Waider does San Francisco

Prologue: Failure to plan.

It being mid-November and me not having had a holiday at all this year (ignoring the fact that I've not been working since September 22nd), I decided to go on a quick whiz around Travelocity and the like to see what was available. I figured I'd be able to wander for the first two weeks in December without colliding with any other social events, so that was my approximate timeframe.

Oy vey. Booking two weeks in advance is pretty expensive, all things considered. I tried a few places; New Zealand (my sister was there), Cuba (original plan for this year), Honduras (my current favourite place on the planet) and Casablanca (well, why not?). And I was talking to Meredith on Nerdsholm, and thought, heck, what about San Francisco?


I'm not really processing, I'm just wasting your time...


Yay. $450, plus extras (i.e. taxes). Not bad, certainly affordable. So I looked up my friendly travel agent, Trailfinders, to see what time they were open until, and drove into town.

Aie! Traffic!

I got to the travel agent's with 15 minutes to spare. And ten minutes after that, I'd booked round-trip flights to SFO via Heathrow, for £296 all-in. Wow!

In the two weeks that followed, I arranged that I should stay at least part of the time with Meredith, that I'd meet my brother Donal and also my sister Hilary, and that about the only fixed point was an evening at the San Francisco Philharmonia followed by the iSyndicate Christmas party. The rest of the holiday was open to whatever happened.

Wednesday, November 29: And we're off!

Tired and hungover is supposed to be the end of the holiday, not the start. I'd gone out to the pub on November 28th on who knows what pretext, and staggered into the apartment at 2am on the 29th with no packing done. I quickly emptied what seemed like appropriate items into my bag of holding, set the alarm, and fell on the bed. Six hours later, as the alarm went off and I fumbled about blindly for it, I thought to myself, "what the HELL was I thinking?".

The flights were pretty uneventful; a little turbulence on both, and some nauseous excuse for food. British Midland's idea of breakfast: "a sausage & sweetcorn relish sandwich". The sausage turned out to be a SLICE of sausage. And United gave me what has to be the world's smallest cheeseburger.

On arriving in SF, I realised as I filled in the immigration form (Visa Waiver, Green Form) that I didn't have Meredith's full address. Last year while bouncing through Miami to Honduras, I didn't have Rocco's full address. At some point, I will get this right. No matter; the INS guy asked the prescribed questions, scanned my passport and stamped the forms. Sorted!.

Then onto the baggage claim, where I waited for my bag to emerge.

And waited.

And waited.

See, every time I go on vacation, something has to be sacrificed to the travel gods. And this particular bag, the bag of holding, got lost, not once, but twice last year on the Honduras trip. So I wasn't too sure I'd see it. Fortunately, I'd kept most of the valuable stuff in my jacket, so I'd at least have my palmpilot and mobile phone and guitar and... Aha! There's the bag! I wonder what the travel gods did take? (I never found out. All my belongings were intact.)

Then out to the arrivals hall, which is really quite tiny, and there was Meredith, wearing her leather top hat as promised. We piled into her clearly-visible car ("I can't ever lose this in a car park. It's not merely gold, it's GOLD!") and headed for Pacifica.

On the way, we stopped at Chevy's for food. On ordering a pitcher of margarita, I was asked for ID. Just so's you know, I'm 7 years over drinking age, and they stopped carding me in Dublin a few years back. Oh, and Irish barstaff in american alcohol-serving joints don't do it, either. They obviously have a better handle on how old I am. Still, it's more amusing than annoying.

Meredith's cats did not shred me, and the sofabed was admirably comfortable. And so I set about "being in San Francisco".

Thursday, November 30: Finding a phone in San Francisco.

Meredith decided that she'd take the rest of the week off in order to show me around San Fran. Once she'd organised that, we took a trip down route 1 as far as Half Moon Bay, and I was duly impressed with the scenery (and the rockfalls). We drove back up by the San Andreas lake, and into the city to try and find me a phone.

See, I have a GSM phone. On my last flight, I saw an advert saying I could rent a phone, bring my own SIM chip, and presto, I would be contactable at the usual number even while on holiday. Now, I'd read about jwz's fun with getting himself a phone to work in the opposite direction, but I was undeterred, particularly since this was for a two-week vacation rather than an ongoing business.

Scene: AT&T office, off Market.
Waider: Hi, I'm looking for a cellphone that I can use with my European chip?[*]
AT&T guy: Hmm, you'll need to talk to Pac Bell for that.

[*] Note use of Americanisms ("cellphone" and "chip"), and "present interrogative" tense, i.e. everything is a question. Am I a seasoned traveler or what?

Scene: "Parrot Cellular", a Pac Bell shop nearby.
Waider: Hi, I'm looking for a cellphone that I can use with my European chip?
Parrot guy: 'e's not dead, 'e's just resting.

Okay, Okay.

Parrot guy: Sorry, we're all out of them. If you go to the San Francisco Mall on Market, there's a stall downstairs that should have them.

Scene: Stall in San Francisco Mall
Waider: (yeah, same again.)
Stall guy: Sorry, we don't have any. You'll have to go to the Pac Bell head office at 101 California.

At this point, I'm beginning to regret not trying to pick one up at the airport stall which I'd not seen but which Meredith tells me we walked past, or near, or something.

Scene: Pac Bell head office at 101 California.
Waider: (mmhmm.)
Pac Bell Guy: Not a --

Let me take a moment to describe this guy. Bearing in mind this is, we are told, the Pac Bell head office. This guy is sitting at a desk somewhat like a school bench - you know, the integrated desk-and-seat things you see in Dead Poets' Society - and he's wearing a bomber jacket or similar padded thing with a Pac Bell logo on it. He's reclined so far back it looks like he's going to fall over, and he really doesn't have an attitude of "Customer Care" about him. Anyway. He basically tells us that the only place that we can get such a phone is at the airport. Which seems a little odd, for Silicon Valley. You know, lots of techies, lots of multinational geeks. With phones. Because whatever the hell America is doing with cellphones, they're big business in Europe, and since we got our act together on the protocol, you can use a European GSM phone pretty much anywhere in Europe.

At this point, Meredith recalls that there's a cellphone place up on Van Ness, and they rent phones. So we head up there, and an extremely helpful guy says that although they don't have any in the shop, they should have some in around four o'clock from their airport stand if we'd like to call back. Hurrah!

To kill the time, Meredith drives down Geary Boulevard to show me the Irish bars (and the Irish travel agents!), scoots by Grace Cathedral and the newer church that looks like a washing machine agitator, and out through Presidio and the Douglas McArthur Tunnel onto the Golden Gate Bridge. We stop on the far side at the "Vista Point", where we marvel at the fog over the bridge and the obscured city across the bay.

We drove up route 1 into the mountains and eventually wound up on Mount Tamalpais, the highest mountain in the Bay Area (I think). From up there, the view down into the bay looked like someone had dropped a cloud into it. We admired the view for a while, then climbed back in the car and zoomed back down to check on my phone. On the way, we went down the twisty part of Lombard Street, which was rather cool. There's something like a 5MPH speed limit on it, and signs telling pedestrians to keep off the walls and roadway.

Scene: Triptel Cellular, Van Ness and about California or thereabouts.
Waider: (the usual)
Triptel Guy:

Look, you can guess. The helpful guy wasn't around, and the guy who DID talk to us all but shooed us out of the shop and told us we'd have to go to the airport. What is it with these people? Don't they want to do business? Do they get a referral fee from the airport?

