for a 90-minute cruise on San Francisco Bay, in which we sail close to the Alcatraz Island – an island that houses a former prison building in the middle of the bay – and go past under the Golden Gate Bridge before doubling back to the pier. The winds are strong but I brave them. The sun is warm enough to negate the cold.

Back at the wharf I don’t see you. But heeding our guide’s advice, our group – the 15 of us, I mean – settle in a seafood restaurant to try the oh-so recommended clam chowder. They do, but I’m a vegetarian, so I just have salad. They say the chowder’s great. The salad’s good, too, by the way.

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Victorian-style houses in West Addition

Nearly two hours later we’re at the Western Addition, an historic residential area where Victorian-style homes stand. Amidst people lying on the grass and people walking their dogs, I’m trying again to look for a good spot to take pictures. You’re walking with your friend and you pass by me. “Mister professional is at work again,” you say.

I cringe. Not at you, but at you saying I’m a professional.

A man with a small terrier walks near us, and suddenly our attention is fixed towards the canine. The dog does a few tricks and it makes us happy. Heck, the afternoon makes us happy. Lazy vibe, crisp breeze, smiling sun. I hope moments like this never end. But they do.

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The historic Alcatraz Island

I’m not sure what they call this place – the guide had said it before but I wasn’t listening – but we’re on top of the hill looking at a panoramic view of San Francisco. Same routine – survey the scene, click, survey some more, click. You and your friend are doing the same, trying out a variety of poses with the bird’s eye view of the city as your backdrop. It’s my turn to approach you.

“You need help taking pictures?” I ask.

You pause. “Actually, why don’t I take your pictures for a change?” you suggest.

I shake my head. “I’m camera shy.”

But you insist. So I give up and hand you my camera. I try to pose – awkwardly, I may as well say. It turns out that you do know how to compose an image. You know the rule of thirds very well. I melt.

And that’s when I know your name. That’s when I know you’re an exchange student in Chicago, taking up economics. Wow, I hate economics. But I admire people who like economics. I introduce myself.

“Okay,” you beam. “But I’ll still call you Mister Professional.”

Yeah, whatever floats your boat.

Suddenly a man shouts a few yards from us. It’s the art vendor doing paintings of San Francisco using an air spray and a number of mundane objects like plates and kitchen utensils. He’s inviting people to watch him work. You get curious so we join the huddle around him. After he finishes a painting, we return to strolling around.

“How do you find the trip so far?” I ask.

Your eyes open wide, like you’ve been waiting for someone to ask the question. “It’s tiring. Very tiring.” A bit of a pause. “But on the other hand, I don’t think we would have been to the places that we’ve been if we didn’t join a tour.”

I agree, I tell myself.

“So where are the others?” you ask, referring to the other fourteen.

I shrug. “They stayed inside the bus. Maybe they’re tired as well.”

Another wind blows.

“Have you explored that part yet?” you ask, pointing to an open space a bit farther from the bus.

“Yeah, actually, that was the first part I went to as soon as I got off the bus.”

“Oh, you’re fast.”

“Nah, probably just an instinct to get as far away from the crowd as possible.”

“In that case, you might consider going back to the crowd now.”

“Yes, I’ll consider that.”

“Okay, so I guess I’ll see you later?”

“Yeah, we have one more stop today in Stanford,” I say. “See you at the bus.”

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