Tuesday, March 30, 2010

It's a Digital Thing

So, today – big times. Woke up early, played some games. Played some more games. Ate a chocolate bar. Games were played. In all fairness though, these were co-op games so it counts as socializing.

Then it was seven o'clock and we both realized perhaps it was time for breakfast. And your assumption that this was seven o'clock at night? Yeah, that's pretty much correct.

But where did dinner take us? Oh where indeed. The place that I think I might need to visit at least once on every future American tour – The Olive Garden. I'd say I've not been there since forever, but we all know that's not true. Three months back in Florida it was just as wonderful.

But – this time – I'd learned my lesson. I knew the portions would be huge, and that there was no need to get anything gigantic. Nope, this guy went for the smalled thing he could get. But the bread sticks, and the potatoes and sausage soup – they just kept coming. By the time my ravioli showed up, it was a disaster just to think about. A wonderfully delicious disaster.

This blog – brought to you by the Olive Garden, over feeding people at cheap prices since – well a long time ago. It's for the best they're not in Canada anymore, I do believe. So much food. So very very much food.

And that was a wonderful escape. So then we headed back and cleared Lego Star Wars and all the bonus levels.

And then? Well then my gracious host went to sleep as he'd have work the next day. Me? I went demo crazy on the PS3. I downloaded and played the Ghost Busters demo, and the Heavy Rain demo. Ghost Busters – maybe not the greatest game, but the story looked solid, and as it's considered canon as “Ghost Busters 3” I will need to get around to it.

Heavy Rain? Well, I'm sold – sold on the controls, and the game play. Granted the voice acting is just as terrible as everyone has been saying (really? French accents all around? No better talent? Please.) but it was still enough to make me seek out an opportunity to get my hands on it some time in the future.

And there were others. Some good, some bad, but all important enough to experience. Just to know what they're like. And with download speeds faster than 1.5MB a second, well there's the bandwidth to support this newly discovered addiction.

Katimari came too.

Eventually, say five am, I decided it was best to go to sleep. Which I did.

Alone in a house with a PS3 and super download speeds, and so many games that I've not yet played. What oh what will tomorrow bring? Pray for me. It can only go downhill (read: uphill) from here.

Lego Star Wars and Hot Tub Time Machines

So that trip to Fry's the other day? It led to a terrible thing. Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga was purchased. This, of course, meant that we had to play Lego Star Wars. And this meant that hour simply disappeared.

As if that was not bad enough, I also found myself saying, “Hey, what is Little Big Planet really like?” And then a terrible amount of downloadable levels were played. I will have you know that the Street Fighter Two levels? Superb. Absolutely wonderfully detailed.

And then it was seven o'clock.

The two friends that I had met over different days combined forces and we became a group of four heading out for good Italian food, and then over to the movie theatre. And what movie were we headed to watch? Hot Tub Time Machine, of course.

I didn't think I'd say this – but it was a super good movie. It doesn't take itself all that serious and it was a lot of fun. Alright – no I feel slightly dirty. What did I do today? I played video games, and I watched a terrible (read: delightful) movie. And that was just about all – except for when I caught up on my watching of LOST to get myself to the current episode.

So, not really doing all that much in Silicon Valley, but I can tell you it's everything I'd want to do. I do not need to always see the sights. I am more than content to hang out with good people and do regular every day things. It's a good life, and here's to good people.

Yup – that's all. After the movie more games ensued, and we cleared Lego Star Wars to the end of Episode IV. Big exciting day, and tomorrow? I'm expecting more the same.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Alrighty, well let us look at today, shall we? Started off with a bowl full of cheerios, and over the next gew hours there were some chocolate bars involved. Delicious Caramilk bars. This would be food until night. And this was all good and fine, because – well – one meal a day sounds right for me.

Now it should be noted that breakfast was at around 11, as that's when I dragged myself back to life on the couch. I'd spent most of the night in and out of sleep uploading a good four or five gigs of videos that have been gathering on my memory cards for the last few months.

There's something nice about being in the tech capital of the world, and that is that there s some excellent internet access out here. Under normal instances those videos would never have made their way onto the web due to lack of ability to get them up – but now? In theory I'll re-integrate them with their correct posts – but not right now. You can check them out at my YouTube account if you please - www.oneyeartrip.com/oneyeartrip/

So there I was being awake, and of course that led to Uncharted, and then that led to watching Ferris Bueller's Day Off. And then there was some more media consumed, and some more video games – until the PS3 overheated and needed some time to cool down. So that was for the best.

Repeat this a few times and that brings us to about seven o'clock where it was decided that food would be a good thing. Food and a second PS3 controller. So off to Fry's. I had never seen a Fry's, though I knew of it from Douglas Coupland's Microserfs. Fry's is an everything store which has a tech focus. It also has themes. The one around here is Western theme complete with fake cactus, and wagon out front. Inside it continues with horses, and other such nonsense. My one comment as we entered, “why is this real?”

With PS3 controller in hand, and an impulse buy of Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga – value at twenty dollars – we headed off for food.

Another of my buddy's friends joined us for tasty Chicago style pizza. And it was there that my desire to head to Chicago grew. Not really to see the city as much as I'd like to eat the food there. I mean if this pizza was so good here, how could it be anything but perfection up there?

It was also at the pizza place that the guy at the table next to us drunkenly suggested that I might be an undercover cop he once worked with – and that if I wasn't, there was a job for me. Good to know. And part of me wondered, having watched a lot of COPS here, what would it really take to get a job working with the police? Infiltrating biker gangs didn't sound too appealing though.

It was then suggested to my buddy's friend that before he marries his girlfriend (dude at the table over had been paying good attention to our conversations) he should first go to Iceland, hook up with an Icelandic chick, eat some whale, and then get married. The drink dudes wife seemed to think this wasn't a terrible idea either. Strange things occur at the pizza shop.

The next six hours, until four in the morning, were consumed with watching media, games, and discussions about Star Trek, Star Wars, BSG – and how the last ten minutes destroyed the entire bloody series, and Star Gate.

While I recall that we watched a number of things ranging from Titan AE to the Family Guy Star Wars spoofs, I really only recall the Family Guy episodes. And how fantastic they were – what was I doing avoiding them for so long? During the other things conversation took over. I seem to recall a lot of time being needed to properly discuss the ramifications that the last ten minutes of Battlestar Galactica had on the entire series. It was that terribly terrible.

And then to prove that we were terribly geeky we scrolled though the plot summaries of all the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes. Tragically when we were done going through them it was like we had actually seen them. There's a lot of tragic knowledge stored there.

I also had the pleasure of bringing the joys of Dr. Horrible to someone who had never seen it – and really should have. Unfortunately there wasn't time to watch Look Around You – also good. But, I did play some Robot Unicorn, and that – that made everything alright.

So yes, there it is – media consumption, terrible geekdom, and that's just fine. Hell, think of where I am – it's about par for the course, yeah?

Parting Ways and Leaving San Francisco Behind

I woke up early, headed to Union Square to check my internet, bought Two Jack in the Box Ultimate Breakfast sandwiches, and then headed back to the hotel.

I greeted Katherine, drying her hair, with a deliciously greasy morning meal. Eight bites later, it as time to do a final glance around the room, check for any lost or missing items, and then leave the hostel behind us. As we checked out it was a solemn affair, and the walk down to the cable car's turn table was much more quiet than usual.

Standing in the BART station I helped her buy her ticket on the machines that caused us no end of trouble one week ago, and then we stood. It would be three months until we saw each other again – and sure there was the wonders of internet to keep in contact, but still – it wouldn't be three months until we got to explore any new cities, or attractions, together again.

The parting of ways was long in the underground, and then as she descended below on the escalator, I headed up to the streets surface.

I made a pay phone call (receiving fifty cents from the phone's change return for my toll free trouble) to my buddy who I'd be spending the next few days with. He told me to grab the three o'clock train and meet him around four, when he was getting off of work.

I had five hours to kill – but this bothered me not. I headed back to Union Square, found a plug to jack into, and connected to the parks wifi once more. So long as the rain held off, this would be a perfect excuse to spend hours on the internet catching up on my blogging, and replying to emails. Not having touched base with the world in nearly a week, my parents were sure to be thinking the worst. And they were! Messages sent assuring them I was alive, and off to the blogging.

As I sat tying one surreal moment occurred. A teenager in a striped colourful shirt came up to me, and said, “excuse me.” He then keeled beside me. “I have something to tell you,” all the while talking in a calm voice, awkward but kind, “I just want you know that Jesus loves you. Look if that sounds weird then... Take it, leave it – do what you want. I just thought you should know.” He then stood up, and joined his two friends, and walked off.

Is it wrong that my first reaction was the check to make sure I still had my wallet in my pocket?