We decide to give in to the fates and take a trip to the airport the next day. In the meantime, Meredith phones her friend Melissa and we arrange to meet up at the Beach Chalet down at the east end of Golden Gate park. This is a really cool restaurant (with an impossible entrance if you're approaching, as we did, from the north) which houses a sort of Golden Gate Park museum, complete with scale model of the entire 4.5 x 1.5 mile park, and a mural dating back to the 1930s. That's all downstairs, and the restaurant is upstairs. They've a fine selection of beers, and Joe Bob says, "check out the steak".

And home to sleep.

Friday, December 1: The Gods smile on me.

Again with the waking and the coffee and the "Hello cats" and the hey hey hey. Daddy-o seems to have decided that the visitor's bed is the place to groom early in the morning, and my clothes are gradually collecting enough cat hair to make a cat of my own.

We head over to the airport and saunter up to the Triptel stand, and I ask for a phone.

Triptel Guy: Certainly, sir. Do you have your chip?
Waider: Yep.
Triptel Guy: And a credit card?
Waider: Yep. *hands it over*
Triptel Guy: *swipes card, gets me to do a bit of form-filling* Okay. $15 per day, $400 deposit on phone, there you go.
Waider: *dumbfounded* t-thanks!

And that was it. No life history of phone use; no need to deposit my first-born child or rights to same; nothing like that, and I'm walking away with a Motorola Worldphone complete with both household and car chargers. Hurrah!

Okay, next on the list is buying a jacket and shirt for the iSyndicate party on December 8th, so we take ourselves to Nordstroms. Task number one is, in fact, to establish what "dress code: cocktail dress" means for a guy at a party where you're probably not expected to come in drag.

Meredith: Hi, we're looking for a jacket and possibly a shirt. What consititutes "cocktail dress" for a guy?
Nordstrom Guy: *drags us over to a rack* Well, here's a suitable jacket, and you could wear a tshirt under it, or perhaps this sort of shirt buttoned up to the collar.
F/X: Ringing phone
Nordstrom Guy: Excuse me one second.
Waider: *checks price on jacket* $300. Yikes. I'd expect a whole SUIT for that.
Meredith: We should probably go elsewhere now that we know what we're looking for.
Waider: Good idea. Let's split.
F/X: Scooby Doo fast-exit-stage-left sounds

Well, that was a bit scary. So we wandered across the road where Meredith ducked into a makeup shop to pick up a bunch of Stila eyeshadow, and then we went into Men's Warehouse next door.

I don't know my jacket size, by the way.

So we looked at a rack of jackets, and I picked one up and tried it for size. It was too big by, oh, about fifteen sizes, but we couldn't find a size tag on it anywhere. So we're standing there discussing it and looking puzzled, and someone comes over to help.

Waider: I'm looking for a jacket.
Men's Warehouse Guy: What size?
Waider: Haha. Well, er, I don't know. I tried on a jacket for comparison here, but I can't find a size tag on it.
Men's Warehouse Guy: Here, lemme measure you. *measures* Okay, 38. What kind of jacket are you looking for?
Waider: A black one. Cocktail dress. Sorta smart casual, I guess.
MW Guy: *collars one of the other shop assistants, sets him helping me*
Other MW Guy: Okay, here's a 38, black jacket.
Waider: *tries it on* Oh, nice. Fits well.
Meredith: Yeah, it's the right size, and the color's good.
Waider: Hmmm. Do you have another jacket?
Other MW Guy: Nope, that's the only one we have in that size right now.
Waider: Okay. I'll need a shirt as well.

I do know my collar size, though.

Other MW Guy: *brings us over to shirts* What collar size?
Waider: 15 and a half, I think.

Okay, okay, I was a little unsure. He measured. I was right.

He roots through shirts and pulls one out. I'm eyeing the one underneath, because I prefer the colour. He checks the collar size on the one he has, discovers it's wrong, and pulls out the next one, the one I'm eyeing. It's the right collar size. I tuck it inside the jacket for comparison and wave myself at a mirror. Wow. This is perfect, and we've only been in the shop ten minutes.

Waider: Hmm. I dunno. Maybe I should try something else.
Other MW Guy: It's like being in a relationship, y'know? You find someone who's pretty, well-adjusted, and who likes you. And you say, "awww, maybe I should look around for someone else".

Much laughter. I agree that he's got a point, I've found the perfect jacket and shirt - Meredith even points out that the shirt's color matches her dress. So, over to the sales desk.

Sales Desk Bagger: Not from SF, eh? Where are you from?
Waider: I'm from Ireland. Dublin.
Bagger: Oh, hey. My mother's second-generation Irish.
Waider: Um.

What am I supposed to say, "congratulations"? Ho hum. Anyway, I pay, and we leave, delighted that the fates appear to be on our side today.

Meredith: So what do you want to do now?
Waider: I've no idea.
Meredith: How about Fisherman's Wharf?
Waider: Okay!

This is the sort of thing that happens all the time when you don't have a holiday planned out.

Fisherman's Wharf is the touristy part of SF, or at least the officially designated touristy part. We took one of the cable cars to get there, leaving from Market and arriving down a steep hill just above the Wharf. While we were queuing, we watched a guy chase, corner and catch a pigeon. No kidding.

The Wharf itself is a little bit grubby. I've not been to Blackpool, but this is what I imagine it might look like - somewhere that used be a fine tourist point but is now run down and packed with cheap trinket shops and empty lots. SF as a whole is apparently suffering from ridiculously high property values, meaning "run down and full of empty lots" describes a large amount of the city. There's not a lot of note down at the Wharf - Ripley's Believe It Or Not, crammed in between two postcard/tshirt/junk shops; a wax museum in a similar location; Rain Forest Cafe or something, which I'm told is a well-known name; and lots of eateries. In fact, there seems to be more eateries down there than anything else. We walked down to the Fort Mason end of the wharf, getting startled by a guy hiding behind two pieces of conifer on the way (it's a begging scam. he jumps out to surprise you, then asks for money) and winding up on a small sandy stretch just under Fort Mason where we sat and talked about city life vs. country life for a while. Then we wandered back in as far as the Cannery, a sort of mall made from what I presume used be a cannery, and wandered into a pub called Jack's which boasts 110 draught beers. We just wanted two or three, so we sat there and drank for a while, listening to the guy playing guitar for our entertainment. Amusing moment: Meredith and I listening to whatever song it was (an Eagles number, possibly) and calling the chord changes. This caused us to collapse into rather a large fit of giggles.

And then back to Meredith's place, where my notes tell me we had a jam session. And who am I to doubt my notes?

Saturday, December 2: I am terrified by SHEER MUSIC.

Today we drove across the Bay Bridge to Berkeley, and Paul and Annie's place. It's in this cool little side street off a side street off a... you get the idea, and it's the sort of house us Europeans expect to see in America because we've watched movies where people live in this sort of house.

Wow. That was one majorly content-free sentence.

Paul has one corner of the first room you walk into turned into a studio, i.e. it's full of more musical equipment than you would feel comfortable shaking a stick at, and lots of Little Flashing Lights. The house is full of cool stuff, such as masks, tie-dies, a cat, Annie, and Paul. Also, there's a yellow house next door. It's YELLOW in the same way as Meredith's car is GOLD.

First stop was to get us some food, so we went to a rather pleasant Japanese restaurant nearby. Paul and Annie are, like, the PERFECT COUPLE, being all cute and smoochsome and playful. This is vastly entertaining.

