Saturday, March 27, 2010

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.

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