Just before one the wifi dropped and I couldn't get it back. This, coupled with my growing need to pee, sent me out in search of a washroom. With an eighty liter pack on your back, you are not inconspicuous. However, San Francisco has a number of public green washrooms around the city. I found one, y need to use it growing exponentially by my proximity to it, but the dude inside would not leave. Fifteen minutes later – fifteen! - he finally came out, and then I had to wait for the 55 second clean cycle. While this was, I'm sure, for the best, it was hard to bear.

When the door refused to open after the clean, that was too much. I forced it open, went inside, and just hoed that it wouldn't re-start the clean cycle until I was out.

Waiting, I'd been reading Jurassic Park, and though I still couldn't re-connect to wifi, reading in the park seemed a lovely way to spend a few hours.

I was impressed by how many people spent so many hours here. Having logged a number myself, it was lovely. people watching is great at Union Square, some others are doing just that – friends hang out, just sitting on the steps in the warm sun, and others like myself choose to beak away and read. It really will be hard to let this city go. I wonder if they need Canadian teachers here?

Time came, and I grabbed the bus to the CalTrain station, and then picked up a three zone ticket there to take me down to Silicon Valley. Land of highways, towns every couple of miles, connected by urban sprawl, and not a whole lot else – well except for the various tech campuses. And universities. And anything else that the high tech industry needs.

To be honest, I wasn't here to sightsee, I was here to visit an old friend. And within a few hours of arriving it was as good as old times. A sweet apartment I was going to be staying in, with quite possibly the best entertainment set up I've seen, complete with delightful leather couch.

Connected to the TV was a computer, video games, and all sorts of other techie treats. Watching internets on giant screens? Apparently that's the only way to roll. I wouldn't have it any other way anymore.

I played some Uncharted, and got my butt handed to me by the AI for far longer than I should have been, even with the difficulty turned down to as easy as possible. After that, we watched a Doc on the BBS era, and reminisced about running ours back in the day.

From there it just kind of went on more or less the same, coupled with a brief trip to Wal-Mart to stock up on batteries. While there I came across two ridiculous ways to get cheap AAA batteries. For five dollars, I ended up with a digital picture frame shaped like a golf ball, capable of showing seventy pictures if uploaded properly. And I also grabbed a wee little frame that takes pictures and puts faces on cartoon bodies. Also ridiculous – but together I got five AAA batteries out of the deal. And the tech too, yeah?

Ohh in other news, while at Wal-Mart the computer back at the apartment was busy running PhotoRec bringing my dead memory card back to life, and saving the images I had thought lost. Two backups were made of them. Success!

In chronological news – the date is March 26.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

One Last Day Down By the Bay

What do you do on your last day in a majestic city? Sleep in of course.

Sleeping in – it's great. It really is. Just make sure you hang the do not disturb sign the night before, or at nine in the morning housekeeping will come a knocking. Seriously – nine in the morning? What type of sick people normally stay here where they think that makes sense?

Aside from that though – this hotel has been perfect. I'd mention the name if I remembered it – it's just down Geary street two blocks from Union Square. The reviews online destroyed it – but it's great. The location is wonderful. And it was only 50 bucks a night. There are hostels where a private double room would cost more than that.

So all in all, good job hotel – good job.

When, blinking, we stepped into the sun our first stop was food. That would be the mission for the day – food. Eating everything we'd not yet eaten. And this began with the quintessential American experience – the Denny's Grand Slam breakfast. Pancakes, sausage, hashbrown, and eggs. It's filling, it's fantastic, it's fun. Because it's called the Grand Slam.

Having put away so much food we could not head straight out to – well anything – a wee walk was needed. But not one outside, there are bears outside. We went to the mall – this was qite the place, with a giant dome, and all sorts of pretty things to look at. I thought, the people who do the podcasts I listen to probably go watch movies here – ohh – I was star struck. Then I got over it. Except I didn't.

I found a book store though, and that occupied my mind for an hour. Did you know there's a sequel (prequel) to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? I really need to get on reading the first one. There were many books – including a number of signed Christopher Moore books (him being from this city) – and other things I wanted. But after yesterday i now had a pack full of books, and no more room to add anything.

Sigh. I had to leave.

With breakfast in bellies, and malls walked, we headed for a Carl's Jr. Banana milk shake. This was not needed. But it sure was delicious. Having finished that we went off on the street car to the Wharf. It was, after all, almost time for lunch

Down by the bay (you know you're thinking the second half to this) we wandered gift shops where Katherine threw aside my fantastic suggestions for presents she should get for her family. Until I suggested things that made more sense. I guess that's important – having gifts make sense.

All that shopping got us ready for our next meal, only a few hours after our last. Boudin called to me. I craved their sour dough pizza, and needed it. I needed it! And I had it. And it was good. And Katherine had the Caesar salad, and by Katherine had, I mean I had as she was full. Trying t enjoy the local Anchor Steam beer also proved a challenge, but one I would delight in.

And then it was time for dinner. Yes, this happened as fast in real life, as here on the page. Time was running short, there wasn't a whole lot for us to do, so dinner called. But – before I could force Katherine into another meal of pain, she mentioend the cable car museum. I had wanted to go there, and said as much.

She claimed we could still see it. There was logic to her maddness, and so climbing on board a cable car, and standing on the side, trying not to get my bag caught on anything, we made our way over. The museum is also the power centre for the cables.

Inside you can see all the cables being pulled along, and a window under the street allows a view of all the workings there.

I was also abet o finally see something I'd been thinking about since I got to this city – a map of the system during its prime. I couldn't believe it. I knew there must have been a lot of lines here, but the cable cars covered almost as much as the modern buses do now. This was a very efficent system and they were not emssing around.

San Francisco perfected the cable gripping, car tugging (at 9.5 mph) mass transit system. And one can only guess at what it would be today if not for the quake and fires early last century.

Whoever thought of cable cars – which I'm sure the museum mentioned – they deserve a big ol' pat on the back – putting wheels underground to move wire that vehicles can clamp onto? It sounds like the form of mass transit a science fiction writer would think of, not something to be done in real life – and yet there it is, still in operation today (nearly ended in 1947 – but a civilian revolt put an end to that.)

Museum appreciated – dinner. Donuts for Dinner! Doooooonuts for Diiiiiinner! Instead of a big, planned, Rainforest Cafe, bookending meal, we opted for a bag of fresh little donuts, as they required less belly room. They were delicious, and wonderful to see made in front of or eyes. They were also only six fifty for two dozen, which seems fairly priced for these types of treats.

The perfect way to end our SF culinary experience.

With that meal in the bag, it was back to the hotel and time to start packing up choosing what stuff to send home with Kath, and what to keep, backing up files, and watching some mind numbing television. It kept minds off of the parting of ways that tomorrow would bring.

Donuts for Dinner!

Beaches, Bridges, and Little Asias

Waking up early for the first time this trip, we were on a mission. A mission to save seven dollars!

We made our way down to the Japanese Tea Garden in order to get there between nine and ten in the morning, when the entrance was free. We may have overshot our estimate a little bit. Just after eight we rolled up, and stood in front of the great wooden gates. Now these gates were not locked, but pushing them open and barging in – that probably wouldn't go over well. So we waited. And we waited.

And then the screaming children showed up. Yes, screaming children led by over anxious grandma. She, “explain[ed] the rules about field trips,” to her wee ones. Then they ran off and hid, and screamed, and screamed and hid. This was too much before breakfast. But then the Japanese showed up. The racist, racist Japanese.

At nine o'clock when the gates should have opened, they remained closed. And for the next ten minutes Katherine and I had it explained to us that this would not have happened if that Japanese were running the gardens. No, instead it was the lazy Chinese. For years, we were told, the Japanese community had complained about this – it is, after all, not the Chinese tea garden. But the Chinese won the contract.

I had a hard time understanding how the employees were hired simply based on their ethnic origin, but I feared to entertain these thoughts, instead sending Katherine to talk to the man about the pretty colours of the flowers, thus switching topics, and allowing me free to read Jurassic Park.

And then the gates opened. First in line! First in line!

Stepping inside was like stepping into what I assume Kyoto will look like. I have no doubt that Kyoto will, in actuality, resemble a city and not a garden, but I'll know for sure in a few weeks.

There were stone paths over coy ponds, cherry blossoms in full bloom colourng the gardens white, pink, and red, and pagoda reaching up into the blue blue sky. Walking over the drum bridges, that seem to make little sense, aside from stylistic points of view, or to slow people down – perhaps not let them escape the wonderful garden- and twisting and turning down pathways, watching reflections change, and the cherry blossoms ebb and flow in number was a relaxing way to start any moment. And to find such a place hidden away in the city, well that's just part of what makes San Francisco such a charming place to visit.

From the peaceful gardens we headed back to the Golden Gate Bridge. I had forgotten to take a few much needed pictures there. It also allowed me access to the frozen lemonaid treats and that was worth the trip all on its own. As soon as a cafe breakfast was consumed (protip: the chocolate muffins there are amazing!) we headed down the pathways to the beach.

