Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I Left My Heart In San Francisco

Along with a nice chunk of change.

But it was worth it. See?

Yes, San Francisco lived up to the hype. That city is amazing! I had to be a Responsible and Professional Adult and actually attend my conference, but even so we managed to squeeze in as much sight-seeing as humanly possible for two people in one big city over two and a half days.

Thursday night began with our (on-time) arrival. David's aunt Lana lives in Sacramento so she and her two kiddos drove over to see us. They actually swung by the airport and picked us up which was an excellent surprise!

Our hotel was the Parc 55 which I chose for two reasons: (1) it was recommended by my conference and so gave us a special discount and (2) of the hotels recommended by the conference, it was the closest to a metro station.

What I didn't know was that it is located near Union Square and therefore is within walking distance of every major retailer known to man.

From our hotel window, I could see Barney's, Bloomingdale's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Macy's, and Neiman Marcus. Not to mention all the smaller stores-- a 3-story Forever 21, a massive Old Navy, a 3-story H&M, DSW, BCBG, FCUK, you list a few initials, that store was there. It was very exciting.

Look, Mom! It's the biggest Macy's I've ever SEEN!

But to be perfectly honest, there wasn't that much time for shopping. Our first night we had dinner at Puccini's--a little Italian place just on the corner across from our hotel. The kids (5-year-old Kailer and one-and-a-half year old Taylyn) were quite well behaved. Of course there was a small hiccup in the evening when Kailer announced he was going to barf (this was before dinner had arrived). Lana frantically jumped up and dragged him to the bathroom. They returned several minutes later, with Kailer cheerfully announcing that actually he just had to burp. In the meantime, Taylyn had a bit of a meltdown. Something about her mom and brother abandoning her in an Italian restaurant with two people who are essentially strangers seemed to set her off. David and I avoided eye contact with other diners by staring into the bottoms of our wine glasses and gulping quickly while Taylyn screamed in her high chair.

So, no problems that a bottle of wine and some veggie lasagna couldn't solve.

Friday morning I was up and off to the conference and David went to check out the baseball stadium. He walked around the stadium while I sat in on a panel about nineteenth-century literature and religion and another panel on nineteenth century literature and crime.

Picture of gianormous baseball glove deemed more interesting than picture of a literature conference.

At lunchtime, I cut out of the conference and met up with David and Lana and the kids at Pier 39. It was a rainy, foggy day which somehow felt much more tolerable in San Francisco. I guess it just seemed appropriate. It was the perfect weather for some clam chowder in a sourdough breadbowl. After lunch, Lana took the kids back to the hotel for a nap and David and I caught the boat to Alcatraz for our tour.

The tour was very interesting (we did the audio guide bit) and we got to wander the island and the prison, which was as bleak and depressing as you might expect. Some of the cells were furnished and even decorated with water color paintings and books that the inmates had. The cells were astonishingly small and of course there was no privacy at all ever which just freaks me out. We learned all about the escape attempts.

Let me out! Or I will sharpen a spoon and dig my way out through the grate in the wall.

I thought it was interesting that the prison tour is pretty insistent about claiming that the three escapees who were never found must have drowned and therefore there has never been a successful escape from Alcatraz. I recently heard a thing on NPR about it that said they are still not officially presumed dead and there is an officer whose job it is to continue to follow up on leads about these guys. If they lived, they likely headed to South America (they had been studying Spanish while in Alcatraz). I'm totally spending my next lazy Sunday afternoon watching one of those escape-from-Alcatraz movies that they always rerun on TNT.

Unfortunately, I think I must have gotten kind of seasick on the boat ride. I felt pretty queasy as we wandered around the island but I just kept chewing gum and I didn't barf (Kailer and I were 0 for 2!). On the ride back to the pier, we stood outside on the deck of the boat and I think that helped. Wind and fresh air and a great view of the island and the city, even through the fog.

Can you tell I kind of want to puke? Also, that's Alcatraz Island to the left.

Once we got back to the pier, we walked back down to Fisherman's Wharf to catch a cable car back to the hotel (Parc 55 is just one block from the Powell Street cable car stop). We popped in and out of the little tourist shops and David bought some Ghirardelli chocolates. We happened upon all the docks where the seals hang out and stood and watched them for a while. There were so many! They are cute. Like puppies without feet.

Then it was time for the cable car! We squeezed on, standing on the running board and holding on to the side. I still can't believe it's legal for people to ride that way. We were so close to the other cars on the road and the hills were so steep. I loved it. I guess it's a pretty cheesy tourist thing to do but definitely worth it, if only for the views of the city.

