San Francisco, California -- November 2007
I'm in San Francisco now, all settled at Mike's apartment, with Internet and lots of good food. I'm trying to take notes as I go here so that I can write something similar to my France journal, but I can already tell this one is going to be much less detailed and frequent.
Instead of being stupid-cheap this time, I took the downtown airport shuttle to Pearson airport in Toronto. It only cost $26 round trip and it meant I didn't have to deal with a one or possibly two hour public transit ride before the flight. The shuttle picked me up at the Royal York downtown and dropped me at my gate at the airport. I'm never taking transit to the airport again.
The plane ride was good, not amazing, but not bad either. I flew out of Terminal 1 in Toronto which is always nice, but my flight was packed, my seat was a middle seat (and I couldn't change it) and the meal wasn't free. On the plus side, I brought my own food (mmm...chocolate covered almonds) and the plane had personal in-seat entertainment units. I watched Surf's Up which I've wanted to see ever since the talk at the film festival in Annecy. I loved it, the documentary style really made the movie. I also watched a few episodes of the Office and the first half of the Simpsons movie. Those in-seat things rock; they have over 40 different movies as well as a ton of TV shows, documentaries and other things. Time just flew by on that flight (lame, I know).
When I arrived at San Francisco Airport I went out to a special area where they have "shared-ride vans" that take you into the city (right to the door of wherever you're going) for a reasonable price ($16+tip). The drivers wait around for a while to try to get as many people in each trip as possible, but in my case the airport was pretty dead so it was just me and another guy. It was fast and easy and so much better than trying to deal with luggage on public transit in an unfamiliar city.
When I arrived Mike had prepared a supper of fancy ravioli with tomato sauce, sourdough bread with blackberry jam and brie, and appletini's (easy on the tini). For dessert I brought a couple honey crullers from the Tim Horton's at Pearson. They were a bit crushed but I think Mike was pretty happy to have them, it's funny the things people miss when they leave Canada.
Mike's apartment is great. It's studio/bachelor style but it's so big it would have easily been a one bedroom plus den in Toronto. The main room is massive, holding Mike's bed, desk, futon, TV and almost all of his stuff. But then there's a gigantic walk-in closet, separate dining room, separate kitchen and a bathroom. Plus the ceilings are high (9-foot maybe?) so it feels even bigger.
Right now we're just hanging out, chatting and eating some left-over Halloween candy. I get the futon to sleep on so that's pretty good. Tomorrow I'm going to work with Mike to tour ILM and have lunch in the cafeteria, I can't wait!
Today has been awesome and busy and it's not even done yet. This morning we got up in good time and headed to the offices of, wait for it, Industrial Light and Magic in the Presidio of San Francisco! Awesome! Mike toured me around the campus showing me all of the awesome props and models and stuff as well as introducing me to a bunch of really nice people. Many of them use Maya, the software I help develop so it was cool to chat with some of them about their problems and what they'd like to see out of the software. For lunch Mike and I met up with some other people in the ILM cafeteria. I wasn't expecting anything too special but it turned out that a famous chef was cooking that day so we got to have this super fancy food. There were several choices and I had the pulled chicken with this really good sauce, a salad and guacamole. Sooooo good.
After lunch Mike kicked me out so that he could actually do some work and I headed downtown to see what I could find. I ended up hitting a bunch of the more consumer-oriented attractions, like the Virgin Mega-Store, Apple store, a huge fancy fancy mall, Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Neiman Marcus and some other random places. Most of the stuff was way too expensive but it was fun to see it all. The mall was especially impressive, totally a rich person's mall. It had nice lounge chairs everywhere for hanging out and even the restaurants in the food court looked fancy.
I also looked around Union square near the mall which is just a big square where things tend to happen it seems. Today there were some people filming something, not sure what. It involved a bunch of dancers doing a choreographed dance, but the director never let them get much further than the first couple moves. He was pretty bossy/grumpy and the dancers looked bored and tired. It was neat to watch, for a couple minutes only, and then I grabbed a bus back to Mike's apartment.
Speaking of buses, the public transit here is pretty interesting. There is a subway, the BART, but it only has a few stops in the actual city and appears to be a separate entity from the San Francisco transit system. The BART seems to be more for long distance trips connecting the city and the outlying areas. In the city itself there are buses, streetcars and cable cars (more on cable cars later). Most of the buses seem to be electric and are powered from overhead lines like streetcars. It's pretty neat because they produce lower emissions but aren't a huge pain to install like streetcars (no tracks to lay). The streetcars San Francisco does have all seem to be antiques, imported from cities around the world. It's pretty cool because each one is different.