After feeding, we went back to the house where Paul and I proceeded to jam and Annie and Meredith went looking for The Perfect Dresser in order to escape the noise. Jamming with Paul was fun; trying to play along with some of the songs he knows, though, was difficult as he knows all these Grateful Dead tracks with 15,000,000 chords, none of which are in the same key or any sort of standard progression. Which is fabulously impressive, but very hard to keep up with if you don't know the songs. Or, in my case, the chords. "Fmaj9b132PI? What?"

Paul also demonstrated his Waldorf Q, which is essentially the Chemical Brothers in a keyboard. You play a chord, or even some random notes, as demonstrated by Paul, and then you twiddle knobs for ten minutes. Absolutely fascinating. I'm not buying one, I'm doing little enough with my Korg M-1 as is.

Once Annie and Meredith returned, the guitars and toys were put away and the CD collection came out. Paul's CD collection is TERRIFYING. He has entire musical genres that I've not heard of, never mind the artists involved, and he has a very good feel for "You liked that? You should listen to this!" He played some particularly fun guitar stuff, including music from a guy called Buckethead who apparently plays obscenely fast guitar while wearing a KFC bucket on his head.

At some point, we went out for pizza and came back to talk and listen to more music. We stayed late, and went home weary.

Sunday, December 3: I suck at bowling.

More waking. More cats. Meredith's cats drink from the bathroom sink tap. I am not making this up; I should've taken a photo of them in action:

Human enters bathroom.
Cat follows human.
Cat jumps up on counter beside sink.
Human turns on tap.
Cat carefully steps forelegs into sink, avoiding water with paws.
Cat drinks from running tap.
Human boggles.

We decided that today would be a good day to drive down to Santa Cruz and meet up with Dan and Jade, the folk whose wedding I attended on my 1995 America trip. We phoned them at some ungodly hour, like 11am, and arranged that once they were more awake and we were closer to SC we'd decide on what to do.

On arriving at the house, we discovered it to be inhabited by Jade, cats, and more comics than bears thinking about. At Jade's suggestion, we strolled merrily across the river to a brewpub where she and Meredith partook of girly "strawberry beer" while I had a manly stoutish-type beverage. We ordered some food to accompany these fine liquids, and had an amiable lunch. After lunch, we strolled down whatever street it was that we were on. There were two competing head shops on opposite sides of the street, except Jade told us that they're not competing - I think she said they're run by the same people, but anyway one of them appeals to one end of the market and the other appeals to the other end of the market and so they co-exist happily. Hurrah for Capitalism!

I will note that this was the first time I'd been in a real head shop, since you don't exactly find them littering the streets in Dublin - instead you get a cabinet, in places like Banana Tree (a generic "gizmo" shop), full of pipes, bongs, lighters, rolly papers, etc. You certainly couldn't, to take an entirely random example, order a box of nitrous over the counter.

We wandered back to the house where we chatted for a while and talked to the cats, and eventually decided to go bowling. Now, bowling is a sport, and I suck at sports. This didn't really excuse Meredith's mid-second-game comment:

Waider, when we started playing, I sucked, but I've gradually improved. You started at a mid-range level of suck, and you've not gotten any better!

But hey. I've got a certificate somewhere that says I'm Cognotec's Bowling Champion for 1997 or 1998 or something, so there.

Jade won the first game, because heck, she's been practising or something, and would have won the second game if it wasn't for the fact that she got her thumb stuck in the ball when rolling the fifth frame, and it started swelling up so she couldn't get a clean throw for the rest of the game. I won. Hahahah. I BEAT MEREDITH WHAT SAID I SUCKED. just about.

Post-bowling, we went back to house again and waited for Dan to appear, which he duly did, and we all piled into the car and went to a barbeque joint which seemed to be pretty much on the other side of town. I ordered the ribs and a Miller; the girl behind the counter asked if I was old enough to be drinking beer, and took my word for it that I was. The Miller was horrific, though. It's bad enough here, where the label says it's 4.x% alcohol, but in the US, apparently, having 3.7% alcohol in your drink makes it legally a beer, and since you don't have to declare on the label what the percentage is, that's ALL THEY PUT IN. ARGH. That's not beer, that's KIDDIE POP.

After the soda pop and ribs, we returned to the house, where Meredith and I made our farewells and headed back to Pacifica. On the way back, we discussed books, in which we share occasionally similar tastes. Turns out that Meredith has read a bunch of Theodore Sturgeon, he of Sturgeon's Law:

90% of everything is shit

And thus endeth another day.

Monday, December 4: I walk around SF.

It being Monday, and the start of a week, and things like that, Meredith decided that she'd go to the office, and drop me off somewhere along the way so I could walk around SF and be a tourist. We drove in along Market, and Meredith left me out at about 12th street to FEND FOR MYSELF on the WILD STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO.

Which was, as it turned out, fun!

I walked. I do that a lot here in Dublin; why should San Fran be any different? I walked up Van Ness avenue as far as California, stopping into the phone shop where I got the phone to check the unlock code with them ('1234'); then I walked down to Grace Cathedral, which was rather impressive; then I wandered down Nob Hill into Chinatown; this brought me down onto Drumm street, which led me to the Hyatt Regency hotel, in front of which is the fountain spraypainted by Bono during their "Save The Yuppie" gig in the mid-'90s. Right across the Embarcadero from the Hyatt is the Ferry Port, which is also apparently the World Trade Centre. At this point I was feeling kinda peckish, so I wandered around looking for something suitably foodish. I strolled up Mission, passing an amusingly-painted building on the way (a sign on the other side of the building pointed upward and read, "SKY", and there was a corner lot elsewhere with a single tree growing in it, and a sign reading "ONE TREE") and eventually finding myself at the Metreon. The Metreon is right beside the Museum of Modern Art, which I neglected to visit. I wandered around inside the Metreon for a while, including a trip through the Microsoft shop (boo! hiss!) and some sort of gadget shop with a case full of random 50's stuff out front. Eventually, I stumbled across a Starbucks (aie! more corporate evil!), got myself some nibbles and a cappucino, and went back outside and watched two guys on abseiling rigs washing the windows while I consumed the consumables.

Happy with my snack, I wandered across the Yerba Buena plaza and took the walkway over the road by the Moscone Centre and headed towards Folsom, vaguely intent on checking out what 1015 Folsom looked like from the outside. Well, either it's not on Folsom, or it's extremely discreet, because I apparently walked right past it without noticing. Mind you, Folsom is a bit seedy and I didn't feel comfortable with the idea of stopping and going back to look around, either.

Further up Folsom, I meandered onto 7th street and up towards the UN Plaza, which should really be called "The Homeless Peoples' Plaza" because that's where a whole bunch of 'em hang out. The UN building, where the UN was established is quite nice, but in a seedy part of town which makes it rather unattractive as a tourist spot. Walking down Elm street back towards Market, I heard a fire siren, and attempted to snap a picture of the fire truck racing along Market. Alas, I was a little bit too far away (only about a million miles...)

Back on Market, I wandered into what I'm assuming from the general appearance of the guy behind the counter, and the station on TV, was a Lebanese sandwich shop. While I was waiting for the guy to whip up my chicken sandwich I noticed a toilet-stall-type door to one side, with a sign on it saying, "Notary Public". A few legal-looking certificates, some files, and a whole mess of books were visible over the top of the door. The food was fine, and I wandered out feeling suitably fed.

