I haven’t been to San Francisco in about three and half years, E probably more like five. Though it’s been a while, at times past we’ve been regular visitors to the Bay Area as my oldest sister M has lived in the peninsular city since 1998. We 1st journeyed to this city on the bay in April of 2001. I was 21 and E was 23. Our love, relationship and selves were young, as we’d just met the previous August, both enrolled in the same yearlong, residential Americorps program that had an emphasis on environmental restoration, which was achieved through various modes of physical labor and habitat restoration techniques. We lived rustically in co-ed, commune-like barracks located in the back of the Mt Adams Ranger Station in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The Forest Service outpost was located about 25 minutes north of Hood River on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge in the town of Trout Lake. While Hood River had a movie theater, the Full Sail Brewery and a few decent restaurants, the nearest big city was Portland, Oregon, about an hour and a half away from Trout Lake.
San Francisco is not that large geographically, only a seven-by-seven-ish mile piece of land that juts up between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the San Francisco Bay to the east but it’s densely populated and has a large metro area. That first trip, E and I stayed in the 2-bedroom apartment that M and one of her best friends were renting at Stockton and California, right on the outskirts of Chinatown. M’s apartment was in a prime tourist location, less than a quarter mile away from some of the city’s more opulent, expensive and historic hotels like the Fairmont, Stanford Court and Huntington.
E and I embraced being tourists in an unexplored, new-to-us city. We walked all over town checking out the shops and sites. We trekked up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower and marveled at the fabulous 360-degree views of the city. Lombard Street was crooked indeed, its switchbacks zigzagging down the famous stretch of road, looking very much like all the pictures you’ve ever seen. Fisherman’s Wharf was everything an over-marketed tourist trap should be, complete with kitschy museums, resident sea lions, and clam chowder filled sourdough bread bowls.
We ferried to Alcatraz – a uniquely strange and ominous piece of history that is worth a visit. The ride across the bay offered a unique view of the city and brought us on to the water that so defines the city. The former prison seems like it could be a touristy bust with no real value but it’s anything but. A fact-filled audio tour let us know what we were looking at, what infamous criminals spent time in which cell and what uprisings and events happened where. The island unexpectedly evoked deep thought and reflection. The negative energy felt when I entered the solitary confinement chambers was stark and frightening – inducing the most terrifying, hairs-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck feeling I’d ever experienced at that point in my life, a morbid distinction it would hold until five years later when I visited a Nazi death camp in Poland.