One mile will put you at a sand ladder. This is a sandy slope with wood hidden under it to bring you much pain. But then there's a bonus reveal as you reach the bottom – it becomes obvious that the far end, towards the magnificent views of the bridge, is actually a nude beach. There will be at least one naked man laying on the sun, messing up (or enhancing, depending on your point of view) you photos. Be warned. There is no beach access this way without the distressing naked man flopping around. Not as bad as Barcelona, but not delightful either.

The beach is cold, deadly to swim in due to bacteria and rip tides, and also a black hole for dogs. But the views? They make it worth the journey.

We had planned on more hikes but couldn't figure out how to hop from one section of the beach to the next, and so quickly gave up and jumped on the bus. It read NO SERVICE when we got on board, but clearly that was just a trick, because in no time we were getting out n Japan Town.

I've always preferred the name Little Tokyo, but no – Japan town here. And they have banners to go along with it. What is Japan Town? Well – I cal tell you this, there's a Goodwill here. A good will selling me books – cheap cheap books – and that's all I needed to know. But aside from that? Businesses. There's nothing fun, nothing colourful – so after a quick stop to unload all my newly purchased books (none of them being sequels to Shopaholic – because that would be terrible) we jumped on the California street car line and headed down to China Town.

This is what Japan Town should have been! China Town in San Francisco is better than Toronto's, and it hurts me to say that, because Toronto was ranked number one until this moment. Lanterns are hung across the streets, and shops of all sorts beg you to enter. The colours, sights, smells – it all comes together and makes you feel as if you're in the mysteries of China, but surrounded by the comforts of North America. So long as you're on the main street. You go to any other part of China Town and there are no comforts – you either speak the language, or just guess at how much things will cost, and what they will be. My pork bun turned out to be a carrot bun. Sigh.

The shops here offered what I wanted – all number of Japanese toys. Yes, you'd think Japan Town would have taken care of this, but no – it did not. China Town offered me the blind box toys and crazy figures, and other such things that I had been craving. Unfortunately, they didn't have the ones i was after. This was probably for the best, now that I think on it.

It pains me to think of how I'll be decorating any place I live in from here on out.

With the little Asian towns checked out, and enjoyed, I was off to fulfill a real mission of mine. I needed to buy a memory card, or USB stick. I would need a best buy. I also wanted to check out the Apple store to play their touch screen games, and think about how I might buy one when the next generation comes out.

This would mean finding these stores. And this was not as easy as it should be.

We headed down to the Finanacnial district to find two malls there – spanning four city blocks. But there was nothing. Nothing for my techy needs. Just clothes, and other such things.

Then we headed up to Market Street to the mall there, but once more we were unable to locate either of the stores I had my heat set on. However the security guard there was quick to point us in the right direction. The Apple store was just across the road. I couldn't convince Katherine that she needed one – why would she need to use internet, or play games on her mp3 player? This was a good point – but still, people may have said the same about their “word processing machines” (computers, yo) decades past.

Trying to get her to sit through the seminar that they were doing? Not going to happen. I love this marketing – offering power point presentations explaining the tech to people in the store. They're very good at what they do, these evil apple people,

And then it was off to Best Buy which required going south of the overpass, where the magical nature of this city starts to fall apart and the urban sides are revealed for what they are. These are the areas you don't feel quite as safe in at night. Lucky for us the sun was just setting as we stepped off the bus.

I'm sure if I knew the city it would turn out to be fine, and needless to worry – but that's the charm of unfamiliar ground.

In the Best Buy I was able to grab a new 16GB memory stick for all my backup needs, and then get on out, and miss the bus twice – this being important as it allowed me time to realize that I would have been headed the wrong was on the bus.

And then back to the city centre, which I knew and loved.

Before me stood one final obstacle. I had to buy more shampoo, body wash, and tooth paste. Oh you think this is an easy task – and I understand why you'd be so naive. In the Wallgreens, there were all the things I needed. But they were not going to make this easy on me. No – every item was locked behind glass. Why the Fructus shampoo needed to be locked away, while Head and Shoulders didn't was beyond me – but four times I needed to rind the staff to get them to bring a key over. And four times it felt awkward as all things. But by the end of the night, I had obtained Axe Arctic Blast body wash (ohh Arctic Blast!) and the aforementioned Fructus shampoo with conditioner, some toothpaste, and deodorant. What a day, what a day. Excitement abounds!

And now, just one full day remains... What mysterious adventures will it hold?!

The Golden Great Bridge

Time to walk, and walk, and walk around. San Fran is not a tiny little city. It is a huge monsterous beast that stretches out in all directions. And while I think tourist maps would like to forget that the west exists, compressing it to 1:5 while the east gets to live out in all its 1:1 glory, they can not. For it is in the west that that little bridge thing exists.

Tourist maps probably wish they could just trick us and say that the Bay Bridge is the important one (hey, they look the same) but no – it's not orange. And this city isn't going to send people to their doom painting two bridges orange! So out west you need to travel. I suggest the bus – it's a rather long walk from Union Square, and the cute little street cars don't quite make it. At all.

Not wanting to have a day just at a bridge Katherine and I started a few miles south on a pathway known as Lover's Lane (we both just about threw up when we read the name.) It passes through eucalyptus forests, and then tours around some wooden officers houses from wars past. Like many trails in America they almost get it right. You could forget that you were in a large urban city, if not for the fact that you had a road right beside you!

Passing houses that looked as if large men in white suits needed to be sitting on the porch drinking jugs of lemon-aid while beginning each new thought with, “I say,” repeated once or twice for effect, we commented on how different this city would be in the rain – and how much less enjoyable and magical it might seem.

The road led to a cemetery. One that needed to be entered by hopping brick fences, as road construction was keeping the entrance unaccessible. It was here that we saw our first sign for LOG CABIN [arrow]. These signs would haunt us as we made our way through detours, along the bike paths – all of which run beside, or under, six lane highways. The pet cemetery was not visited due to its current status as “construction dumping ground.” Poor Rover.

These log cabin signs were everywhere. I can't imagine what is so special about a cabin, but something was. Although it never seemed to appear. We must have spotted five signs all pointing towards where it supposedly was, but no – nothing.

And then as we walked along highways, and biways, we came to The Bridge.

I don't know why they call it the Golden Gate Bridge. I'd have called it the Goldern GREAT Bridge! Ah-ha-ha-ha! I bet I'm the first person to ever think of that since 1937! Or, you know, at least – the big orange bridge.

Stock up on water before you begin to cross it – if you begin to cross it. There will be no place to buy supplies at the other end. There will be bathrooms though – but no vending machine. Opportunity missed!

As you make your way along the bridge try not to become annoyed with all the bikes dinging their little rented bells at you, as they approach from behind. Try not to stop and spread out your arms, hoping they clip them. Here's the think Bikes – I'm from Toronto, and I hate when you're on the pedestrian path. And now, you're forced onto the pedestrian path. Just because you're allowed here doesn't mean that you get the right of way – no, it's still us walkers, and guess what? I heard you the first six times you rang the bell – the next twenty dings? Did they add anything? No. And being pushed off your bike here, well that's nothing you want to lead towards, as it's a long drop to the waters below.

Which is why this bridge is the number one suicide spot in all the world! Sure they could put fences up like they do at the beginning and end to protect the workers below, but that wouldn't be nearly as pretty. If they spread out four “Help” phones, and small signs indicating how much you have to live for, and that jumping to your doom probably wouldn't be a good idea, that will solve everything.

Katherine contemplated how perfect a dive would need to be to survive the fall. And then squealed seeing a sea lion playing down below. This was watched for some minutes, under the post-noon sun. Pssh – looks like a fur seal I saw in Antarctica, I remarked. I was promptly hit. And rightly so.

Don't you listen to anyone who tells you that you can make this walk in an hour round trip. They are liars. Filthy liars. If you intend to enjoy the walk across, and take some photos, look out at the bay, shoot the city scape and take a moment here and there to calm and not scream at the bikers it will take you an hour. One hour there. The return trip, if you keep moving, forty minutes. And you'll be pulled by the carrot of a snack shop on the other side, which after the two hours (including a brief rest) will seem like heaven with throat parched, and hands sunburned (first time for everything.)

2.99 gets you a large frozen lemon aid ice-creamy sorbety treat. And it is wonderful. The hardest decision – will you get Original Lemon, or Strawberry lemon-aid flavour?

Treats must be hidden as you board the bus. We were going to walk the beach, which extends for some distance, under two miles from the bridge, but instead hopped on the bus to explore Golden Gate Park (this park is a monster running over twenty six city blocks. Good shoes encouraged.)

There we made our way to the Japanese Tea Garden. Seven dollars to get in?! Please Japanese Tea-Garden, please. But wait, if you come Monday, Wednesday, or Friday between the hours of 9 and 10 in the morning, it's free? Why that's tomorrow! We'll see you then!

Back to the bus, and back to Pier 39.

Hey, where's a Klingon's favourite place in San Francisco?
Fisherman's WORF!

