Tour Guide

I was woken at 03:30 (PST) this morning by my mobile phone ringing out the melody to “Ashes To Ashes” by former San Francisco band Faith No More.

“Hello?” I questioned, blearily.

“Is that Alan Tillich?” said a male Yorkshire accent.

“What!?” I said, two-thirds disbelief, one-third bad line.

“Is that Alan Tillich?” the Yorkshire accent said again.

“What?!” I said again, still unable to hear properly what had been said.

“Is that Alan Tillich?” he repeated a third time, not really taking on board that he had clearly dialed a wrong number.

This time I heard clearly what he’d said. “NO!” I exclaimed. And then followed it helpfully with “It’s three o’clock in the morning!”

It was now clearly his turn to say ‘what’.

“What?!” he said.

“It is three o’clock in the morning!” I repeated.

“What!?” he said again.

“I’m in San Francisco,” I clarified. “It is three o’clock in the morning!”

“Oh. Sorry.” he offered, and hung up.

I went back to bed and reviewed our conversation. I realised that I had just paid 45p/minute to tell Alan Tillich’s friend what time it currently was in California. You don’t get many nights like that.

Later the same morning Jane and I stepped out into the sunshine and made our way back down to 1300 Columbus Avenue, to meet up with Jane’s folks at their (an) hotel. I’d offered to be their basic tour guide for the day; having visited SF before. And to be fair, I think I did an okay job.

Following a rather poor start (we only got as far as the coffee shop across the road from the hotel) we took a cable car from the Hyde Street terminus (where they turn the cable cars around by hand on a turntable) to somewhere a couple of blocks from Grace Cathedral, the magnificent gothic-looking (poured concrete) Anglican cathedral on the top of Nob Hill. We spent quite some time there, looking around the building, lighting candles, and lastly Peter and Dorothy walked the Labyrinth. Jane and I, meanwhile, sat on the font steps and waited for them; it felt like we were waiting for our kids who were still playing at the religious play park.

From Grace Cathedral China Town is only a short hop, skip and a knee-racking steep-hill descent. We did the tourist-y thing and walked the length of Grant Street, straight through the heart of China Town. The smell; the colours; the remarkably different architecture. We picked up a number of gifts for people back home, and I found somewhere that sold Chinese Mah Jong cards.

By this time we were getting tired and in need of some sustenance, so our visit to Coit Tower was postponed to another day and skirting Telegraph Hill we made our way to Fisherman’s Wharf, and back to base camp, the Holiday Inn. Peter and Dorothy made their way back there before us (Peter had only arrived in the USA last night and was getting tired); Jane and I wandered around the tourist-tastic Pier 39 where I picked up (and bought) a mid-grey SF 49ers fleece top, Jane bought a fabulous red hat (not SF 49ers) and we discovered where the sea lions were hanging out. Well, you do when you’re on holiday, don’t you.

Choosing the path of least resistance we dined at the hotel before Jane and emerged into a now rain-drenched San Francisco and hailed a cab. Any romantic idea of a long walk back to Pacific Heights, or a ride on the MUNI streetcars was dampened, and instead we had to endure the manic driving of a taxi driver who spent a heart-stopping moment fishing in his coat pocket for a ringing mobile (cell) phone. The minutes after he had found it were no less fraught as he demonstrated his inabillty to carry out two complex tasks simultaneously: steer and speak into a cell phone. The wheel-spins were many, but to be fair I don’t think that had anything to do with him speaking into his cell phone: I think he was just a shit driver!

Tomorrow we fly to Seattle to meet up with more family, this time on the Lothian side, and Mark T. Powell (exNYCgb) and his family. According to Dave Gorman Sea-Tac airport is the most cinnamon-est in the world; we’ll let you know if we agree.

The Streets of San Francisco

Another gorgeous day in SF. I spent much of the morning sitting at the desk in my room on my Psion, writing. Months ago I promised Will Reynish’s folks that I’d write my recollections of Will; well, now I’m getting around to it. I’m making good progress on it.