Further up the street I wandered into Virgin and while I was there, phoned Morrisa, whose hospitality I'd planned on abusing that evening. Morrisa was, luckily enough, on her way into the city to pick up some cigar boxes for her collage work, so we arranged to meet further along Market, about where I'd have gotten to by the time she drove there. So I wandered thataway, overshot the intersection, and was on my way back when I heard someone calling my name. I looked around, confused, and then saw Morrisa on the opposite side of the road. Yay!

Morrisa makes collages as part of her artistry, and said collages live in boxes with hinged lids - much like you may have read about in, say, "Mona Lisa Overdrive" if you're a geek rather than an art type. So, Morrisa was in town to get some new boxes, and to attempt to persuade cigar shops to be kind to a poor starving artist when tallying up the cost of same. The first place we went into was a big, expansive shop on a hill. Sure, that really narrows it down, but I wasn't paying too much attention to where we'd gone. Morrisa picked up a bunch of nice boxes there, and then we went to the next place, which was down in the Castro district.

Now, people occasionally describe SF as the gay capital of the world. I dunno if this is true or not, but either way, the Castro district is the gay captial of SF.

So we're in this tiny, pokey little shop, the sort of place where you're sitting behind the counter before the door closes behind you, and the walls are stacked high with cigars and cigar paraphernalia, and the guy behind the counter is, so shoot me for saying it, all but wearing a t-shirt proclaiming his orientation. It's one of those situations where you think, "no, I'm making assumptions based on being a hick from a country where homosexuality was illegal up until the last decade or so.". So, I dunno. Not that it's relevant. Anyway, Morrisa poked through a few boxes while I looked over the walls, and two girls came in, and there was some jokery at the counter about lesbians that I didn't quite catch, and then Morrisa brought her prospective purchases up to the counter and proceeded to negotiate away at the price. And when she and the counter guy had made the deal, and he'd packed all the boxes into a carrier bag, he said to her in - I swear - the so-stereotypical-I-must've-imagined-it effeminate lisping voice

Maybe you should have the boy carry the bag

We then went to the third cigar shop, passing a discarded and rusty wheel hub along the way. Morrisa considered it, hmmed, and kept going. On the way back, she decided she wanted it for an art piece, so I picked it up and carried it back to the car.

At this point, it was getting towards hungry-time again, so Morrisa led me to a Mediterranean restaurant nearby, and we ordered some stuff that I wasn't sure about but willing to try. While we waited, she phoned jwz to ask if she could stop by the DNA Lounge with "Ronan Waider". Aie! Morrisa! How could you! Anyway, she got voicemail, and then Jamie called back and said, sure, c'mon down. So we dealt with the food, some of which turned out to be quite to my liking, and headed off down to Lounge.

The Lounge is cool. Even as a half-built nightclub (and things got a hell of a lot better shortly after I visited), you can see the potential of the place. The size is good, the layout is, basically, good, there are chillout rooms out back, there's somewhere to put your office, all that stuff. Tidy. Alas, when we arrived, Jamie was apparently at the end of his tether, having encountered yet more planning department fun. He said hi to us, and then we wandered off up onto the balcony (me being given the guided tour by Morrisa, basically) while the voices downstairs were gradually raised. There was a half-constructed web kiosk stuck to one wall in one of the chillout rooms; this was the only picture I took, because I'd've felt a bit daft wandering around the rest of the place taking pictures! Eventually, while we were talking to Alex downstairs, we heard a rather frustrated yell, which turned out to be Jamie leaving for the day. We went out and talked to Barry and the contractor, and Morrisa pointed out that the place had come along a hell of a lot since the last time she'd seen it, which went down rather well! Having spread our little bit of happiness in the world, we wandered out into the evening.

At this point I had to get my stuff from Meredith's place, so we drove out thataway. While pulled in at a kerb somewhere down on Hayward, I saw a pickup truck in front of us with two Irish bumper stickers. Alas, the camera's autofocus had different ideas about what I was looking at, so you can't see them in the picture.

From Meredith's place we went out across the Bay Bridge and then east into Oakland. Morrisa pointed out the Mormon "Mothership" which I neglected to take any photographs of, which is a pity because it's a really striking building. Morrisa and her husband nj live within sight of it, so it's not like I didn't have opportunity or anything. I did, however, take a photo of their adorable little ball of fluff, Fizgig! Fizgig made friends with me pretty quickly, probably due to my incredible Irish charm. And my modesty, I'm sure.

Morrisa proceeded to give me the guided tour of the house, including the library with its fine stock of graphic novels, the office with its fine stock of computers, and the studio with its fine stock of, well, everything imaginable, and then some. She also showed me the pet iguana and the pet snake, both of whose names I have unfortunately forgotten. And, of course, showed me some of her artwork, which fills the house. nj returned from the office somewhat later in the evening, and proceeded to play some mind-blowing jazz piano as part-jam, part chilling-out-from-work. Some time after that, we went at his Dreamcast, playing some game that involved racing around a futuristic SF and blowing things up. And after that I was pretty much fit for bed.

Tuesday, December 5: I go for a picnic.

This day was kinda skimpy on notes, also it's now some months later and I'm struggling to recall details... Anyway. Morrisa packed us a picnic, and we piled into her car with said picnic and Fizgig and drove down to Pebble Beach, just south of the aforementioned Half-Moon bay.

Morrisa had already described this beach to me as being pretty much a martian landscape, with odd bits of scooped-out rock and so forth. She had a few pictures to show me of it, and it did indeed look rather otherworldly. But heck, judge for yourself; I took several pictures of the rocks and also attempted to capture the rather spectacular breakers coming up over said rocks.

The caption for the last one, btw, is "It's a nice rock. I thought I'd take a picture of it.". Morrisa agreed that it was indeed a nice rock.

After our martian excursion, we wandered further up the highway to another beach where we launched into the picnic. Fizgig insisted on being hand-fed scraps from whatever we were eating, which he then proceeded to drop in the sand, rendering them inedible. Good doggie! Once I'd eaten my fill, I took Fizgig for a dash across the beach and back again. I must admit, there's a lot to be said for a part of the planet where you can go on a beach picnic in mid-December without pulling out the thermal underwear.

Eventually we headed back to Oakland where I spent much of the rest of the day in a vegetative state involving occasional 'netting, reading, and generally being at a loose end. Late in the evening, we arranged to meet nj in a restaurant in Berkeley. Morrisa drove me down to the restaurant - Crogans - and we went inside, where the three non-street walls were painted up as the exteriors of houses and such surrounding a plaza, giving the impression that the diners were seated in the plaza itself. It wasn't simply a painted illusion, either - they'd cleverly worked various doors and other openings into the design. The restaurant staff seemed to consist largely of tall, good-looking women, to which I had no objection. None whatsoever. Especially since they apparently needed to keep walking past my table. Mmmmmm! The street outside the restaurant reminded me of Cambridge (the one in Massachusetts, not England) for some reason. nj arrived a little later and we dined happily and then took ourselves back to the house again and retired for another night.

Wednesday, December 6: I direct my brother around SF.

Having roused myself at some vaguely suitable hour, I wandered townward with the intention of meeting up with my brother who was due to fly into SFO. I seem to recall that Morrisa may have given me a ride to town, although I could, at this point, be imagining this detail. Either way, I ended up strolling along the Embarcadero, stopping to take a photo of Coit Tower which is a tower dedicated to the city's firefighters. It's supposed to be shaped like a firehose nozzle, but heck, you could've fooled me.

