I’m back home in Portland after taking a week-long respite in California with Kim and I can’t help but feel like some one cranked the color dial on my life back down to black and white. Still, I’m grateful to have accomplished my mission of catching up with old friends, making new ones, and restoring my skin to a more familiar shade of tan.
We started off last weekend with a quick flight down to San Francisco. It was quick enough to make me wonder why Kim and I don’t do it much more often. I had been to LA on a few occasions, but never to the city by the Bay, so I was excited to take in the new sights, sounds, smells, tastes and geography (I’m a little bit of a map nerd). Upon my arrival, I went to work trying to locate all of the place names that I had always crudely lumped together as San Francisco. San Fran, Marin County, Berkeley, Oakland to Sac-town, the bay area and back down; all the names started fall into place after a couple of days.
We stayed in the Mission district with Kim’s friend from her study abroad program, Eric. A former offensive tackle, Eric was had a massive frame and sported a reddish-blond beard. The name Erik the Red came to mind upon first meeting him at the airport. On the day of our arrival, the three of us grabbed some food and drinks then relaxed in the fresh green grass of Delores Park. Kim and I let the sun wash over us, inert like lizards on a stone. This strange radiant ball in the sky started to seem vaguely familiar.
Unfortunately, the fog and rain set in after than afternoon and persisted through the duration of our visit. We ventured across the Golden Gate Bridge to the jagged coastline Marin County with the hopes of hiking in Point Reyes State Park, only to be turned away by sheets of cold, stinging, sideways-falling rain. Despite the weather, Kim and I managed to see a number of San Francisco’s storied neighborhoods. We ventured through the vibrant Castro, up to the Haight (the nexus of the Summer of Love), and the massive Golden Gate Park.
Within the park, we explored the Academy of Sciences, which was well worth the price of admission (though the price gave me a renewed appreciation for the free Smithsonian Institution museums in Washington, DC). We explored a four-story sphere that contained the closest thing to a tropical rain forest you’ll find in an exhibit. We even looked up at arapaimas and other Amazonian fish from a fulled immersed glass tunnel.
Eventually, museum fatigue set in and we rested on a railing overlooking a shallow coral reef. After gazing at clownfish and anemones for about 20 minutes, we noticed that a large, psychedelic-looking coral abruptly clamped shut when fish swam too close. It was actually brightly-colored football-sized clam! You might think Kim and I are nerds for being giddy at the discovery of a monster clam. You’d be absolutely right, but you also would have thought it was pretty cool if you witnessed it. Trust me.
In addition to exhibits inside, the Academy offered educational experiences on its exterior. Kim and I toured the building’s nifty, hilly green roof and natural ventilation system, along with its impressive array of solar cells. I was happy to see a venue for educating the public about the virtues of green roofs and the importance of sustainable building practices. After all, every single kind of extraordinary living creature featured within the Academy has in some way been negatively impacted by the extraction of natural resources we use to build our homes, drive our cars and maintain our lifestyles. If nothing else, it’s important to understand that we are all connected.
The next day, Kim and I switch from science to history and criminology with a tour of Alcatraz. Yes, it was a very touristy thing to do, but it was also a very well-crafted experience. The award-winning audio tour succeeded not only in making throngs of tourists look even lamer with big headphones and lanyards, but also in instilling a very real sense of gravity. Much like the battlefields at Gettysburg, the crumbling walls of Alcatraz gave me a distinct and eerie feeling that I was standing on ground still heavy with dark and deep emotions.
The audio-tour’s raspy narrator and accompanying soundbites of escape sirens and prison fights helped my imagination re-occupy narrow halls the prison blocks. I wondered how long I’d keep my sanity pent in a 9x5x7 ft. cell. The worst part, the audio recording informed me, was that inmates could hear the joyful voices and laughter of free people just across the bay in San Francisco, a mile and a half away; a constant reminder of the lives they forfeit. I felt a tiny sense of relief just boarding the ferry back to the pier.
The next day Kim and I bid our gracious host farewell and boarded another plane for “San number 2”, San Diego. I’ll get to that bit another day.