Ahh – I'm amazing.

At pier 39 we embarked on three 4D adventures. Ohh! Sponge Bob's quest for the missing pickle, followed by the rescue of Tony the Tyrannosaurus from Dinosaur Island, capped off by a magical log ride through the Himalamazon! I could accept the Sponge Bob one, and the Dinosaur one too – but I could suspend my disbelief only so far for the final ride. Though it was the most enjoyable, they seemed to feel the need to add back story to it – You become a log, as it makes its way through the factory, which is created with super trees to help save the world in 2020. I'm still buying in at this point, but then your log ride takes you through ancient ruins, and alligators snap at you, and at the end there's a banner thanking you for coming. Look – why would they have a banner to thank a log? Are these super trees sentient? And if so – destroying them in this fashion is sick! Why are animals trying to eat these logs? Super beaver crocodiles? I think not. And what sort of irresponsible monster builds a factory through ancient ruins? The same, perhaps, who would build such an elaborate factory, I guess.

The eight year olds behind me really seemed to like it. Apparently they weren't thinking of these things.

On the way out of the adventure ride to hand back my 3D glasses I saw a poster for another movie that they had circulating now and then – an Aliens 4D adventure. My – God! I want to ride that one! It's the only licensed one they had, aside from Sponge Bob. It was real Geiger Aliens style Aliens. Not Space Wars, written like Star Wars, or an Indiana Jones rip off. This was authentic.

And I can only imagine, amazing.

I helped ease my pain at missing out on such a thrill over fish and chips devoured, and helped paid for my a 15% off coupon given to us by the lady who worked in the tourist centre one floor up. You've not seen such disdain on the face of a waiter as we did on this one when we handed over the card. I don't know why he was angry – was he the owner? Would those five dollars break him? We wouldn't have even been eating there did the lady not recommend them. And she probably wouldn't have recommended them if the coupon didn't exist. Ugh – people.

All in all? Fish and chips? Alright – though the slaw was the star of the show for me. Not liking Vinegar slaw, Katherine passed hers over. Success.

On the cable car ride back to Union Square, we discovered another thing about this mode of transport. If they don't get enough speed going around corners, they will stop. The driver had to jump out, but couldn't get it moving by pushing. Kath and I also jumped down to the streets, and added our strength to the pool, starting it up, and giving it enough momentum to make it around the bend. We were the instructed to, “jump back on, jump back on,” before we took off downhill.

Though the cars are kept at a reasonably slow speed these days – when they were the primary mode of transport, I wonder what breakneck pace they followed. All in good fun, I'm sure.

Escaping Alkatraz: Just Like Those Other Guys

No one has ever escaped Alcatraz! Until you look closer and realize that that's just terrible spin – after all, we all know Sean Connery managed to get out, even going so far as to hide microfilm in a church bench.

The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and strangely San Francisco had refused to pour down on us. I'll not complain about this, but as far as I was led to believe there was no such thing as good weather in this town. And yet, here I was riding the cable car under perfect conditions. Until we stopped moving.

Apparently the cable had stopped. It wasn't until this moment that I put any thought into what powered cable cars, bt hearing that the cable stopped – and later started to run backwards – made me consider all the various possibilities. While the vehicle moves on tracks, there is no power. There is no gasoline, nor electricity moving passengers from one stop to the next. Instead, there is a chain hidden beneath the city streets, being powered independent of the transport, onto which the cable car hooks. Connected, it is pulled up the hills like an urban roller coaster. And once the peak is crested, the hook is released, allowing the car to slide down the hill under its own momentum.

Think about it, cables running all over the city, underground. While only three lines exist today, when just before the majority of them were destroyed in 1907 the city must have been amazing. I would love to see detailed plans as to how all the chains interconnected, and avoided hitting each other. I'd also like to know what engine was powering their movement. The idea is ingenious, and the metropolis must have been a sight to behold in those days.

As it stands, the 5.00 a ride car are mostly novelties for tourists – locals option for te 2.00 bus. Still, with the metro pass coving all lines, sometimes The Mason-Powell line is the best way to go.

Until the cable stops running.

With the weather gods smiling down from above, there seemed to need to be disheartened by this turn of events. Instead, it was seen as a blessing. According to my map we were halted quite near to Coit tower. All the tour guides talk about it, it must be worth at least a little peak. So off Katherine and I jumped, and we began our journey – our ascent – to the tower.

What type of sick person builds a city like this?!

Always on the uphill. Those people who tell stories about walking ten miles to school up hill both ways? They lived in San Francisco – but they were lying about the snow. If it ever snowed in this town the whole city would shut down. Cars parked at 90 degrees to the sidewalk would start slipping down the hills, buses wouldn't be able to go anywhere, those tiny three wheeled parking enforcement buggies would zip around everywhere they weren't supposed to head. It would be chaos. And maybe San Francisco deserves that as they seem to have everything else handed to them here.

To Coit tower we walked, passing Washington Square, and little Italy. You can tell when you get to Litte Italy because all the grocery stores in China Town start turning into leather goods dispensaries.

Up hill we walked, but by some gracious piece of luck someone decided to build stairs into the slope. Oh – wait, no they didn't. They built two or three meters of stairs. And then it's back to hill, and a few meters down you have some stairs again, more hill, stairs, more hill. It's a hodge podge of who knows what went into designing this. But then you reach the base of Coit Tower - and before you can admire the construction that may or may not be shaped like the nozzle of a fire hose, you glimpse the Golden Gate bridge.

It's only once you've shaken yourself out of the stunned aww inspired state of seeing that particular piece of construction that you can look at the tower. Which doesn't seem quite so wonderful anymore.

Not wanting to retrace your steps down the road you walked up, there are stairs that lead down the hills to near-sea level. These stairs start off as concrete and metal, but soon turn to wooden constructions. Soon you find yourself walking through overhanging gardens, passing cute little cottages, on your quest down the steps. And they're so beautiful and enchanting that you don't really think about how impossible it would be to move in or out of these places.

Nor do you consider that your friends must really love you to drive all the way out, only to park, and then spend five minutes walking up or down stairs to see you. And if they forgot something in their car? Well it's all over. And let us hope they have a car, as no bus comes up these steep hills. That's why cable cars were invented – to help expand the city beyond the flatlands. Cable Cars!

At Pier 33 you wait for your boat to head over to Alcatraz, getting in line, and having a ridiculous picture taken of you in front of the island backdrop. This can be purchased later for 22USD for two 4x6. It seems odd that you have to buy both images, and that the price would be so high. Having already printed the pictures, any sale would be profit. Add that with the fact most of the images go unsold – offering one for ten bucks, or two for fifteen seems like it would work out better. Ten is an impulse buy – one bill. Good to go, and two for fifteen seems like a deal at that price. But two for twenty two? That's not impulse – costing more than a single bill – nor is there anything that makes it seem a deal such as offering one for fifteen. These people need to get their capitalistic act together.

Standing on the bow deck, I watched as the island grew larger and larger as we neared it. Signs still remain explaining the penalty for attempting to help people escape. And the spray paint declaring, “Indians Welcome,” still stands from their 1970s occupation of the island.

Ahh – yes, Alcatraz wasn't always a prison. It started as a fort hundreds of years ago to defend the bay area. The gold rush brought may people here, and there was a fear that the newly acquired state might fall. Then in the 30s it became a prison, until it started to fall apart and there way no money to upkeep it. In the 70s the Native population occupied the island in protest of their being forced onto reserves. Once this occupation was forcibly ended a year and a half later, the state decided to turn it into a public park, and tourist attraction.

Once on the island you can see special programs that offer tours, and unique tales, every two hours. There are also some movies to watch, and all sorts of little gifties to buy. Including posters of the rules and regulations – to be honest, I think a number of the Alcatraz rules and regulations would work wonderfully for teachers trying to get a handle on classroom behaviour. Go look 'em up. #21 is a goody.

You will walk past burned out buildings where the guards and their families lived, and you will pass by the water tower and the lighthouse. At the top of the hill you will be in the cell block. In the shower room you will pick up your free audio guide, and begin to make your way through the prison. The guide is well worth the listen and explains why you should care about the library, the various wings of cells, and why certain items can be seen in the recreations of the living spaces.

Prisoners tell their tales, as do the guards. The pock marks in the ground are explained as being caused by fragmentation grenades when one of the prisoners almost broke out of the super-max jail.

You will then be told that no one has ever been proven to have escaped from this place. At which point you start to think logically – and everything falls apart. In my opinion, three people escaped. And the more you listen, and read, and learn, the more obvious this becomes. This inescapable myth? Hooey!

No one has been proved to have escaped because to do that would have meant locating the on the mainland, outside of jail – at which point they would have been sent right back into jail! Thus their escape? Not successful. Three people did break out, and have remained unaccounted for. It is said that they most likely died in the water, being unable to swim across due to currents, and sharks. You are told that no one could have made the swim alive. In fact prisoners were given hot showers in this jail – the only in the country to offer this – just so they wouldn't adapt to cold water.