Tonight (in a few minutes), we're heading to the annual ILM party. It's celebration of the year's achievements and it's taking place at a fancy bar downtown. I'm just waiting now for Mike to get back from work and then we'll be leaving.
That party was awesome! They rented an entire three-storey bar and the staff packed it full. Free drinks and food and a huge dance area on the third floor. The best part for me was getting to meet and talk to a bunch of really nice people who work with Maya on a day-to-day basis. In particular, I met one guy who my actually used to teach a long time ago in Dorchester. He's an artist of some sort now, working at ILM!
It's pretty late now and the free drinks were both free and plentiful so it's probably time for bed.
This morning I slept in after the party and Mike went to work for some meetings and such. It sucks that work parties always end up on a weekday where you have to show up at work the next morning.
Around noon I met Mike at ILM and we watched the "Friends and Families" reels in the massive theatre at ILM. It was pretty sweet and showed some fun behind the scenes footage from some recent movies. Then we grabbed a Zip Car and drove up to Skywalker Ranch in Marin county north of the city. Skywalker Ranch is a HUGE piece of land (over 4700 acres) owned by George Lucas meant as a sort of retreat for filmmakers. There's only a few buildings including the main Skywalker Sound building. The highlight is definitely the main Ranch House which is done up in authentic style and contains a ton of cool movie props and is absolutely beautiful. It was such a neat experience to go up there because it is so secluded and beautiful. I can't post any photos unfortunately due to company rules. If you're interested in seeing them come visit me in person and I'll show you.
After the Ranch we drove back down to the city and Mike dropped me off and went back to work. I went downtown and grabbed a bit of food, then caught a cable car up to Ghirardelli Square. The cable car used to be the primary form of public transit in San Francisco before it became too uneconomical compared to other options. A giant cable is run underneath the city and massive engines pull the cable along at a constant speed. The cable cars hook on to the cable and are pulled up and down the hills along tracks. There are handles on the outside of the car and you just jump on and grab one. It's fun because as you pass other cars you have to lean in or you'll get crushed by the passing vehicles. Good times!
Ghirardelli Square was neat, it's near the water and is the area where the old Ghirardelli factory used to operate. I bought a big bag of factory second chocolate squares of assorted variety. Mmmm...chocolate.
Next I decided to walk back downtown from the square. This did not work out as well as I had hoped. San Francisco is an extremely hilly city and walking can quickly become more like climbing. Somehow I managed to pick the absolute steepest road in the city too (although they all looked bad from my vantage point). Anyway, after the third extremely steep and long incline, I was going to give up and get a bus, but I noticed that I was at the top of the curvy section of Lombard street, the "crookedest street in the world." So I walked down that and it was pretty nice! It seemed so strange that people actually live on it, it would be so hard to drive every day there.
Instead of taking a bus after Lombard street I decided I would just keep walking in the general direction I wanted to go, but that I would only take streets that sloped down (since I knew the place I was going was at a low elevation). This worked pretty well and soon I was downtown at Union Square, which is where I'm sitting now. I'm meeting Mike in about 30 minutes for some supper. For now I'm just watching this crazy 300 person marching band that's making some very loud music in the square. I think they're representing one of the local Universities, which I suspect is about to engage in some sort of sporting event with another University. Lots of chanting and so forth. The sheer size of this band is the most impressive thing here.
I'm back at Mike's place now, we did a good number of things this evening once we met up after he was done work. First we had supper at the House of Nan King, a really good Chinese restaurant that Mike has been talking about since he first went to San Francisco years ago. It was packed and had a huge line, but because we were just two people we were able to jump to the front of the line pretty quickly. The food was excellent, we had a chicken dish and possibly the best tofu dish I've ever had.
Next we headed up through Chinatown passing some landmarks including the American Zoetrope building, Citylights bookstore, the Chinatown gates and Caffe Trieste (where we stopped for a drink).
We finished off the evening by meeting Mike's friend Orion and another friend Sarah at a bar for a beer and to chat for a while. They were nice and we had a good time. Tomorrow's another big day, so I think it's time for bed.
Since it's Saturday Mike obviously didn't have to work, so we basically did as much as possible today. The best part was it all worked out great! We weren't ever late or rushed and we did everything we wanted to do! Right now we're just hanging out at Mike's house before going to bed and this was my first chance to write anything down.
