The previous night had been an interesting one, as it provided examples of the best and the worst of humanity.
The best happened as I was just sorting out my bag in my dorm, when Wesley, a Chinese traveller with a very un-Chinese sounding name, presented me with a poster of the Golden State Warriors basketball team. We had been chatting briefly over the past few days, but I was rather taken aback by this kind gesture, wondering what I had done to deserve this gift. I neglected to tell him that basketball was one of my least favourite sports, and instead grinned and made positive head nodding motions.
The worst of humanity happened whilst I was sat in the lobby charging my electronics and planning future days. A man took up a seat next to me with his laptop, appearing to be rather frustrated. He struck up a conversation with me and asked if I knew how to use the Apple device finder, which I did. He explained that he believed he had left his phone on the bus, and that therefore his wife was going to be maaaad. At this point, I felt sorry for him and appreciated the difficulties of his situation. I did my best to get the FindMyiPhone working, but unfortunately it seemed someone had turned the phone off or it had ran at of battery. At this point, things got weird. The guy started accusing the bus driver of taking the phone, making it clear that he had taken the phone due to the colour of his skin.
At first I could not believe what he had just said. But as he kept talking about it, I realised he was deadly serious. This was an odd feeling to experience, because I had never encountered such an overtly racist person before. This confirmed to me that racism was most definitely alive in 2010s America.
I immediately ceased my efforts to help him, made an excuse to get away, and left him to suffer the wrath of his wife. Looking back I really wish I had challenged his views, because they were simply unacceptable.
Having seen the best and worst of humanity, today I was going to see what humanity could build, with a walking tour of San Francisco organised by the hostel. This appealed to me for several reasons: it was free, had no charge, and did not require money. But in all seriousness I was also interested in the architecture and neighbourhood history of the city.
The tour left from the hostel at 9, led by a native moustache sporting volunteer called Henry. Right from the start, he made it clear that no tips were expected. I liked Henry so far.
Henry took our group through the various hills and highlights of SF, including the Filbert Steps, Lombard Street, Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, and Nob Hill (huehuehue). What was interesting was that he described 1850 buildings as ‘old’ whereas in Britain we have tea cups that are older. Of course, I don’t think much survived the early 1900s earthquake. He also took us through Chinatown, which was a fascinating experience, complete with a park full of older Chinese women practising what looked like Tai Chi in full tracksuits.
The weather was perfect, and combined with some seriously steep hills, I was soon feeling the burn on my thighs. What I found very enjoyable though, was the sense of security and safeness that I felt walking around with a San Francisco native and a medium size group. It’s all well and good walking around on your own to recharge your introvert battery and get some alone time, but simultaneously you have to be constantly switched on and constantly vigilant, especially in areas that you are not familiar with. It was refreshing to let Henry lead the way, knowing that he knew the city and its inhabitants like the back of his hand.
Henry also told us that some of the inhabitants enjoyed vehicular vandalism, and that it was wise not to leave contents inside vehicles as often that would result in the window being smashed and aforementioned contents in the hands of light-fingered new owners. He also told us about the Smart car flipping epidemic. This was to do with San Franciscans buying Smart cars for their parking abilities on the steep slopes and in narrow spaces, but unfortunately opportunists had taken the chance to flip them over, because unlike a lot of American cars, they are very light. Cow tipping, urban style.
I chatted to some of the group as we walked through the streets, and to my surprise, I finally met a Simone. I think she was French, as Simone’s are most likely to be, but it was just an oddity to finally meet someone with the female equivalent of my name.
A few hours later, I parted ways with Henry and the group, and set off to experience the most touristy thing in SF; the cable cars. These aren’t really used much as public transport any more, they’re more tourist attractions in their own right, pulling themselves up the steep inclines. I boarded one at the cable car turnaround after a lengthy queue (they literally push the cable car around with their bare hands). A rather shouty driver barked at me to stand clear of the middle lever, which the driver uses to control the speed. Cable car drivers have to be very strong to wrestle with these levers, because they grip the cable which hauls the car. And over the course of history this has gone wrong on occasion. But today was my lucky day, and I disembarked the cable car a little underwhelmed to be honest, but I was glad I had ticked off a major attraction.
Upon return to the hostel, I used a payphone like it was the 1980s, in order to phone my uncle in New York to let him know I was stateside. My phone deal did not allow for foreign calls or messages without a hefty fee, and emails were read intermittently, so I decided my best bet was the payphone. I felt a like I was some sort of gangster film the way I had to slot my quarters into the machine, which probably hadn’t been used in at least several months if not years.
The day ended once again looking at the sun set behind the bridge. The lyrics ‘Lost my mind in San Francisco’ from the song London Thunder circled in my head, which was partly true because of the snorer in my room driving me mad. But the city itself, had endeared itself to me. Yes there was a lot of crazy, but there was also a vibrant atmosphere, one found at the edge of a continent facing the great abyss of the Pacific, with the sun beating down on the days of youth. (Well that got very descriptive).