But if you keep looking into escape attempts you'll see that one of the escapees from another attempt was found at the foot of the Golden Gate bridge, where he passed out after successfully swimming across.

So – you put all that together, three people got out, whereabouts unknown, and there is president for the one kilometer (that's all) swim being made. The idea that all three would have drown together? I think not.

Also – to escape, there are no fire tunnels and moving saws like in the rock. You just need to jump over a fence, and run down the hill. Although some of the guards were crazy here and liked to shoot prisoners – but that's another story all together.

Your tour ends in the kitchen where you hand back your audio guide, are told that the food here was better than most people were eating at home, and then get ushered into the gift shop.

Look around, but make sure you're on the last boat back to the mainland. Who knows what happens if you miss it. And once on the mainland? Go find yourself something to eat! I recommend Boudin's bakery. So delicious.

This bakery offers you the tastiest sourdough crust pizza you've ever had. I could go on about it – but I don't need to. It's the best. The best pizza I've had since leaving Ontario. There. Done.

And that's another one in the books.

Bayside, and a Hippy's Mission

Alright San Francisco – you may have defeated me yesterday. But not today. No I had scoured over early morning maps, and finally found one (only available in the foreign language guidebooks) that offered a to scale view of the city, listing all the bus and tram routes. It was go time.

Today Katherine and I would head out first to the bay and check out the piers. The many many touristy pier. Still – this seems to be what visitors to San Francisco do, and who was I to avoid such a thing. Down the road we went, stopping but once to go into a Game Stop. The reason for this? I am trying to convince her to buy a PS3. You see, were she to buy a PS3 and own Heavy Rain, Uncharted 2, Little Big Planet, and the God of War games then I would be able to play them – I mean, she would get a good sense of current games, and enjoy them,

Walking her through the titles, I realized that there really were a lot of PS3 exclusive games worth playing. And prices for used games – most of them – weren't all that terrible. I know, I know, used games hurt the industry – but until people start doing thinks like Mass Effect has done (offering free content to those that buy new, but charging people to download the stuff if they buy used) what's the point? It's about bottom line here folks. Bottom line.

Also, the touch screen HD tv they have in the store with trailers for hundreds of games? This could prove a fantastic rainy day distraction.

But today was not rainy. There was sun. Edinburgh sun, but sun never the less. Off to the cable car! Today we rode the Hyde car, sitting in a lovely seat facing out at the city, and those handing on to the rails.

At Pier 45 we were entranced by the clam chowder being served in bread bowls. Katherine felt a great need to eat this feast, however having forced Burger King upon her only an hour earlier, there was no room for eating. It's not burger prince, or burger queens we're talking about here – no. Burger King! And if there's one thing that can be said about BK it's that if you eat there, you probably won't need to eat for the rest of the day. It's that filling.

Still – chowder in a bread bowl...

Passing all the shops, and people having a grand ol' time we ended up as Museum Mechanic. Except it's really written in French, and has a much cooler sounding name that way. I had wanted to visit this place, however I had no idea where it was located. That it was located in the tourist area delighted me, but also surprised me. When I saw it, on the Co-op show (where all my SF knowledge comes from, and the 1UP show before that) it was mostly deserted. But today? Full to the brim!

There were all number of things to waste quarters in, and as it was a historical experience you didn't feel bad about it.

There were three old baseball games that were like modified basic pinball. I played them all – I was owned in them all. I want to buy them and practice. If I lived in this area, they would become my new Skee-Ball... Skee-Ball... Skee-Ball... There must have been a Skee-Ball machine around here.

Finding it, Katherine sighed. I would be out of commission for the next little while until my quarters ran out. Even now, I think on it. I love Skee-Ball, and hit a classy 100 in my first game (never mind I was aiming at the 40.) If I could on one extravagance in my own home, a 3000 dollar Skee-Ball machine would be it. And not one of the knock offs like Ice Ball or Fire Ball, or a tiny kid version – it needs to be legit.

Finally becoming frustrated Katherine left my side in search of one of those old movie machines that showed naked people dancing for ten seconds.

I found her next at the Opium Den where a questionably racist display showed skeletons in closets, and dragons appearing, while Chinese men got high.

The amount of things to waste quarters in here? Inconceivable. Also, one of the fortune tellers rewarding you with a paper fortune, probably worth your money for the souvenir or the kitsch factor alone.

After your pockets have run dry (and don't forget dime and nickels as some machines run only on them, and there are no bill breakers that offer anything but quarters) you can make your way to the vending machine. There are a number of treats here, but the best (and at 20 bucks it's a little expensive, so it pains me to report I didn't buy it, though I love the idea of it so) is a book of photo strips. These are pictures taken in the photo booths left behind in the machine over the years. Snap shots of other peoples lives. And why were they left behind? What made them run off and forget? It's a charming concept.

Katherine returned without finding the naked people machine, but with a fortune telling her that travel was good. Also a smooshed penny with the arcades logo on it. If you're gonna smoosh a penny – might as well be here. I needed one too for my jangle jar.

Then you're back under the blue sky, looking out at Alcatraz. Alcatraz. That seemed like a good idea...

When we reached the pier selling tickets we were told that they were sold out until tomorrow. Very well, one ticket for the [insert time here] boat tomorrow. No, no, you can't choose times. Only the 1:45 isn't yet sold out. The 1:45 it is!

who knew that this was a thing that sold out, often weeks, in advance? If you're planning on taking the trip out here, book tickets on the internet and book them long before you come. It might make sense to book around this event. Keep in mind, we bought tickets for a Monday when school was still in. If this was spring break, or summer? Getting tickets might have been impossible. Still – we were prepared for tomorrow. And also aware that it would now pour rain as it was such a beautiful day – the sky actually becoming clear and blue – today.

Back to Pier 29 – the other tourist pier. There we wandered through Magic Shops, and were amazed by coins passing through hands, and cards flashing away. There were also merry-go-rounds that were avoided, but the 3D/4D rides were kept in mind as things that would be returned to if time ever permitted, and then there was – Funnel Cake. I love cakes, I love deep fryers, I love ice cream and strawberry sauce. I love funnel cakes! But just like Katherine, unable to eat her clam chowder, BK had defeated me as well. I'd remember this as a pre-Alcatraz meal.

With touristiness explored and experienced, and the day becoming mid-afternoon, I pulled us away from the water, and beauty, and the delightfulness to the F-line. From one end to the other of this line we would ride.

We were off to the Mission District!

Again, I wouldn't have even known this part of the city existed (as it's cut from all tourist maps!) without the Co-op show – so thank you very much to them all.

We were very near to walking off the map, and as we all know the only possible reason that things are ever off maps is because there there be monsters. If by monsters one means the mission after which the district was named, and a park. Ahh the park. What a park there is to be seen here. It is a park unlike any park you've ever before seen, and it is a park that warrants the use of the word park this many times in such a small column of text.

You will know the grassy area of which I speak the moment you set eyes on it, for nary a patch of grass will be seen. Young adults cover the space, heaped together in masses, circling up to talk, read, enjoy the day, and occasionally play bongos. And as Demetri Martin says, playing bongos means only two things: 1. I've got rhythm, and 2. [expletive] your day in the park.

But here? Here it seemed to work. Few people took notice as make-shift bands took their place and began impromptu concerts. Most people seemed far to busy throwing back one beer after the next, and smoking things that – to my knowledge – did not smell a whole lot like cigarettes.

But this is how the park works. You'd think they were gathering for a show, a display of some sorts, perhaps a music festival. But there is nothing. Just hundreds and hundreds of people sitting on grass, enjoying the sun, and talking watching the street below.

It's strange – at a beach you'd accept this behaviour of sitting and being unproductive, but without fire or water to gaze upon it seems to foreign to me. And yet here, on the hill, it feels completely like what San Francisco should. It almost seems a caricature of itself. Fantastic views of the skyline can be gleaned from this location.

On the way back to the city proper I took some more pictures of California graffiti, and wandered through a garage sale – there were few things of interest, but the sale seemed to be attracting a ridiculous amount of attention for being late Sunday night. Minutes later up the road a woman walked by carrying her newly purchased thirty five dollar pot from the sale. One can only hope she bartered that price down.

Popping my head into a corner store I looked for hamburger flavoured potato chips which I'd heard so much about. But they still don't seem to exist. I will continue my quest for these elusive treats.

Final stop? Carl's Jr. for a banana milk shake. Oh how delicious they are! All it means it wading through the line of a dozen homeless people all looking to spend their hard earned coinage. This isn't really a problem, but it is interesting to see the vast array of peoples congregating there. They seem to range in age from teenagers to quite elderly, and in dress, behaviour, ethnicity – and yet here, they come together to enjoy a Carl's Jr. combo, and perhaps a banana shake – because, once more: delicious.

The chocolate chips they add to it? They may seem strange at first, but no – you will grow to love them, as you grew to love bubble tea. All must love the bubble tea.