We started by getting up in good time, having some cereal and then picking up a Zip Car for the day. First we drove down the crooked part of Lombard street, just for fun, and then we headed across the Golden Gate bridge to go check out Muir woods and Mount Tamalpais. It was raining, but I think that made the walk through Muir woods even better. The trees were the huge California redwoods and they made a canopy so underneath it was all misty and foggy and very cool. After the walk we grabbed some food and I bought some souvenirs and then we decided to attempt the drive up to the top of Mount Tam. Apparently you can get a view of the whole city from there, but as we drove the fog rolled in thick and heavy and it started raining pretty hard. We knew we wouldn't be able to see anything, but we kept driving because it was such a cool road, extremely windy and surrounded by trees and rock. Combined with the rain, the drive was a cool enough experience on it's own!
Next we drove the car to Mike's friend Frank's house in San Rafael where he was hosting a Texas-style chili meal. A whole bunch of former Pixar interns were there and again it was a good group of people to hang out with and listen to. Plus the chili was amazing. I probably should have only had one bowl, but two seemed like a good idea. We ate the chili in the "proper" style. This involved putting a layer of Frito's corn chips at the bottom of the bowl, covering in chili, then sprinkling shredded cheese on top followed by a squirt of lime and a huge glob of sour cream. I've never had chili that good ever in my life.
There was a Toys 'R Us in San Rafael, so we made an obligatory stop to check out the Cars toys for Mike. Although they didn't have any that he didn't already own, they did have the largest selection of Cars toys either of us had ever seen in one place. At least 30 unique toys including some rare ones like the Yeti. I also used the opportunity to try out Guitar Hero 3, and it was awesome so I'll have to buy that right away.
We had to leave the chili party early so that we could go over to Berkeley and meet up with some of Mike's other friends (Matt, Orion and Damen) for Orion's birthday. Before we met them however, we made a stop at the North Face outlet store. That place was awesome, I've never seen coats that cheap before and it was gigantic. I picked myself up a new winter coat which was well over 50% off.
We met Mike's friends at Pyramid, a restaurant/brewery combo place. The food was not bad, and the beer was pretty good. I had an apricot beer and it was well balanced, not overwhelming with apricot flavour. I couldn't eat supper though due to all the chili so I just split a dessert and an appetizer with Mike. While we were at the restaurant there was a College football game on TV and sure enough it was the game that was associated with the marching band I saw the day before. Lets just say the fans at the restaurant were equally noisy. Go Sports!
After supper we all went back to Mike's place and watched Ratatouille which just came out on DVD the day before. Damen and Orion hadn't seen it before and they both loved it. Such a good movie!
After the busy day on Saturday, we slept in this morning and just generally took it easy all day. Around lunch time we headed to the Ferry building and the market there to check out the food and the area. Lunch was a couple pieces of roast beef sushi (very tasty) and a sourdough loaf with local brie. We ate out on the pier overlooking the Bay bridge.
Next we headed out to catch a streetcar up to Fisherman's Wharf but we just missed one of them so we had to wait about half an hour for the next. It turned out alright though because there were a bunch of people out skateboarding and doing BMX stuff in the area so at least there was something to watch. When the streetcar finally came it turned out that it was late so they gave everyone a free ride. Not bad. Fisherman's wharf was pretty touristy, but it was still neat to see. We saw the Boudin bakery where they transport the fresh bread around in baskets hanging from tracks on the ceiling and we also walked around the docks and stuff.
The two coolest parts of the wharf for me were the In-N-Out Burger and the sea lions. I've wanted to eat at an In-N-Out burger ever since I first saw the Big Lebowski (those are good burgers Walter), and it did not disappoint. They have an extremely small menu but the burgers were pretty much the definition of a fast food burger. It's like all the other fast food burger joints in the world copied In-N-Out burger but never were able to make burgers quite as well. Awesome. Plus I was able to verify that they still slip subtle Christian messages into their meals. The bottom of my cup and the underside of my french fry container each had a reference to a verse from the bible in it. Craziness.
The sea lions were at Pier 39 where there is a stack of floating docks that the sea lions seem to gravitate too. As far as I can tell they just sit there all day sleeping, barking and playing with each other. It was hilarious to see them there. I watched them for 15 or 20 minutes and this one guy didn't move at all. Some of the others kept knocking each other into the water and then fighting and barking about it. Hilarious. In addition to all the sea lions there were a bunch of cool sea birds, including what I think were pelicans. Not sure, but they had great big beaks with a big flappy area underneath to hold lots of stuff inside. And that's right, I didn't ever take zoology or anything like that, how did you know?