In the afternoon I set out for the Holiday Inn at 1300 Columbus Avenue. My cousin Robert reckoned it would take about 30 minutes; 80 minutes later I crawled up to the automatic doors of the hotel and was greeted by Jane’s Mum, Dorothy, who was waiting in line to check in.

My route to the hotel, however, took me (and my camera) past a good number of San Francisco sites: Alcatraz, Bay Bridge, Lombard Street (the crookedest street in the world, which if ‘World Series’ is anything to go by simply means ‘the crookedest street in the USA’!) and Coit Tower (that’s the one that looks like the nozzle on a fireman’s hose). And man, do they like their hills in this city! By the time I’d hiked from Pacific Heights along Union Street to Van Ness I was seriously in need of refreshment / nourishment / oxygen * (* delete where appropriate).

I got stopped by a guy in a car asking directions to the Golden Gate Bridge, which I thought was pretty funny.

“Excuse me, could you tell me how to get to the Golden Gate Bridge?”

“Hello! I’m from Scotland,” I replied, hoping that he’d mistaken me for an American because of my cunning disguise of Vans ‘sneekers’, Levi jeans, James Dean white t-shirt, and blue-check shirt.

It happened to be somewhere to which I knew the directions, and was able to show him on my map. (See! always carry a map.) (If you should find yourself in the same predicament the directions are simple. Carry on Union St till you get to Van Ness, hang a right and about three blocks down the hill turn left onto Lombard St, this’ll take you to the GGB.)

SMS text messaging is fantastic. I was able to send Jane and text and ask “Where are you, I’m near the hotel.” “We’re in a taxi,” she replied, “we’ll be there soon.” “I’m in Tower Records near the hotel,” I texted back. $35 lighter, but with a Starburst from the assistant who tells me he’s moving to Newcastle-upon-Tyne next week, I wander down Columbus and meet up with Jane and her Mum. The course had been a success. Dorothy graduated as a qualified Enneagram teacher, and Jane had enjoyed the latter part of the course once the jet-lag wore off.

We took a taxi back to the guesthouse; driven by a Chinese-American who got a little over-excited telling us about a family in Texas who had 8 children at once (octuplets?). He then got even more excited when he discovered where we were staying, and that Nicola’s folks are to do with Oracle. We paid him and walked away while he was still shouting house prices at us through his car window. “…$30 million! And that house musta cost at least $25 million!” We ignored him and kept walking, so he started shouting this to a passing construction worker. Like he cared!

(In a car with brakes) Zack drove us to Noe Valley, to a burger joint; Jane wanted chips! I had a burger that was themed around the colour brown. Now, I know you’re thinking: “But hang on there one second, Gareth! ALL burgers are brown.” True — but in this parallel universe of burgers EVERYTHING was brown. The burger, the mushrooms, and even the bread, which was a deep, chocolate-y brown. Still, I ate it all. (p.s. I ate all the pies.)

The highlight of the evening however, was yet to come. (Even better than the Sigmund Freud Action Figure we saw for sale in a dessert bar.) We watched on Channel 2 (whatever that is) the first episode of a new reality TV show entitled “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance”. I am not kidding, it was BRILLIANT. If it ever makes it over to the UK you have got to watch it. The basic plot is this: she thinks she has to convince her family that she’s marrying this guy she has just met; if she does she stands to win $500,000; if not she gets nothing. The thing is, he is an actor; his family are all actors; the joke is entirely on her. It is a piece of genius, and the groom-to-be has to be seen to be believed.

Jane is currently upstairs watching ER (not Elizabeth Regina), while I’m in the office listening to Voivod. I guess we’ll turn in soon; it is 22:45 here, which is 06:45 GMT Friday. Tomorrow we’re making our way down to Columbus again and doing the tourist-y thing with Jane’s folks (Peter flew in safely this afternoon).