And then, sleep – with dreams of visiting the inescapable super-max prison located only one half mile off the shore of the bay.

Fly United: Or, why San Francisco Hates You

Kruba Dogadopera please come back to the security checkpoint!

Please Kruba, it's the only way to get the security lady to stop screaming. I don't know if it was done as a joke by the security people, a fault in the system, or someone taking a shine to us, and sparing us the pain that is being rained down. But, the woman working security had been screaming into the mic, over the loud speakers, for this guy to come back and get their loud speaker. I am one floor up, and many many gates away from the security checkpoint, and yet I am forced to hear the piercing call of this woman as she searches, full of rage, for one Kruba D. Around shriek number six, the speakers fail. Our ears are returned to ourselves. This does not prevent us from hearing the woman still call out, loud and clear, from a great distance away.

For the next several minutes her voice is continued to be heard clearly, though this time at a more reasonable level, and all I can think is – man, I would not want her mad at me... in the same room even.

On a fun note, my flight is delayed, and all I've been hearing is other flights that are being delayed, and what the problems are. United airlines! Hurray!

As would happen, things worked themselves out, and one McBreakfast later I was on board and headed to the Magical Wonderland that I think of as San Francisco. One hours in the air, and then I was in a whole new city. A new wonderful place. With giddy glee I headed off to baggage carousel 3 to meet Katherine who had flown in from YYZ.

Happy meets were had. And then I waited for my bag. And it was less happy meetings.

I watched as luggage came out. And then stopped coming out. And then the belts shut down. And getting ready for rage, Katherine suggested that I look at the oversize rack with previously pulled items. It was there. Why she didn't force this thought onto me earlier, I think, was because she wanted to see me suffer. As she is characteristically cruel.

Gear gotten, and us together, it was off to San Francisco.

This would start the day of trying to understand the complex, confusing, and hellistic experience that in San Fran.

I think I get it – San Francisco is so magical and wonderful that they don't want everyone moving here. To accomplish this, rather than up housing, which would hurt the poor hippies born and raised here, they simply concoct a system of arcane rituals in order for anything to be accomplished. And thus, foreigners are kept at bay. I watched people from LA struggle to make sense as well. They don't hate non-Californians here, They hate all who have not been indoctrinated into the mystical society that is here.

Let us start with the BART ticket machines. And if you plan on going to SF, pay attention. This next bit is crucial.

You have probably used automated ticket machines before. You may have even navigated your way through them in foreign languages at extreme speeds because over your shoulder stands a Romanian beggar trying to “help you” and then demand a small fee. You have become master of these such machines – but you fool, you are not in Thailand, or Spain, or Buenos Aires, Argentina. – no. You are in San Francisco. And San Francisco hates you.

First you may try to push buttons and make things happen, but this is a bad move – for no buttons respond. This is why the line of four people has taken fourteen minutes to put you in the hot seat. There you stand before the machine, having studied others before you. You noticed a small scrolling bar that claims you need to put in your credit card, or cash, first. So you are prepared. You put in your credit card. But nothing happens. You swipe your card in and out quickly. Nothing. No feedback to say it's not reading, no feedback to even let you know you're doing the right thing.

You think about cash, but the ticket from the airport to the city is 8.10USD and you have but a 20. The machine also tells you the most change it will give you is 4.95. This is not acceptable. You do not make this attempt. Your only choice – hope that the machines card reader is busted, and get in a new line. A new line with new people having new problems. Eventually having seen one in three people walk away, ticket in hand, it is your turn. This time you know that the machine does work on some level. So you put in your card. It reads! You advance to the next screen. There you are told you are buying a ticket for 20USD. Well that's not right. You want two tickets so you press the two ticket button. The 20USD is still displayed, but smaller below it now shows that this means 2x10. Pressing buttons that allow you to remove one dollar from each ticket, you make your total down to 16. But then you need to add, of course, twenty more cents. To do this you press the “add five cents” button four times.

Now your screen shows 16.20 / 2x8.10. Pressing the E button you are rewarded with two tickets, and the god awful question of why it works this way. They couldn't be like anywhere else where you just punch in, using numbers, the amount you want the tickets to be? And couldn't you do all this before you put in your method of payment?

Also – it should be noted – the prices for each stop are not built into the machine itself, they are listed on a sheet of paper scotch taped between the computerized devils. If someone were to rip this down, it would be all over.

And just for kicks, around the corner, out of sight, there is a woman in a booth. What she is there for is beyond me – she does not sell tickets, and just angrily points you back to the machines if you, like one unsuspecting Asian couple, found out for having the audacity to attempt to make their purchase through her.

Angry are the women who know their jobs don't matter. But you put that same person in a place where she can interact with real people – say a fast food restaurant – and suddenly they become delightful creatures. Stands to reason that these “make-work-do-nothing” jobs help no one. But hey, America!

Riding into the city let us off at Powell station where there was a visitors information centre. This would help us plan our vacation for sure. However, as it was after three in the afternoon it was – of course – closed. Obviously you'd close your visitors information office early on a Saturday. No one ever travels on the weekend – just the thought of something like that would be absurd. Well, tomorrow I'll just have to come back early and – wait this is San Francisco, and this city hates you! It's closed on Sunday. Of course, if you are planning to visit you'd be sure to arrive during the work week between working hours. That just makes sense.

Accepting this as what it is, you make your way to buy a metro pass – these are important things. Only 26USD for a week pass. (Actually it could be a 2 week pass, but more on that hot tip later) Of course they don't sell them down in the underground – no that would make sense! You have to go up to the booth served by one person, outside the cable car. Locals all have TAP cards and don't need to deal with this. Just visitors.

So you wait in the line of about forty people, and thirty minutes later you reach the front of the line, and try to buy your passes. Of course it's cash only. People line up here to buy month passes that cost a hundred bucks. Why would they take credit card? Just sigh, fish for cash, hope you have it, and pay. Then notice that the only way to get the transit route map is buying it for three bucks. Sigh at this, and ask to buy a map.

Of course, the booth man refuses to sell it and points you to a magazine that is said to have routes in it. By the time you sigh, get that map, and see that it has some routes, but only for the tourist area, and doesn't cover anything else in the city you notice that the line you were in has grown – and you are not prepared to get back in it. Why was the map refused to be sold to you? Could it be San Francisco hates you, and it trying to keep you ignorant of the Twin Peaks area, and everything else that side of Market Street? I think so.

Metro pass in hand, I lined up for the cable car. In a big line. This may be a tourist route that at times you can walk faster then, but it does cover some good stretches of road over hills you would not want to climb – because you are lazy. And right you should be. Because the hills? Very steep. Why anyone would choose to settle and build a city here is beyond me (aside from, you know, the fantastic water access to everything, and the importance that would have played in all sorts of shipping routes) So you wait for three or four cars so the line lessens. And then it's your time to jump on the car. One block later, you see the locals as they hop straight on. Lesson? Don't wait at the first stop, but rather any other one.

And also – when you've had a delicious burger at some random fast food location of your choice, be sure to have a pocket full of change. While every city in the world has Burger King as the one free bathroom in any city, here – as with all other such places – the fast food washrooms are run by quarters. And still the sign says “customers only.” I would suggest that anyone paying the quarter for the washroom has just become a customer of your establishment.

My suspicion? This keeps out the homeless, or redirects them elsewhere. But still – there are other techniques, such as the McDonald's in Europe concept where they put a bathroom code on the receipt. Sure it's ridiculous too – but hey, at least if you pay for food, you can use the toilet. San Francisco!

So, no time for such fast food places. Instead we headed on out to something classy, something that says, “hey, I haven't seen you in three months,” a place for only the most elegant: The Rainforest Cafe.

If your restaurant doesn't have thunderstorms every half hour (allowing you to clock how long you've been there), screaming gorillas, trumpeting elephants, Atlas – for no reason, and a person dressed in a frog costume to take pictures with... well then you're doing something wrong.

After a forty minute wait we were told that our adventure was about to begin. Near the beginning of our adventure, our Safari Guide Kevin introduced us to the various menu options. He ingratiated himself to us with his first comment: We have some promotional items, there's the seafood platter – pointing to an image taking up the entire front page – it's not good. I wouldn't order it.

Fantastic! It's also important to know that he does not talk. He yells. Every word is said at thrice the volume it should be. I also appreciate this as he talks as I do, when I try to be the entertainer. So once more, he has won.

Four minutes after placing our order (ribs for me, chicken sandwich for Kath) our food came out. I was shocked. Well my ribs came out, and Kath's fries came out. Her sandwich was yet to be seen – still – shocked! But not as socked as Safari-Kevin was when he came by. His eyes bulged, and he asked if the sandwich had come out? No. He withdrew to the kitchen.

Where he stayed. For the next ten minutes.

I imagine it went something like this:
“Guys, you delivered the ribs to the wrong table! The wrong table! I need a rush order on the chicken sandwich! They're sitting right by the door. I can't go back out there! WHERE'S MY RUSH ON THE CHICKEN?!”