It really looked just the way I imagined it would.

Lana's husband surprised everybody by driving in for dinner that night so we got back to the hotel and changed and then headed to an Asian fushion restaurant that Lana had found in one of our guidebooks--a "hidden gem" of San Francisco. It was certainly hiddden--down a back alley with a quiet little door (guarded by a doorman) that simply led to an elevator. Upstairs was a lovely upscale restaurant with wicker furniture and palm-frond ceiling fans.

My seasickness was still bothering me so while everyone else ordered wine or mixed drinks, I had a ginger ale. And while everyone else ordered fancy dishes of steak or seafood, I had brown rice. I managed to have one veggie spring roll as well. It was sad to see all the delicious food and not want to eat it.

We were still operating on Missouri time so we were ready for bed pretty much right after dinner. We walked back to the hotel and window-shopped on the way. Taylyn entertained us by finding a street sign pole, wrapping her arms and legs around it, and sliding down to sit on her bottom. She was so funny and evidently was having a great time. We made a few inappropriate jokes about her pole dancing and then continued back the hotel where the guys went down to the restaurant for a beer and the kids and the girl with the stomachache crashed for the night.

No sleep before a tickle war!

The next morning was my conference presentation! I was up early and once I'd gotten ready I decided to head over to the university with plenty of time to spare. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day so I sat outside and read over my paper until it was time for my panel to begin.

I was second of four presenters. Each of us read a 15-minute paper and there was a general question and answer time at the end. I was the only graduate student on my panel, the rest were all professors which I found slightly intimidating. But everyone was so extremely friendly and encouraging. My paper got the most questions and comments at the end and I felt like I knew how to answer all of them or they were comments that I had already considered in my larger project. So it was really a pleasant experience. I might even call it fun!

I walked over to the luncheon with a very nice woman who teaches at Harvard and we sat with some other people who had sat in on my panel--some graduate students from Berkeley and Stanford and Santa Barbara. We commiserated about the job market and people said more nice things about my panel and my essay. The veggie entree was enchiladas which made me really happy. And then we listened to an interesting talk about alternate-history novels (like Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, which I recently read just for fun and found completely fascinating).

After lunch I seriously considered heading back for a panel on women and work in the nineteenth century (the governess!) but I had too much sight-seeing left to do!

Lana and Barry and the kids had headed back to Sacramento so David and I were on our own for the afternoon. I met him back at the hotel where he had planned out our route to the Golden Gate Bridge via the metro bus system. I was a little bit nervous but he had figured everything perfectly! We made it to the bridge where I hummed the theme song to Full House and we admired the view and marveled at our good fortune to be there on such a beautiful day.

Special thanks to the international tourist who took our photo. I asked him because he had a huge and expensive looking camera so I figured he knew what he was doing. Digital cameras: the new international language.

From there it was a bus ride back into the city. I decided I wanted to walk down Lombard street, so we hopped off at a bus stop just two blocks from the top of the world's crookedest street.

Those would be two blocks at an approximately 80 degree angle. And we had to go UP before we could walk DOWN.

Our legs were jello by the end of it and there was only one cure: Irish coffee at Buena Vista (special thanks to Aunt Peggy for the suggestion).

After our coffee we wandered back through the wharf and got dinner from one of the take-away places outside. I had fish & chips (with garlic fries for chips) and David (who had fish & chips for lunch) ordered crab and shrimp AND a side of calamari.

David with his cup o' crab and shrimp. Waiting on the calamari.

We sat on some nearby benches overlooking the water but then I saw two huge rats and nearly had a freak out spaz attack. I managed not to scream but I totally bolted. David came jogging after me as I ran away clutching my coke and fish & chips and we ended up standing and eating in a well-lit area that proved to be rat-free.

(That night I had a nightmare about rats which surprised me because my dreams are not usually that predictable. I woke up in the middle of the night shouting "I don't like it!" so loudly that I woke David up too.)

After dinner we wandered back through Fisherman's Wharf, watched some of the street entertainers and artists, went in some of the shops, and then decided to catch the cable car and head back to the hotel for a drink before calling it a night.

Did I mention I loved the cable car rides?

Breakfast our last morning was at Lefty O'Doul's -- he was a baseball player with the likes of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio so the place was full of baseball photos. I had an Irish coffee with breakfast. It was the last day of vacation!

Sunday brought us uneventful flights and the irritating realization that it was much easier to make the transition over to west-coast time zones than it is to make the switch back... I think I'm still recovering!

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