When work gave me the opportunity to take a class out of town, I had a choice between San Jose and San San Francisco. One of my bosses, in a conference call from D.C., said “just look to see which trip would be less expensive” which was a reasonable request. My other boss, sitting across from me here in Phoenix, put the conference phone in mute, shook his head and whispered “just go to San Francisco”.
My coworkers doubted I would even make it to the class, obviously distracted between hangovers, sampling local cuisine and, you know, being in San Francisco for the first time.
I landed at SFO with some daylight left, and as I had heard that the cab ride between the airport and the area my hotel was located in, cost around $50, I opted for the Metro. Some people insisted “just take a cab”, but stubbornness on my part, and also being my mother’s daughter, who will only take a cab against her will or if there’s absolutely no other way to get somewhere. As a family, we’ve been known to ride public transportation in random cities with seven pieces of luggage, various boxes and shameless disregard for inconveniencing daily commuters.
The San Francisco Metro was convenient, not overly packed (particularly compared to that one time in Rome’s sorry Metro) and an inexpensive way to get from the airport to downtown. Still, be prepared for $8.10 fare.
I stayed at the Cornell Hotel for two reasons — it offered a discount for students of the class, and it has a ridiculously awful website. I’ve learned that hotels with bad websites are not necessarily a bad thing. It can mean they’re locally, family-owned without the high budgets for expensive interfaces and design. It gives a hotel personality, I enjoy them more than those too-corporate looking sites found with hotel franchises. The hotel’s excellent location — or xxxcellent if you consider the Male Nude Revue right next to it — made it a great deal, although still in the $100 range (plus high taxes). And although some of the decorations looks like French stereotypes decided to camp in protest all over the place, that can be overlooked with the charm of an older building, beautiful vintage elevator and family-owned atmosphere.
Decorations in the dining room.
Breakfast was included in the room rate, and it wasn’t your average, pathetic free breakfast — the Cornell had a few choices like made-to-order omelets and, appropriately enough, French Toast. Although, clearly not appropriate enough for a family of French tourists, who did not understand the waitress’ explanation of French Toast until a visual display — my order of French Toast — could be shown to them.
I’ll be the first to admit, that I failed miserably as a tourist. I did not see the Golden Gate Bridge, I did not ride the trolley, I did not go to the Embarcadero, but in my defense, I was in class between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. The only exploring time was after class, by which time my options were walking, drinking, and eating. I’m not complaining though. I ate at the Cable Car Cafe and Honey Honey, had drinks with a coworker’s cousin who kindly showed me around a bit, and invited me to Happy Hour with his coworkers. I walked around the fantastic Chinatown neighborhood, then visited North Beach’s City Lights Bookstore and ate a pastry from an Italian bakery.
I feel at ease when a travel. More so than when I don’t travel and I’m trapped in a routine. In a city like San Francisco, you see and meet new people every day. Even if it’s just a passing glance, a nod, a smile, people exist and for a split second you are part of their lives, maybe a thought. In Phoenix, driving everywhere puts you in a bubble, and days might go by without seeing a new face, engaging a stranger in conversation, or even talking to someone other than the 7 or 8 people at work. Unless I strain to look through tinted car windows at a stop light, I might drive all 5.2 miles to work without seeing a single pedestrian.
One day, I will live in a city like San Francisco and complain about the noise, the traffic, the aggressive homeless, the rude people. I’ll remember the glorious days of not having to walk steep hills to work, of having a car to drive me everywhere and of being in a bubble if I chose.
Walking through San Francisco, you can easily see into snippets of other lives: a couple cooking dinner, a guy ironing his shirt for a night out or work the next morning, someone’s beloved cat sitting by the window sill. You’re not trying to look into someone’s apartment, but you cannot avoid the glimpses in a city like San Francisco.
As expected, it was a great city, full of things Phoenix has never had, but that’s probably the joy of traveling. Of finding something new, better, different. Something I cannot find on my daily commute while sitting isolated in my car.