But this screaming went on for ten minutes. We saw the entire staff of the restaurant go in, and come out, before he returned – all smiles – with the food.

What was even more fantastic was ten minutes after that, as we were half way through out eats, another staff member came out strutting with two plates above his head, no doubt singing in his mind, “here's the food for them – they're gonna love it. Ribs, extra sauce! La la la la!” And then he looked at our table, saw us already eating, shoulders and face fell, swiveled on his heels, and walked dejectedly away.

Clearly our Safari guide forgot to inform the others of our plight.

For desert we were going to have the Sparkle Volcano. I think it was brownie and ice cream – but the ridiculousness is that it has a sparkler on top. Then one went out beside us. There was no sparkler! The food was not on fire. There was gold tinsel on it. it's the Christmas Volcano, not the Sparkle one. Boring.

No fire, no food. We paid, we left, we were attacked by mechanical gorillas.

And then back to the hotel to pour over thirty five pamphlets, three city guide, and six maps. Days were to be planned. Except there was a marathon of The Cake Boss on, and as such nothing productive was accomplished.

The. End.

Ohh – it should be noted that while San Francisco hates you, it'll probably be hard for you to hate San Fran.

Ah yes, and how to turn the weekly pass into a two week pass for the San Francisco metro. So how it works is you get a pass with the numbers 1 – 31 on them, and the 12 months. You need to scratch off the seven days, and the month(s) those days take place through. Now to get two weeks out of this it takes specific times, and won't work for many travellers. But, if you're there for the first week of the months, scratch of days 1 – 6 and the current month. Use your pass, but then hold onto it for the last day of the month, scratch off that number, and the next month. Now it looks like, rather than a pass used for the first week, a pass that was used for the end of this month, prepared for the first week of the next.

There you go – how to turn a seen day pass into a 13 day pass. Surely it's obvious to figure out, but – there it is anyway.

In Search of Dr. Horrible

Laundry day, see you there...

So apparently this laudramat is a real place. Who would have thought that thing seen on tv or internets would have to be real. But, apparently they are. And near the laundramat is the pond that one Captain Hammer zipped around in in his paddle boat. My mission? Find these two locations.

It seemed like a perfectly perfect plan. I had acquired the location of the two spots via the internet. A past student of mine who now painstakingly follows these blogs – no doubt to some day write another play about my life – sent me a link to their locations. The laundry had a real live address. This would make reaching it quite simple. The pond had a location in a park – in Echo park to be specific – and I drew a map to it. Reaching it should be equally simple

I was off to the buses. I believe it was the number 704 that took me all the way down to Echo Park (a conveniently named stop.) Now this is an important stop to know if you're visiting LA without a car. Not only does it allow you access to such an important laundry – and I know that you all care very much about important laundries – but it also gets you to within a few minutes of walking distance to Dodgers Stadium. If baseball season had begun, and wasn't still a few weeks off, I would probably have made more use of this locale. But as it stood, there was nothing happening at the ball park save for a convention of some sorts. And while going to a convention inside a baseball stadium would have been interesting, approaching the people guarding the pedestrian entrance did not seem to be my best choice. I think they also would have made fun of me – no one walks in LA!

So off to find the Laundry. It was a few blocks from where I jumped out of the bus, and reaching it I decided that I would buy little packs of Tide for friends and Dr. Horrible fans to enjoy. Of course, once inside, I saw that said Tide dispensing machine was out of order. Many pictures, and a video were created. Songs may also have been sung. The people sitting on the benches, watching their clothes spin, trying to decide what to do with their day after this painful task was completed, well they seemed a wee bit confused. Like in high school when I used to sing songs from the Little Mermaid in the halls. Confusion. But every now and then people would join in. No one joined in today.

Laundry visited, and enjoyed, I wondered if this was where the show was supposed to have taken place. Because this location? This street? Not the type of area I'd picture the characters frequenting.

Still, there was to be a delightful park around here – I saw it on the google maps – so off to go find it.

I walked down Stadium Way and looked to my right, constantly trying to find a place to walk off the road, and head into the park. There were no sidewalks here, but I did pass no less than seven hospitals all clustered together. One even had a sleep clinic. Smashing!

Still no sidewalks, but I started to pass free public washrooms. And parks. And basketball courts. The people here – no one would walk to these? Everyone drives? I felt so out of place using my two legs to power my movements. What a fool I was. What a fool indeed – though, the Shakespearian fool is the only character that gets to speak truth, so I guess the fool is an alright thing to be, yeah?

Still no access to the park.

Alright – it was time to rethink. Time to head back to the crossroads, and take the other street that would box in the area where this supposed park was located. Step, step, step – I was under fire! Hundreds of gunshots rang out! The sounds, bursting through the trees! Ah, but nothing but the sounds of the blasts, and still I stood. So all in all, must be some poor shots trying to end my life. I carried on. Rounding the corner things made a wee bit more sense. I had come across the Police Academy. What I had heard were people firing in the shooting range. That explained the big Alpha-shout of “Ough!” when the firing stopped. It didn't totally explain it – but remember, in America you can become an officer of the law directly out of high school – no University required.

I'm going to take a moment to wander on this police tangent. Yesterday I was watching COPS. It seemed like a cultural experience to be sure. Now the police know they're being filmed. The things you see are what happens when the police know they're going to be shown around the world. Let me break down the three cases from yesterdays show.

1. A black man runs when the police chase him, he out runs them with ease, and finally just stops and lets himself get cuffed. The officer chasing him is out of breath, and remains this way for the next seven minutes on camera. The camera man with all the gear seems fine, but this cop – he never regains composure. He starts yelling at the man, telling him what to do. The guy in cuffs calmly explains his name, and asks what the problem is. The officer yells at him telling him he stole a car and then ran from the police. The man explains that the car is his, and he ran because he was being chased. This is no doubt hard to understand as every time he “fits a description” terrible things like being thrown against his car, hands cuffed behind his back (as just happened) probably ensue. The cop continues to scream at him, and devolves into nonsense sounds. Four other officers show up – a good use of resource for a calm man in cuffs who can prove the car is his.

Finally they go to the woman who called in the complaint. It is a crazy white woman, still standing by the pay phone. When they ask her why she called in about him stealing her car, she start with a story about how a month ago her and her friends were sitting in their house, and he came busting in, and held them captive for hours, and wouldn't let them go. This involved story has nothing to do with anything, nor little basis in reality, as the police then try to fast forward her tale.

Oh, today, she explains – well, she was at the phone, and he came by and stole her car, then she grabbed the car, then he dragged her along the road, and tried to run her over and kill her.

By this point the police realize she is nuts, but they have cuffed this man, and now take him in for running from them.

And this is the least crazy of the first two – we'll avoid the third – as the point will get across. Still I think it's important that you understand the mentality of the police system in some states – when they know they're being filmed. Next, try to picture how they act when they're free from the camera.

2. A boy called the police as he was being abused by his family. The police show up, and the boy is gone. The father and his brother are there. They explain that they were just watching the game, drinking beers, and that the brother flew off the handle, and kicked the dad. The father has a bruise to back this up. Then the boy went outside and kicked the tire of the car a few times, and walked off.

The boy returns, we learn that he is a homosexual growing up in this small town. This kid probably has a rough life, to say the least. He is asked why he left after calling the police. He explains because he was angry, and needed to get away from his family. They had, after all, just been beating him – he shows scratches on his hands and feet to prove this. The police say that his family didn't mention that, and that they said he had kicked his father – and mentioned the bruise to back this up.

The boy says yes, he did that to get away.

Well, even though his family isn't pressing charges, he's going to have to go to jail for the night for domestic abuse. Theres a Zero Tolerance policy about domestic abuse in this county.

At this point I'm flabbergasted. Are you kidding me? The kid was beat, probably for having the audacity to be gay, and perhaps not wanting to watch the baseball game – dad's been doing some drinking – kid is scared enough to call the police but when they come he's gone, so they believe the first story that they hear, not caring about who actually called the police, or why? At this point I think it can't get worse.

Putting the kid in the car, the officer says, “Look, I'm not saying it's fair – but someone had to go to jail tonight. Next time it might be one of them, but today it was your turn.”

What?! How is this ok? How is a country fine with a justice system that works like this. Even the police know it's crazy. And this is what they show on national television. How is anyone supposed to take it seriously? At first blush you really do think Canada and America are quite simple, but little by little you start to notice things.

And this is why I don't screw around at customs checks. Yes sir, thank you sir.

Right – so there I was at he police academy. I asked a woman working there on the grounds if she knew where the pond was.

“First sir, we're going to walk back onto the sidewalk, off the grounds,” (I had taken one step onto the grass.) “and then we can talk.”

After I was off the property she was quite lovely, and as helpful as she could be. She didn't know of the pond, but pointed me in the way of the park entrance. Following her advice I soon reached it, and learned that had I walked one hundred more meters the other way, I would have reached an entrance there too.