Donal phoned me twice as I was walking towards the Fisherman's Wharf area, and eventually a white rentacar pulled up next to me and honked. Yay! Donal!

We ditched the car and headed down to Jack's at the Cannery for food, where Donal ascertained that the barmaid was from Galway (I'm lousy at picking out accents, unless they're Cork, Dublin or "up North", and even then they have to be pretty strong) and we procured some fish and chips, washed down with brewskis. Donal had a chat with the barmaid about some guy he knew who had a pub elsewhere in SF - down on Geary, possibly - and the barmaid told us that the best Guinness in the city was in some other random Irish pub (which we never got around to visiting). The Guinness in Jack's was pretty good, as it happens.

Post-feeding, we took to the streets and I directed Donal around for a while, which was rather amusing given that he'd been there before and I'd only been there a few days. We did the Lombard Street run again, where I noticed you could see all the way over to the Coit Tower. I pointed the tower out to Donal, who decided we should go check it out. So we drove over to it, and around a mess of one-way streets and traffic diversions, and eventually realised we weren't going to get parking near it or be able to drive by it, so we gave up and headed back down to the Embarcadero. We then decided to go to the movies, so I directed us up Mission to the Metreon, where we ditched the car and headed inside. Our chosen movie was "Charlie's Angels" which was a bit mindless and exactly what we wanted. The wirework in the film doesn't, and Lucy Liu never seems to really get into the role in the same way as Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz. On the plus side, Bill Murray is pretty good.

After the movie we went off driving again, and decided we should seek more feeding. I suggested we go to the Beach Chalet based on my prior experience of same. Donal agreed, so I proceeded to direct us toward the Golden Gate park. We came in at the panhandle end - a street or two off from Haight, as it happens - and drove along JFK drive, in the dark, which is quite an experience. It's not lit up and turns in random directions at the most unexpected moments. As we arrived out on to the Great Highway, I looked over to the left and said, "There it is!". Donal decided this was a great feat of navigation on my part. We went inside where we spent ten minutes or so looking through all the Golden Gate Park stuff and another ten minutes while Donal took a phonecall from "Back East". Then upstairs for food and fine beer.

After eating, we got back in the car and headed for Oakland. We had an entertaining spin around a few blocks trying to get onto the Bay Bridge, and then followed Morrisa's directions to the house - aided by the fact that I was able to recognise a few of the landmarks and roads along the way. At Morrisa's place:

Waider: This is my brother, Donal.
Morrisa: Pleased to meet you.
Waider: See any resemblance?
Morrisa: None whatsoever.


Morrisa: It's quite frightening how much you two are alike, actually.

Donal proceeded to make friends with Fizgig in about the same length of time as I did, i.e. almost immediately, and we sat around and talked for a while. Then nj returned from work, further introductions were made, and we settled down to watch "Delicatessen" which is a wonderfully wacky movie. Post-movie, Donal was shown his bed - the sofa - and we all settled down for the night.

Thursday, December 7: I go to Eureka.

At Donal's suggestion and Morrisa's recommendation, we decided to go visit Eureka. This involved driving up route 1, the scenic Pacific road, and then driving back down route 101, the less-scenic-but-faster road back south. We had a fine breakfast of potato pancakes courtesy of Morrisa, and we departed feeling well fed. Morrisa had also looked up directions on MapQuest to get us on the right track, so we stuck those on the dashboard and hit the road.

The San Rafael bridge was the fourth of the bay bridges I'd crossed, and we could see Angel Island and San Quentin State Penitentiary as we crossed over - we'd initally mistaken San Quentin for some sort of offside view of Alcatraz! On the Marin County end of things, we first took a wrong turn, requiring us to do a quick loop under the highway to get back on track. Once we got down to where we were supposed to be, I recognised it as the same road Meredith and I had taken to get to Mount Tam. And, as it had been when Meredith and I drove there, the road we were intending to take was blocked off with a big detour sign, so we followed that.

Eventually the detour led us back to the coast road proper, and we motored happily up it. On the way we passed a film crew who were attended by more police cars than I'd seen collected in a single spot in the city. As we went further north, the reception dropped out completely on my cellphone (although not Donal's, since his does analogue as well as digital roaming) and the radio stations progressively dropped off until we were left with some random Christian rock station. ARGH. And the stereo in the car had a cassette deck but no CD player (in fact, pressing the button marked CD caused the LCD to display "NO" for a few seconds). The music wasn't bad, but the DJs were awful, so every so often I'd poke at the radio in the hope of finding a better station, and we eventually resorted to mocking the guy on the radio for amusement.

Coming around one set of twisty corners, Donal said to me, "Did you see that sign?". I hadn't, so he pulled in and we walked back. It was indeed a notable sign, so photos were taken and we got back in the car. As we pulled back onto the road, a car came around the corner in the opposite direction, and I had my one and only "omigod we're on the wrong side of the road" moment. Like, my first ever. Ever ever. I felt rather silly about that.

Further along the way we stopped for postcards; Donal posted his, and I kept mine for later (see final entry!). I amused myself by reading the various signs telling you that they'd upped the fines for interfering with the US mail and such like. The post office lady told us that last year the whole place had been flooded and showed us a picture of the gas station with water almost up to the canopy. Wow. I guess this is the downside of your picnic-in-December climate.

And on the road again, and man this was a far longer road trip than I was expecting but pleasant nonetheless. We stopped at Fort Ross for photographs - Ross is in the family tree on my mother's side - and a brief walk in the trees to, uh, exercise the dog. Jokes were made about "Mr. Ranger" and "Picinick Baskets", and we were off again. Some of the scenery on this part of the drive was fabulous, and we watched the sun go down off in the distance (we'd previously checked the sundown time on my GPS toy!) as we motored on towards Eureka.

Eventually we reached Eureka, and after Donal booked us into a Best Western Ho(s)tel, we walked to a nearby brewpub. We managed to overshoot by a few blocks due to walking on the wrong street, but heck, I'm sure the exercise did us good. We had a few pints at the brewpub, Donal bought a tshirt, and we went back to our lodgings to retire for the night.

Friday, December 8: I experience CULTURE.

Woke up, showered, got in the car. Picked up breakfast somewhere, I think, but I'm a little unclear on this. I was busily calculating how long it had taken us to get to Eureka, and then trying to figure out what time we'd get back to SF, as I had a <gasp> date. Well, I was going to the Philharmonia with Meredith, and I didn't intend missing it. Hence, I was a little distracted.

Of course, I could've asked Donal; I did that later in the day when I was sufficiently concerned about the time!

The road back to SF was a little more direct, but we detoured through the Avenue of the Giants, the Giants in question being Redwood trees. I have vague memories of an old Childcraft book with a cartoon of a car driving through a tree, next to a description of redwoods, so I was kind of keen to see these up close. The Avenue itself is basically a road that runs to the left and right of route 101 for a buncha miles, and features various information points and so forth along the way. We stopped at a few of these, at least one solely for the view, and another for "the everlasting tree" which wasn't actually everlasting but had withstood lightning, woodsman's axe, and apparently a flood. I refused to be impressed, though.

Further along we came to Confusion Hill, which looked to be some sort of overpainted tourist trap dedicated to chainsaw wood carvings. Some of the carvings were pretty good, but on the whole I remained unmoved, and so we continued on down the road.

