“It seems the height of human culture exists alongside a fermenting source of apocalypse in San Fran.” I saw a homeless man picking through a dumpster for valuable and edible items. “San Fran seems perpetually like a model waking at noon after a hard liquor or cocaine binge. This reality must escape so many CEOs working for hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars in downtown penthouse offices, as they creep past bums, hippies and techies after leaving from underground their corporate fortresses in garish automobiles for bubble-wrapped suburban hidey-holes.” As I sat in the cavernous but tiny smoking area underground the hostel, Brazilian, German, French and Italian criss-crossed in front of me. Multi-linguistic and passionately borderline aggressive conversations went on across an empty-drink-riddled table. Not quite but almost a parody of the UN. Two puffs from the quiet Italian guy’s joint sent me swaying like a drunken pirate in a storm through the corridors to bed, early. Behind closed eyes the world flashed red and black. It was a piece I’d seen at SFMOMA. I could see my brain’s synapses firing onto the back of my eyelids’ black canvas. They looked like a city map. A Golden Gated city map. Didn’t wake until 11am after the wine and two-joint-toke fuelled night. My remaining beers were missing presumed stolen from the shared fridge, so I crossed to the convenience store for a six-pack. That’s right: you can buy booze in supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations in the US, in case you didn’t know. That’s also right: never trust other backpackers with your shit. I returned to the hostel for karaoke-related madness and stayed for the drunken gibberish and impromptu English lessons. The next day I circumnavigated almost the entire city north of the Twin Peaks, by bicycle. The Financial District, Fisherman’s Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge (past, not across it), Coastal Route (not bike friendly), Golden Gate Park, Market Street, then back to the bike hire shop. One of the most incredible things I’ve ever done, but suffice to say it almost killed me. A life-saving highlight occurred back in Haight-Ashbury, east of Golden Gate Park, when a cheap little fruit and vegetable shop appeared at the right time. I’d only eaten a burger so far that day, and my circuitous urban bike journey hadn’t taken me past any food until the fruit shop. There were gentle inclines everywhere, though as with many things in life, they balanced out in delightfully long declines. “Hill too much for you?” enquired an older guy with his either drunk or special son, as I heaved my bike up-hill toward Buena Vista Park.
“This city’s too much for me,” I panted. “But, I love it anyway.”
And I did. A very bicycle-able city. I had my first US burrito there. Oddest paragraph end yet.
“Intelligence is recognisable in a lack of surprise. Not that intelligent people don’t experience surprise, but the reaction differs. It’s about a combination of careful, considered observation and, especially in a dangerous situation, a weighing up of options. I don’t consider, assuming that all truly successful people have struggled, that I have not struggled. I was born into relative privilege, but I have forced myself to struggle, to sacrifice, in order to earn those things now or in the future which creatures who celebrate the banal actively avoid.” San Fran had by then struck me as a city hungering for the new, the different and, yes, the touristic. Its inhabitants wandered throughout the streets obviously willing their city to be a combination of the best that every city in the world had to offer. Which it was, in many ways due to immigration and tourists. We were all there, whether permanently or not, to examine the extent in which the American Experiment had been a success, or not, and just what any conclusion meant for us. “Courting should be a subtle affair. Whether in times desirous or dangerous, a control on one’s emotions is crucial to success. Not the emotions felt, but those exhibited. Only then will you get what you want from a situation. But always give something back. I’ve claimed much love through such methods, however fleetingly.” I woke at 3am from wine-dry-mouth-shock, got out of bed at 4am and went downstairs to read, drink coffee and smoke – with the smoking area’s fan whirring madly and loudly over my head like an imagined Vietnam flashback. Bryce Courtenay, I concluded, was a genius. Tommo and Hawk is an inspired, intricate story of brotherhood that rides the precipice of over-complication, but never plunges over it. The damn motion-detecting light in the smoking cave kept going off every 15 minutes or half-hour or so, which kept me bouncing out of my chair at regular intervals. Beautiful French students Jocelyn and Clara – a dark-eyed brunette and blue-eyed blonde, respectively – stopped in briefly after their night out on the town. I particularly remember enjoying Clara saying Australia was “attractive to us”. But due to language differences/difficulties I couldn’t rely on that on its own being a come-on. So I sauntered down to the Embarcadero’s Pier 7 in order to enjoy a rusty golden sunrise over the grey Bay Bridge. Got some excellent photographs, considering at the time I was still only using a smart-phone. Took the long way back past California Street’s strip clubs, then walked back down Grant Street through Chinatown. San Francisco had finally become as familiar to me as it probably ever would. Momentarily filled by the city with love for all humankind, I became tempted for the first time to give a California Street homeless person some money, until I realised he was tugging himself off under the dirty brown blanket. Much too familiar, San Fran. Back in time for two pieces of raisin toast, half an orange, banana and fruit juice for breakfast. The two French ladies were still awake in the common room adjacent to the smoking dungeon, but I was thwarted from heroically rescuing a pen they left behind by a staff member, who callously threw it in the bin.