I took many pictures of the park map in order to not get lost from here on out.

Following the I ended up going through a great rise in elevation to Angel Point road. This would take me around the park, in theory. It offered me great views of the city in a few directions, and then took me to some strange memorial that looked like a brightly pained weather machine of sorts.

I also used the view to look over the park to see if there was any pond, like the one in Dr. Horrible, or the one on the map. There was none in sight – none on the map – and none that anyone had seen. How was this possible? It should be noted I'd spent nearly two hours searching for it at this point.

Well – I enjoyed my day in the sun, got to walk though a lovely park I'd have avoided otherwise, and not died. All in all, you have to happy about these things. It was with a jump in my step that I headed back down towards the bus stop, wandering through little communities and getting a feel for Suburban LA life along the way.

One hour of bus riding lately, including overhearing crazy people talk about meeting up later for one to show the other around town (and by crazy people I mean people willing to talk to strangers and offer them tours around town – so not crazy, but nice, though in this day and age those two things can be almost seen as the same, yes? Sad sad world.) I was back. Time to eat some Johnny Rockets hamburgers, and run into the best waiter I'd yet seen – earning from me a substantial tip. He worked his game well, knew how use non-verbal communication to make you feel like he was letting you in on a secret when unlimited fries and refills were mentioned, and writing boss in the ketchup tray? Fantastic.

When the staff had to sing for “Respect” he also seemed to not be hating his life. These are all charming things.

Good for you, Erik. Good for you.

A Venice Without Canals

In a crazy twist of fate, I have ended up in Venice.

O.K. So I didn't end up in the delightful Italian Venice, but I still have some pretty decent memories of that time. It hasn't, quite yet, faded into obscurity. I'm sure that time will come, and when it does I won't even notice. It's the blessing and the curse of forgetting things – once forgotten, you can't remember that you ever knew them.

Before jumping on the Big Blue Bus and paying my 75 cents to ride down to Venice Beach, I made my way out for some food. Food today would be McNuggets: Om nom nom nom. I have not eaten McNuggets in a long time. I can't even recall when it would have been – years. But I remember loving them. I think I had them once when they switched to “all white meat” and I decided that the flavour was lessened. Mind you, I'm just recalling that now as I write. As I ordered them I think I still expected them to be as delicious as they were in my pre-teen memories.

But come on now, five bucks for 20 nuggets? That's a steal.

There are all number of new sauces to have too – now they have probably been around for years, but they're new to me. I grabbed Ranch, and my go to BBQ. Ranch? It had potential were it thicker. As it is – fail. But BBQ sauce, oh the stories people could tell you about me and McBBQ sauce (and crunchy things) for I loved it so. And as I bit into my BBQ sauce drenched nugget all I could think was – they did it... They finally did it (again, it could have been done ages ago.) What did they do? They changed the sauce. McBBQ sauce worked because it was unlike any other sauce on the market. But now they've tried to make it a smokier flavour, something that you'd almost have with chicken strips. But they have failed to match this flavour, and it the attempt they have moved away from what they once had, that worked so well. Sigh. 20 unsatisfactory nuggets... They are only as good as their sauce. On the other hand, there was enough to fill my belly which is something Mackers so rarely succeeds in. And truth be told, there are many more sauces out there waiting to be explored.

Also – before I am chided once more for eating at such a restaurant I want you to step back and take note: this is the one time you can say nothing, nothing! When people go to China they eat Chinese food, in Peru they eat Peruvian food – well I'm in America, and there is no food more American than that served by a creepy yellow clown. If anything, you should be chiding me about eating Sushi yesterday.

O.K. With that justified, on the bus, and off to the beach. But wait – it's not that simple. First there was the crazy guy talking to the people at the bus stop. If there's one thing Santa Monica is not short on, it is crazy people. Oh the crazy people there are here.

This one was talking to – sorry, talking at – the two ladies waiting for the bus about how crazy people always come up to you and talk to you while you're waiting for the bus. He said he normally would smack them down, and do other such things. The ladies nodded and tried to deflect conversation, to no success. This went on for a good seven minutes, at which point the man left – much to their relief. Out of nowhere a boy stepped forward adding, “you log onto X-Box live, and you'll see even more immature behaviour!” With his piece said, he faded back into the populated landscape. With the women stlll reeling from this new addition, the original crazy man came back, picked up a terribly flat, and now red, road-killed pigeon, and walked right past the staggering pain, dropping the ex-bird in a trash bin.

Then the bus showed up, and all was forgotten.

Thirty minutes later, and I'm stepping off into a strange and delightfully new place. To be exact it looks like something out of the second Tony Hawk video game when they got the level design down, and were now experimenting the all the various bright colours they could get going.

In front of me was a Graffiti park, where concrete pipes, walls, and surroundings had been constructed as an outlet for the art style. Permits were required for painting, and I hope that anyone could obtain one if they wanted. I didn't look into the specifics, but if it was reserved for a certain class of artist, that would hurt the integrity of the art form as I see it. Some of the murals were not all that artistic, which leads me to believe that skill is not a must – which actually is somewhat reassuring as it allows all levels to participate.

As I began to photograph the pieces a gaggle of five fourteen year olds girls in their crop tops and their open fly shorts over the prerequisite bikinis rolled up, digital cameras in hand. One seemed to be the boss, or as Lindsy Lohan has taught me, the Queen Bee. She directed her flock to stand on the wall, which they did, jutting out hips, hands raised above their heads, and all sorts of other things which I can only assume they thoughts models would do. Snap, snap, snap, each time a new pose. The girls continued to snap away, moving in front of every wall, and every piece. Each time scandal and giggle ensued.

Now, I have no problem with the youth being the youth, and to be honest graffiti makes the best backdrop for any basic full body portrait – but... well, you just wanted to tell them that they were shooting against the sun, and all the colours would be muted, details lost, and backdrop washed out. You felt for their lack of understanding that, if they just turned around, superior shots could be their. On the other hand, this left all the images worth shooting free of their clutter, and let me finish my own photos before moving on.

They were still dancing around in the sand doing their thing as I walked away, off toward the next sight in interest – the skate park. There were children here, and adults that refuse to grow up – not in a Peter Pan sort of way, but in a Tony Hawk kind of way. But without the multi-million dollar video game contract to help them keep the faith. These are true man-childs.

Riding the concrete waves they pulled off combinations of stalls, flips, transfers, and grinds that I didn't actually think were possible in real life. Some were by themselves, skating for themselves, others were being followed by friends holding digital video cameras.

On the sides were characters just as interesting as those taking centre stage. Couples watching, with clothes from a Cindy Lauper video, and ridiculous individuals, no doubt creating reel for their upcoming independent film that will be released just as soon as all sorts of terrible random happenstances come together, recording the events on their hand held movie cameras. I know it must be neat to use film – but, really? Just go digital folks. Give in.

And from the the skate park I headed to the promenade, checking out tattoo shops, t-shirt sellers, little art areas with painted mousetraps, and no less than three “cannabis doctors.” They seemed to indicate that marijuana could be bought from within – but I have no idea what I was really seeing. It couldn't be, could it? And no sting operation would have so many fronts.

I shrug – California.

For an hour I wandered, being sure to photograph the graffiti Starry Night, and the cute stylized critters on the wall across from it. Eventually I head back to the main street, and wander the “historic” section. This seemed like a reach to me, as it was just shops – and none all that lovely. But, you know, there was a bus stop on the other side of this area, so I wandered the full strip – yawn. And then grabbed the bus back to the hostel.

I was content with my hostel time, but as I surfed the internet I was overcome with that feeling that life happens outside. I often say it, and often feel it – if you're inside, nothing will surprise you. Not unless an airplane engine falls on you from above. But, if you step outside there are so many forces and ideas working on you that who knows what mysteries you will be exposed to?

I headed outside. Should I watch Alice? Grab a burger? Oh – I know, I should go look at iPods and pretend that I'll but one, even though I feel I must wait for the next generation of them to come out. Still, lots of games to play. Into the Apple Store I go.

What's this? The creators of LOST giving a talk to all those in attendance? You see – random events becoming quite impressive. For an hour I watched and for an hour I was amazed that this just happened to be going on. I wonder how many things like this I miss by walking away too soon – a burger, or a movie, would have removed this from my day. I'd have not even known it ever happened. Now I also felt overcome with the urge to catch up on the episodes I'd not yet seen this season.

Feeling my day was complete I headed back to watch some LOST. However, when I returned I saw that Serenity was being played in the hostel. Off I went to watch that. I love Firefly, and it's my love of that show that has always made me hate the movie as it's just so different. Now, however, removed from the show, I watched the movie in a different life. And unexpectedly, I quite enjoyed it.

With that experience under my belt, my day had reached a natural conclusion. I had enough material to write about, and felt as if I did enough. Good for me. Off to bed. Oh good, the people are snoring.
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