Eventually, we got to a drive-through tree. For some reason, the location of this isn't marked on the handy tourist map that we had been using to find everything else in the area. Donal had been telling me about it before we arrived, and we took a wrong turn or two before we got to it, and eventually after paying a few bucks we approached... The Tree Itself. Oh boy. I was, um, underwhelmed, to say the least. Donal went into the trinket shop to see if there was anything worth buying while I sat in the car and stared balefully at the tree in the rear-view mirrors. Thank you, tree, for destroying my childhood-nurtured image of a huge, towering wooden trunk with a proportionally tiny archway through it accomodating the biggest vehicle that 1960s Detroit could produce with room to spare. This, basically, looked like it'd fall over if they'd been just a little too enthusiastic about cutting out the archway. And it wasn't even big enough to park the car in - the front and back would've protruded on either side. Feh, I say, FEH.

After that, it was pretty much a straight line down 101. As we approached SF and my phone was once more within range of a usable signal, we pulled into a roadside burger bar for food. Upon asking for a beer, I was once more asked for ID, so I had to womble back out to the car for my passport which I'd been smart enough to bring with me. Seriously, people. I don't look that young.

Meredith had left a "where the hell are you?" message or two on the phone, so I called her back to tell her we were on the way and hoped to make it to her place in good time. Of course, I'd reckoned without the traffic on the Golden Gate bridge, particularly since they'd shut down a lane for fun on the inbound side. We got to Meredith's place where I disappeared into a convenient phone booth, did that high-speed-blurred-spin-around thing, and came out as Meredith's smartly-dressed companion. ShaZAM!. Donal took a picture of the two of us kitted out for our evening and we hit the road.

We had been planning on catching a pre-performance lecture at the Philharmonia, but my tardy arrival meant that we only caught the last few minutes of that. Doh. As we looked about during the lecture/opening performance interval, Meredith was somewhat amused to notice an ex-boyfriend of hers sitting not far from us. I leafed through the programme to see what was on the menu for the evening, and discovered (doh, again, I should have known this) that the orchestra would mostly be using instruments from the appropriate era, i.e. Stradivarius violins and the like. Wow. The music was fabulous; with the authentic instruments, you could close your eyes and imagine yourself to be in an old European court instead of a San Francisco venue. Plus, I've always loved a good harpsichord. Check out Jamiroquai's "King For A Day" for a more modern take on things to do with the same instrument.

Post-Philharmonia, we headed down to the American Music Hall for the iSyndicate office party. I did quite well this year; two office Christmas parties despite not having an office! Meredith introduced me to various co-workers of hers and I made fun of the drinks available at the bar. "This isn't BEER, this is SODA POP!" and the like. I wound up on Corona for most of the night, finally resorting to <whimper> Bud when the Corona ran out. Meredith and I spent an amount of the party people-watching, which proved to be vastly amusing. The band were some sort of nightmarish seventies coverband, and I have a vague recollection of peering down over the balcony to try and read their setlist and being somewhat frightened at what they planned to play. Still, I did enjoy "Play That Funky Music", so that was cool.

Eventually, we bailed out of the party and headed back to Meredith's place, where we had another guitar jam and drank Strawberry Stoli until some silly hour, before retiring to our separate beds.

Saturday, December 9: I party with latex-clad babes.

Kids, Stoli is not your friend. It only seems like it while you're drinking it. Yes, I woke up with a hangover. Of course, it could have been that nasty Budweiser, too, which in the past has, for me, been a recipe for instant headaches.

We hooked up with Donal and then set about drifting around SF looking for somewhere to eat, settling on a Chinese restau in the Russian district. Damned if I can recall what I ordered, other than that my poor drink-ravaged body appreciated it greatly. Post feeding, we headed out towards Presidio and thus to The Exploratorium.

The Exploratorium is like a science museum, except instead of signs saying, "Do Not Touch" you have signs telling you how exactly you should touch the displayed items in order to attain maximal fun and education. It is not a mere half-hour visit. It's also probably not somewhere you should bring more than one child unless you keep them on leashes. Of course, I could be biased; I spent most of a day in Boston's Science Museum with my dad, plus I'm a geek, so science stuff obviously is of interest to me. The Exploratorium is located within, or next to (I was unclear on this) the Palace of Fine Arts. This byzantine piece of construction is all that remains of a whole mess of similar buildings created for the World Fair (or some such) in 1916, and demolished shortly afterwords - once everyone went home, I guess. There's a painting of the whole ensemble within the Exploratorium area.

I should've taken way more photos here. Picturing myself in a person-sized kaleidescope, or taking photos of Meredith, scourge of talk.bizarre, PLAYING WITH SOAP BUBBLES, is all very well, but there was simply so much stuff here that we didn't get to see half of it before the place started closing for the day. I remedied this later in the week, see below.

Having been evicted from the Exploratorium, we went in search of an eaterie/relaxerie. Meredith proceeded to direct us to various places, all of which turned out to have gone out of business! Eventually we settled on Hamburger Mary's, a mere hop and a skip from the DNA Lounge, and had a few brewskis. I gotta say, the Guinness was pretty damn good. Donal had one of the local brews, as did Meredith. The place was decorated with all manner of kitsch stuff, including a 50's-style chrome toaster attached slots-out to one wall, and a urinal by the bar with a photo of Liberace in it. Oh, and a christmas tree decorated with tinsel and ... high heeled shoes. No kidding. A sign on the door noted that the place was gay/straight/bi-friendly, and Meredith swears I could have walked off with any of the (male) serving staff. I was most amused to find that there was a sign over the gents' toilets saying "Pick-Up Zone", and the free postcards rack included a Toblerone one which read, "Better than sex. Peaks seven times.". We had burgers here, as you'd expect in a joint called "Hamburger Mary's", and a few beers, and then Meredith headed for home while Donal and I checked into a hotel for the night.

I've since heard that Hamburger Mary's has shut down. Shame; it was really neat place.

Our plan for the evening was to hook up with Søren, Morrisa and nj at The Werepad for a wrap party/fashion show that Søren had invited us to. This was mildly complicated by not knowing where the place was, and also by not being able to contact anyone. Eventually I got a call from Morrisa who gave me an address, and we got a taxi to the general area. The taxi driver cruised up and down the street while we looked for places likely to host a party, since we appeared to be in the middle of some sort of industrial warehouse zone and the taxi driver said it wasn't the most pleasant of areas to leave two out-of-towners in without knowing where they were going. We spotted a bar and decided that if the door a few numbers down from it wasn't our destination, we'd at least have somewhere to repair to, and then we climbed out of the cab and ran straight into Søren and a friend who were just about to go in the door. Whee!

Inside, various Amazon-type women (the race, not the online retailer) were wandering around in various latex outfits. Silly me, left my camera back in the hotel. Søren took a few photos during the fashion show part of the party, but they're mostly too arty (read: blurred) for you to see any detail. You can check out Søren's photos for yourself if you want to see what I'm talking about - unfortunately there's only three from the party. Doh!. We quickly used our Irish wiles to (a) jump the bar queue; (b) take over the bar; (c) get chatted up; (d) get other people to buy us drink. And so forth. I'm not kidding about the bar, either. The barman asked Donal, out of all the people there, to watch the bar while he (the barman) answered nature's call. Which reminds me, when I went in search of the facilites myself, I eventually found myself in a room illuminated by a six-pointed star made of traffic cones with a lightbulb at the centre. The guy ahead of me in the queue said that there were two girls in the bathroom - which fact I had determined from the sounds emerging from the tiny room - but they should be out shortly. Man. I always wanted to go to this sort of party. Apparently the same two girls were providing some, uh, unintentional entertainment later on out in the main party area, but I was distracted by beer or something and failed to notice. That or they were being far more discreet than Søren let on!

