I took one of the airport shuttles from San Francisco International to the hotel I would be staying at for this first week, the Clift. The airport shuttle made several stops at the various terminals before we headed to the city, but we didn't manage to get many people - everyone else was heading to other shuttles or transport options. I couldn't figure out why really; maybe they were turned off by the driver playing 80s love power-ballads through the van's sound system, although I certainly wasn't. Every new song made me remember it and think that I hadn't heard it in so long; every new song was a NEVER FORGET kind of moment.
We did manage to pick up 2 more passengers, a middle-aged couple from Pennsylvania who were spending this week to holiday in San Francisco, much like myself, and it was from them that I learned something that would explain why my later explorations in the city would find so many shops and things closing up a little bit earlier than usual, such that it made me feel like it was a weekend: today was Labour Day.
Once we left the airport and started driving down the highway, I noticed that the lanes were a lot more free-flowing than what I remember American highways to be like. My only experience with them was half a life-time ago in LA where it seemed like the only lane that was making any progress was the carpool one, which we would always take as we were either in some kind of tour bus or on being driven as a family by one of my parents' friends.
The driver of our shuttle gave us water and it was then that I noticed how dehydrated I was. I went through half of that bottle in one go, stared at it when I had to stop to take a breath, and thought maybe that was why I never felt like I had to go to the toilet on the plane - it wasn't that I avoided the wine or that I had a petite bladder like Nicole, I just didn't have anything left in me to pee out.
When we got to my hotel, I paid my first ever tip to the driver, although I spent a bit too long wondering how much it should be. I never looked up what the going rate was for San Francisco, but I was hella grateful for the bottle of water - a bottle that I would keep and reuse for the next 2 weeks - so the $17 ride became one of the $20 notes I had with me. I gave the driver the note, thanked him for the water, then rolled myself and my luggage into one of the darkest lobbies I have ever seen.
The Clift Hotel must have dimmed the lights to an extreme degree on purpose. Over the next couple of days I'd wonder why they did that, concluding that it had to be some sort of 'style' thing, although what kind of style they were going for (Vampiric? Was it a Twilight thing?) was beyond me. That first time I entered the building I just thought it was like that because I came in from a city drenched in autumn sunshine and my eyes were doing the worst job ever of adjusting.
When I checked-in, navigated the ill-lit hallways and elevators to find my room, I was glad to see that the rooms didn't suffer from the same 'style' as the lobby did. I lay my luggage on the floor, threw myself onto the large bed, and just stared at the ceiling, glad to safely travelled a fraction of the world away and made it to where I wanted to be without little issue. Well, there was that travel visa thing... I think. Meh, that's well behind me now. I'm in San Francisco bitches!
I explored my hotel room - a crapload of towels and cloths in the bathroom, a bed with sheets so tightly tucked in, a tiny fridge of treats so ridiculously expensive - and found a sort of ad for the hotel, promoting their energy saving ways. Yeah, by not illuminating the lobby and halls, I'm sure they're saving lots and lots of money! Whatever it was, it was excuse enough for me.
Well, no way I'm going to sleep now. I think, looking at the time and realizing that I've done some form of time travel - being at the hotel before the time I left New Zealand. It's early afternoon, and I've got a city to explore. But first, a shower.
If I felt stupid for not knowing about the travel visa thing, I felt even dumber trying to figure out how the hell the shower in the bathroom worked. The hot and cold taps were at the bottom, near the large spout to fill the bathtub, and the shower head was at the top, but without any controls near it for me to figure out how to get water coming out of it. I must have spent a good 10 minutes figuring out how to work this system, at one point seriously considering having to Google this damn thing so I could have a shower! Once I figured out that the weird pull lever/switch on the spout was the key (turn the water on, then pull that thing up to have the water redirect to the shower head), I had my shower, put on some new clothes, throwing aside the ones I left New Zealand in, donned my 1999 San Francisco Giants cap, and started my first day (albeit only a half day, and on Labour Day) exploring the city.
Union Square, the Ferry Building, a crapload of shops and malls
I may not have studied tipping, but one thing I did take a good look at before I got here was the layout of the city. Union Square seemed like a very central point to start with, just 3 blocks away from the hotel, so I made my way there.
This place was easily tourist central: the square was flanked by large hotels, tour buses used the street at one of the sides as a hop-on/drop-off point, a multi-story Macy's store was across one of the roads, and the famous San Francisco cable car ran alongside the square. In 1 direction, I could get to Chinatown, in another direction I could head towards all the shops and malls of Market Street.
But first, I was getting a little hungry. Looking around, I saw the familiar colours of a Starbucks in one of the floors of the Macy's, so there I went to pay for my usual tall caramel frappuccino where I was introduced to the bane of wallets that is the American 1-cent piece. Sipping on my favourite caramel drink, I went back outside and thought to follow the cable car tracks towards Market Street. I didn't really have time for the proper sights, so I thought I'd see what kind of shopping this place had to offer.
When I reached Market Street I could feel a cool breeze coming down that long street. The breeze had to be coming off the bay, so I thought that would be a good place to head towards: the coast. Along the way I crossed the road several times to get a closer look at all the shops that were here: malls, super-massive department stores, stores dedicated to a single brand of shoes (Converse store), or sunglasses (Oakleys store), groceries and pharmacies, small-time coffee shops... this street had it all. I made a mental note of most of these places as I was sure I'd be visiting them again on the day I'd set aside later for doing some shopping. Until then, I continued towards the source of the breeze to what I assume would lead me to San Francisco Bay.
About half-way between myself and the bay, I stopped at an intersection, waiting for the crossing lights to turn white to let us pedestrians go, when I saw in-front of me a familiar face.
"Oh you have got to be kidding me!" I said aloud to grab the man's attention.
"Oh, hey Emanuel. Fancy seeing you here!" said my manager from Xero back in New Zealand.
First the CEO, now my manager. Not even 24 hours into my vacation and I've encountered 2 reminders of work back home. They were both here as part of XeroCon USA, so I wasn't as surprised as I could have been. Still, over 10,000 kilometres away from home, and in a city that measures 7x7 miles, I would've thought the chances of me encountering anybody from work would have been almost nil.
We didn't talk long - he had some work-related things to sort out for XeroCon - so I was soon back on the path towards the bay.
Holy crap, how big is this city? I started thinking, after another 10-15 minutes of walking. I started consulting Google Maps on my phone to make sure I was heading towards something that I could get to and back to the hotel from before it got too late at night, but the blocks here sure are bigger than anything we had back home - it made the distances between places deceptively small.
When I did make it to the bay, I only hung around the ferry building for a while before turning back. I once again took note of what was here, and thought that I should continue my explorations tomorrow from this point. Sleep deprivation was starting to sink in, and I really did need something more akin to dinner - a caramel frappuccino can only take me so far.
I took a slightly different route back to the hotel, one which had me pass a lot of art galleries. That was where I saw the shark gun:
And as for dinner... What was the name of one of those burger places Justin was talking about? Jack in the Box? Oh lookey, there's one over there!
Let's just say I went all American when it came to feeding myself over the next couple of days :)