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Giants of San Francisco

September 1, 2017

Our second day in San Francisco was also the last day of the road trip, and we were determined to go out with a bang.

When planning these trips I almost always try to pick destinations and activities that we both enjoy, skipping over things that I would appreciate but Sam wouldn’t. I say “almost always” because there are exceptions now and then, and our first stop was one of those.

City Lights Booksellers

City Lights Booksellers and Publishers is legendary not just in San Francisco but throughout the country and perhaps even the world. It was founded by Peter D. Martin and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, one of the original Beat poets, when mainstream publishers refused to publish the works of Beat writers like Allan Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Ferlinghetti himself because they were judged to be obscene.

64 years later, the bookstore retains much of the antiestablishment spirit of the founders, stocking only thoughtful, antiestablishment writers past and present, and decorated with all sorts of handwritten signs about the importance of poetry, writing, and reading (or sometimes just self-promotion).

City Lights Booksellers

I wanted to buy something, not merely visit, but nothing jumped out at me and I didn’t want to take too long because Sam started running out of patience pretty quickly. I know it’s cheesy, but I ended up buying copies of Ginsberg’s Howl and Kerouac’s On the Road, as well as a book on the process and craft of writing by Ferlinghetti. (I’m not sure why, exactly, but Burroughs never really excited me.) Cheesy or not, I was pretty excited to be buying books by the original Beat writers in the bookstore that published them and helped start the whole movement. I don’t agree with very much of what they had to say but damn, they were talented writers.

Sam had a small amount of appreciation for the history and significance but he was pretty relieved when we finally left. Further improving his mood was the news that we were finally going to ride a cable car.

I always like to ride public transportation whenever I travel because it enables me to experience the city like a local even when I’m mostly going to tourist sites. What I quickly learned about San Francisco was that locals don’t really take the cable cars because the busses and BART are much cheaper and faster and cover more of the city. (At $7 per ride, a cable car is almost as expensive as a cab but slower and less convenient.) Because the cable cars are loaded mostly with tourists, they tend to fill up at the beginning of the line and empty out at the end, with very few people getting on and off at any of the stops in the middle. However, the ends of each line are in major tourist hubs, which means parking is difficult and expensive. So Sam and I took our chances in the middle of the historic Powell & Mason line, and we easily found parking a block away from one of the stops. One completely full cable car passed us by, but the next one had room for us and we hopped aboard.

San Francisco Cable Car

We didn’t get to ride on the running boards like we wanted to because those spots were already taken, but we were happy just to be on board as straphangers.

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Satisfied, we got off two stops later and walked back to the car. Now it was time to head out of town–sort of.

Sam’s final requirement for San Francisco was to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge. I didn’t want to just drive back and forth with no purpose, so I planned a day trip to Muir Woods, a large, dense grove of California Redwoods just north of the city. The only reasonable way to get there and back is the Golden Gate; two birds, one stone.

Sam and I love bridges. We marvel at their structure and the incredibly difficult building process, and although they aren’t all beautiful, even most of the ugly ones have a certain majesty to them. The Golden Gate is not really golden (it’s more of a rusty copper) but it’s definitely one of the prettier bridges, especially the way it’s situated with the bay on one side and the open ocean on the other. Not surprisingly, Sam loved driving over the bridge, and as we reached the north side we pulled off into Vista Point (a large parking lot with a great view of the bridge) so we could take a slower look.

Golden Gate Bridge

Having now seen one towering giant of San Francisco, it was time for some even taller giants: the redwoods.

The beauty of the bridge was nothing compared to what was waiting for us in Muir Woods. It’s named for John Muir, a naturalist whose writings advocating for the protection of American wilderness are still read widely today and helped convince Teddy Roosevelt to create the National Parks Service. He also founded the Sierra Club and basically spend his life championing the conservation of the country’s (and world’s) natural beauty. He had little in common with the Beat poets except for the fact that he, too, was a damn good writer.

His namesake Woods are a perfect tribute: there’s really nothing to do there except walk around and appreciate the extraordinary scenery. One main hiking path snakes through the redwoods in the form of a boardwalk that’s almost a mile long, and a handful of more demanding hiking paths branch off of the boardwalk to bring travelers to denser or higher points in the forest. The vast majority of visitors stick to the main path, and that’s basically what Sam and I did, although when we got to the end we chose a slightly more secluded path back to the park’s entrance.

I can’t even call what we did hiking, because the word “hike” implies a destination. We simply took a walk in the forest. A couple of minutes into our walk, Sam realized that we were walking through Endor, the forest moon inhabited by Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. The Endor scenes in the movie were actually shot in a redwood forest a bit further north, but the look and feel were the same.

Muir Woods

The whole experience was beautiful and peaceful and serene in a way I can’t fully describe but made both of us intensely happy and appreciative of the very fact that we were there. In fact I’m going to shut up for a minute and just show you.

Muir Woods

Muir Woods

These two redwoods are in love

Muir Woods

Muir Woods

The trees are so tall that the sunlight has to fight its way through to the ground, sometimes appearing only in thin, individual shafts

I took a 10-second video of the babbling brook that runs through the forest, but I’m having trouble posting it here. I’m keeping it on my phone, though, so that every time I get stressed out I can watch it and feel better instantly.

The only imperfection during our walk through the woods was the obnoxious behavior of some of the other people there. Have I mentioned that people suck?

First there was this guy:

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Notice the yellow paint on the ground that says, “VANS ONLY” and the sign right in front of his car that says, “COMMERCIAL CARRIERS ONLY.” Grrrr.

Then there was this sign at the café near the park’s entrance:

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About 20 steps from the sign, Sam and I almost stepped on a bunch of ketchup packets and napkins that somebody had left on the ground.

And maybe most infuriating was people’s behavior near this sign:

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Moments after we read this sign, a group of three women came by having an extremely loud conversation about their experiences with rental cars. Seconds later, a couple in their 20s came through talking very loudly about the price of real estate in San Francisco.

Muir Woods was so gorgeous that even the jerks inside it could not ruin our experience. I was in such a good mood when we left that, as we drove back across the Golden Gate Bridge, I even sang along to the Full House theme song when Sam played it on his phone.

After a long drive to Oakland to pick up dinner at a kosher deli/grocery there, we headed to the very final stop of the road trip. After driving across a giant bridge and walking among giant trees, it was finally time to see the actual San Francisco Giants.

AT&T Park

AT&T Park has an awful name but it’s one of the nicest ballparks in the country. The exterior is not only beautiful but pays homage to the team’s history by naming entry gates after a handful of Giants greats and displaying life-size statues of others.

Juan Marichal Statue AT&T Park

The inside is great too, with roomy seats, quirky dimensions, an enormous variety of both classic and creative food and drink, and a pretty view of the bay right behind the right field wall.

I’ve been here before but this was Sam’s first time, so after the first few innings we left our seats to go wander around the ballpark. We ended up watching an inning from the seats on top of that right field wall, which is a great place to watch a game. Behind us was the bay and a handful of guys in kayaks hoping to retrieve home run balls.

McCovey Cove

In front of us the game was unfolding. Below us was Cardinals right fielder Randal Grichuk. And next to us was a drunk Giants fan who was heckling Grichuk rather creatively, with lines like, “Randal, your mother’s brisket is delicious!”

We had to leave the game a little early to catch our red-eye flight home. About half an hour later we pulled into the rental car return area, gave back our very blue Toyota Camry, and the road trip was officially over. After 1,700 miles of adventure, it was time to get on the plane and let someone else take me home.

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