True to our party-lovin' nature, we were the last to leave the place, and walked much of the way back to the hotel before managing to flag down a taxi. Donal was a little unclear on the hotel's location, so I again ended up doing the directing. Back to the room, crash, sleep.

Sunday, December 10: I go to San Jose.

Donal suggested we go to San Jose. I agreed, what with him having a car and all. And so we drove to San Jose, motoring down I280. I was quite amused to drive past all these areas I'd only previously read on websites, such as Mountain View, Menlo Park, and so forth. Aside from that, though, it was a pretty straightforward drive down.

Our plan was to visit the Tech Museum in San Jose, which purported to be a sort of Exploratorium-like affair except further south. As we negotiated the streets of San Jose in search of parking, we crossed over Woz Way, and I failed to get a decent photo of the sign. Dammit.

The Tech Museum itself turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. For a start, it seemed less hands-on than the Exploratorium; add to that the fact that a lot of the displays were run-down and some were even broken. I later discovered that it's funded by various companies who display toys and technology there, whereas the Exploratorium is run on grants and the like, which might explain the difference between the two - you get a lot of basic science in the Exploratorium, where as the Tech is filled with commercial applications of technology. As part of the interactivity stuff in the Tech, I got a wrap-around photo taken of my head, which I then rendered in tie-die shades and printed out. Made me look like my head was somewhat cone-shaped, it did. We had a bite to eat in the restau attached to the museum, and even that wasn't great. They did have a neato "your order is ready" gadget, though; when you ordered, you were given a chunky thing made of translucent plastic, which buzzed and lit up LEDs when (presumably) the waitron needed to locate you to give you your pizza or whatever. Not really a substitute for good food, though.

We drove around SJ a litte, partly looking for a gas station and somewhere to get some decent food, and partly just wandering. We passed Dollar Dan's place, which is apparently some sort of local landmark, and eventually wound our way - via a milkshake stand - onto I80 and headed for SF.

On the way up I80, I had something randomly knocking around my head about the Stanford Linear Acceleration Chamber (at least, I think that's what SLAC expands to), and suddenly noticed a sign for it. I mentioned it to Donal, and told him what it was - basically, a big-ass particle collider that runs around partially under the hills in the area - and we decided we'd see if we could go visit. It was well signposted up until about 200 yards from the gate, where you come over the brow of a hill and drive past just as you've managed to read the sign saying you should have turned right. We looped around and came back, but the guys on the gate looked far too official and untouristfriendly, so we shrugged, told 'em we were lost, and turned around.

Back in SF, we somehow wound up back at Fisherman's Wharf again and went into "Lou's Blues" a bar/restaurant on the watery side of the road. There was an absolutely banging blues band playing there, and we ordered some deep-fried-food-in-a-box (mine was fish and chips) while we watched the band. There was a guy next to us who'd had far too much to drink, possibly BEFORE he'd arrived at the bar, and we kept expecting him to either keel over, blow chunks, or both; however, when we left he was still looking slightly green and wavering, but concious and hurl-free. I wonder how long that lasted?

After that, we headed back out to Morrisa and nj's to crash.

Monday, December 11: I chill out.

And having partied on the seventh day, he chose the next one to rest. Donal flew back to Boston, I spent the day at Morrisa and nj's reading and messing with computers. And that about sums up that.

Tuesday, December 12: I meet my sister.

And this is how I got to be the only member of my family this year to meet all the other members for Christmas. Hilary and her boyfriend John were on the homeward leg of a trip around the globe, mostly concentrated in that part of the Pacific known as "Australia". I checked her flight details and decided that I had time to go wander about being a tourist, so I got a ride from Morrisa to the BART station, said hi to the friend she was collecting there, and strode boldly into the place like I knew what I was doing.


Turns out that BART didn't like the colour of my money, or something. It wasn't willing to accept the paper I had, I had no change, and the attendants didn't give out change. Jeez. Not very attentive, that. So I wandered outside, where I found a bookstore, and I browsed quickly through it looking for something that wasn't a complete waste of money. I settled for Ray Bradbury's _Farenheit 451_, the film version of which had caused me to switch off the TV out of boredom after about quarter of an hour. Hopefully the book would be better, I thought, but at least I had change.

Back to the BART, bought my ticket, got off unnecessarily because I hadn't checked which branch the train I was on would take, got back on, got to Embarcadero, strode boldly out onto the street. Hah! I am MASTER of the BART!

Ahem. Sorry, got carried away there. I walked back up Embarcadero, and took myself once more to Jack's at the Cannery for lunch. Hey, if I find a good eatery, I believe in sticking with it over strolling around hungry looking for somewhere else. I then wandered along by the shops, looking for something to buy, and settled for a black fleece with yellow trim and a San Francisco logo on it. I'd have preferred it either without the logo or with a more muted shade of logo, but hey. I'm a tourist, so I gotta buy the tourist gear, I guess.

Checking the time, I realised that I had no idea how long it would take me to get to SFO on public transport, so I decided that being early would be better than being late and headed back to the BART. When I emerged at the Daly City/Colma end of things, from where you catch a bus to the airport, I discovered that there was voicemail on the phone - presumbably left while I'd been out of coverage, underground - and it turned out that Hilary's flight was going to be delayed. Just as well I had a book with me! Eventually, their flight arrived, and we headed back into town.

I booked them both into a hotel across the road from the one Donal and I had stayed in - this was Hilary's Christmas present from me! - and we went wandering off in search of a bar, eventually finding one on either Hayward or Folsom that suited. After a few beers, I headed back to the BART and back out to Oakland for the night. On the way out, I finished the book, which turned out to be far, far better than the movie, and back at Morrisa's place I watched "Fight Club", which I thought also suffered slightly at being made into a movie. Especially the ending. Now you'll have to read the book to find out why.

Wednesday, December 13: I explore.

First problem: I didn't have enough cash on me for the BART. So I strode boldly back out of the station in search of a cashpoint. Heck, I'm in Berkeley, it's filled with students, it should be overflowing with cash machines, right? You'd think, anyway. After walking a couple of blocks, I found a place advertising cash-via-Visa card, which is my chosen MO, and proceeded to go through the song-and-dance routine with the guy behind the counter. Lo and behold, the damned machine didn't understand my You-Ro-Pee-En Visa card, so I had to walk a couple of blocks the other way until I located an actual bank which had a Visa-friendly machine out front. Phew. Back to BART, this time it likes my paper money, and off into town.

I stopped in a coffee-stallish place on Mission called "O La La", where I had a huge coffee and a breadroll of some sort. There was a poster on the wall telling you that if you ordered a frappé in French they'd give you something or other (the drink?) for free. At the bottom of the poster, it had the phrase in French: "un frappé s'il vous plait", followed, in smaller print, by a note that the correct pronunciation was "un frap pay sill-voo play". Mister Hynes, my French teacher, would probably have flayed them on the spot for that.

I got to Hilary and John's hotel and phoned them to let them know I was in the area. Some guy with a jackhammer was busy demolishing the area around the lift, so the receptionist handed me a radio-phone handset to talk to them from outside the lobby. They told me to come up, as they were almost ready to go out, and so I did. Once they'd got themselves organised, we headed out onto Market and made for the shoreline.