After Fisherman's Wharf we headed back downtown to check out a place called the Metreon, which is a movie theatre combined with a few fun stores, like a specialty bookstore and an awesome comic/toy store. Then we went back up to the mall and chilled for a while at a fancy coffee shop with some dessert and tea.
We're back at Mike's place now, just chilling, watching some The Office and Simpons from this week. I think we'll probably eat some more candy or something and then chat for a while before going to bed. I'm up early tomorrow for my Alcatraz tour and Mike has to go back to work.
Alcatraz was so much less touristy than I thought it would be. I mean it was still totally a tourist spot, but it's also national park so it's a bit classier than Fisherman's Wharf, for example. Of course there's the jail and all that flashy stuff, but the island also has lots of cool nature-related stuff and you get an amazing view of the city from there.
I headed to the island by ferry at about 10am this morning and it was a great day for it. I did a guided tour of the island that discussed various breakout attempts. It's a bit of a far swim and there water is cold and has strong currents that can sweep you out to sea. Five people escaped, but they were never seen again anywhere so it's suspected that they all drowned in their attempts. The coolest escape attempt involved cutting through the stone walls with sharpened spoons and then climbing through the shafts behind the cells. The guys put fakes heads made of soap on their pillows to make it look like they were still in their cells overnight (in the dark the heads looked good enough). Then they made a boat out of raincoats, and although the boat was found the bodies never were. The holes in the cell walls are still visible in the prison so that was pretty cool. I also did an audio tour of the main cell house and finally spent some time walking around the other areas of the island on my own. Back in the day the guards and their families lived on the islands and they brought lots of plants and flowers so it's quite pretty there now. Rare birds nest on the island at certain times of the year and the parks service actually shuts down the nesting areas at that time to prevent the public from disturbing the birds. One of the species of nesting birds is apparently the Canada Goose. They didn't claim it was rare or anything but it made me laugh anyway. I hope people don't think that bird is special, going to Waterloo has convinced me that the Canada Goose is evil, or at the very least incredibly mean.
I'm on the ferry back to the mainland now. I'm going to grab some food at the ferry building again and then walk up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower.
I'm just back from the beach now and I absolutely loved it! The ocean is just so big and amazing and the beach here was gorgeous. I think I just really like the water and like being someplace where I can see it regularly. I love my apartment in Toronto, and a lot of that has to do with being able to look out over the lake whenever I like.
Earlier today, as the ferry back from Alcatraz reached the dock I noticed pink globby things floating in the water near the boat. It took me a while but I eventually figured out they were jellyfish! That was pretty cool. I didn't get any pictures though because we got kicked off the boat just after I noticed them. Anyway, I headed down to the ferry building and bought a big salad to eat for lunch. Then I walked back up and found some stairs that climbed Telegraph Hill through a series of gardens and trees and apartments. It was a beautiful area and I bet the apartments cost a fortune. At the top was Coit Tower which didn't seem all that special in itself, but gave a great view of the whole city so it was worth the ride to the top.
After Coit Tower I walked downtown going through Little Italy and Chinatown with a stop to get some really good Gelato from a random shop along the way. The sun was setting though and I wanted to get to the beach before dark so I caught a bus as soon as I could and made it just in time to get some awesome photos.
I fly out tomorrow at lunch so I'm packing up all my stuff now. Between souvenirs, my new winter coat, the stuff I'm taking back and the three new t-shirts I got it's going to be a tight fit. I'm glad I brought the bigger suitcase!
Tonight Mike and I went to this really good Indian restaurant near his apartment. We had a coconut chicken dish which was different from all the other coconut currys I've had before (ie. the coloured currys: green, red, golden). This was a golden curry, but it didn't taste like it. This dish was awesome. We shared the restaurant with a single group of about 30 people, that seemed to be celebrating something related to this guy who looked like a Buddhist monk. It was pretty cool although we never figured out what the occasion was. After supper we went to a nice coffee shop in the area and stayed there until they closed up for the evening. Now we're going to watch some Family Guy and chat for while but for the most part I guess my trip is done!
I had a fairly easy trip back to the airport this morning. I took a bus downtown and then caught a BART train that took me right to the airport. Toronto could really use a train of some sort that goes direct to the airport. I'm on the plane right now and it has the in-seat entertainment units again so I'm going to finish up the Simpsons movie and probably read for a while too. It's been an awesome trip but I missed a bunch of stuff so I'll have to come back again soon!