We headed back down towards Fisherman's Wharf again, and this time I pointed out the guy behind the bushes before he jumped out and surprised us. He wasn't amused... As we continued on, we looked back and saw him catching someone else out, so I guess that was okay. We continued walking through the Fort Mason area and up along the inshore part of Marina until we got to the Exploratorium, which I'd told John and Hilary about, and this time I was determined to cover all the stuff I'd missed the first time around. With that in mind, I headed around in the opposited direction to the way I'd gone last time, which led me to all the fun toys in the upstairs section. Including this classic from the pre-Windows era: Kids, don't do DOS!.

Later in the evening, we noticed that a stage was being put together downstairs, so we decided to hang about and see what that was for. They had a collection of short movie reels, and then they had a few guys playing with a giant Van De Graff generator, which was excellent. They were also serving glow-in-the-dark drinks and giving out fingerfood, and various staff were doing demos at some of the exhibits as well. I tried taking a photo of a particularly impressive soap-bubble, but the bubble burst just as I took the photo.

Eventually we strayed back along the Marina, this time on the waterfront. Many of the houses had massive Christmas trees out in the front windows, and some had rather gaudy lighting wrapped around the bushes out front. To each their own, I guess, but I also guess a few people would be getting letters from the residents' committee...

Food was at Jacks, again, where we also partook of beers, and sat by the fire drinking and chatting until some late hour whereupon I caught the BART back to Oakland.

Thursday, December 14: I visit Alcatraz.

Back to Berkeley and into the BART station, and again discovered I was short on change. So I ended up with a copy of Anne Rice's "Violin" which has got to be the worst Anne Rice book I've ever read. I ended up skipping large chunks of it looking for some actual progression in the story instead of pages and pages of unnecessary descriptive text. Once in the city, I hooked up with the two tourists again, and we headed back to Fisherman's Wharf with the intention of visiting Alcatraz. After all, I could hardly go to the Bay Area and not visit The Rock, could I?

We had no problems getting un-pre-booked tickets, despite all the horror stories we'd been told about having to book days in advance, etc. etc. It was a bit gloomy, so most people stayed below deck on the way out, but I went upstairs to take a picture of the Bay Bridge as we motored off to the island. There was also a severely expensive food & drink stall at one end of the boat's main cabin area where I got an over-priced coke due to severe thirst and no economic sense.

On the island itself, we walked up the steep path to the main cellblock, and took a set of headphones with walkman for the audio tour, which is apparently award-winning and the best way to experience Alcatraz. The tour guided us around all of the main cellblock, including Broadway, the escapees' block (you know, the one they made the movie about, where the guys tunnelled through their walls), what is supposed to be Al Capone's cell (the records are hazy, apparently. Ask again later.), the mess hall, the library, and the solitary confinement area. One of the cells was open so you could, say, put your sister and her boyfriend into it, but they have apparently stopped closing doors on people since a few doors jammed in the past.

We wandered around some more after the audio tour had ended to take a closer look at some of the areas, including going out into the exercise yard. This meant that we were conveniently still hanging around when one of the guides did an impromptu demonstration of the door mechanism for about a half-dozen or a dozen people. Again, due to the jamming doors, they don't generally do this sort of thing, so that was pretty cool. During the demo, the guard mentioned that the sound of Darth Vader's shuttle door closing (I think) was, in fact, the sound of a whole bunch of the Alcatraz cell doors being shut simultaneously! Apparently Lucas' soundcrew came down from Skywalker Sound (or perhaps it was just Lucasfilm at that point) and recorded it. We talked to the guides for a bit afterwards, who asked us how come we, Irish folk that we were, had no green clothing on. Er, great international relations effort, dude. They were actually pretty decent guys and chatted to us for quite a while and answered a few questions on the cell blocks for us.

I spent a little time looking around the cell blocks trying to figure out where they'd filmed the escape sequence in The Rock, and I came to the conclusion that it can't have been in the main cell block because of the location of the door mechanisms.

As we left, I took a few more photos; the main Alacatraz dock, a sign which basically said, "don't help people escape!" - which is out of focus, dammit - and an overall view of the island itself. If it had been a nicer day, I'd have probably explored some more, and definitely taken more photos. So I guess that's something to do the next time I'm there.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in Jack's, drying out our clothes and having a few quiet drinks. We'd been invited en masse to Annie and Paul's place for dinner, so we hooked up with Meredith and headed out to Berkeley. The meal was delicious, the company delightful, and Paul again entertained us with music and other antics. Eventually, we bade them farewell, Meredith dropped Hilary and Tom at their hotel, and I went back to Pacifica for my last night in the Bay Area.

Friday, December 15/Saturday December 16: I leave SF.

I didn't get up at any sort of a reasonable hour, and Meredith and I pretty much spent the entire morning vegetating (hey, this is my vacation, right?). I took photos of both Daddyo and Iceberg. We phoned out for pizza at some point, then eventually it was time for me to go to the airport. Meredith drove me there, depositing me at the new International Terminal which had been opened while I was staying in SF. It's pretty nice, but the fact that they've only recently moved everyone there means that there are these long stretches of abandoned desks in the old International area with laser-printed signs directing you to the new desks. I dropped off my rentaphone and then wandered around for a while looking for some facilities that didn't require me to have checked in. There were none, unless you want to call a half-assed coffee bar a "facility".

I had a half-assed coffee, then wandered over to the lengthening queue for my flight's check-in. Big queue, because the really, REALLY clever people running the show are forcing people flying to France and people flying to London to join the same queue despite the fact that the French flight is departing earlier. You would imagine that a company whose sole job is to transport groups of people from point A to point B would have figured out the most efficient way of getting them into planes, but apparently not. This didn't help my humour any more than the half-assed coffee did.

Eventually I got to the desk, checked in, then spent five minutes trying to arrange all my bits of carry-on and travel documentation in such a way that I could avoid hindering anyone on the way through security. That done, I headed into the much-trumpeted new terminal to have a look.

Guys, it sucks. Looks lovely, has a few shops, but realistically speaking, it's pretty underfeatured. Most glaringly - and annoyingly - absent was any means for me to send my postcards. Want to buy postcards? Sure! No problem! Need a pen to write the cards? Come right this way! Need a postbox to put the cards in? Over here, sir! (Well, actually, the only one I saw was outside the security check.) Need stamps? Hahahah. Surely you jest, sir. Who would need stamps?

So, my postcards went unposted, and I ended up handing them to people instead. That personal touch that means so much, I guess.

The flight departed about 40 minutes later than advertised, and I spent much of the homeward trip watching the movies, and making a few attempts to get a suitable "homeward bound" photo. About an hour or so out from the UK, the captain came on the intercom, asking first for a medical doctor and then for anyone with medical training. As we arrived in Heathrow, he announced that due to a medical emergency on the plane there would be a slight delay in disembarking. Eventually we were all filtered off the plane, past a conspicuous tent of blue blankets surrounded and inhabited by a bunch of paramedics.

Heathrow was partially under construction, so I found a seat and sat in it to read my book while I waited for the homeward flight. The London/Dublin flight was pretty much on time and uneventful, dropping me back in Dublin where I procured a taxi and forced the poor man to drive me across Dublin during rush hour. And so to a long, relaxing sleep.

All the pictures linked on this page, along with captions, can be found at my SF pictures page.