In San Fran again for GDC. Was greeted with spectacular weather, which is almost spookily becoming the norm when I travel, cementing the idea that I am a weather god further in my mind. Had a relaxing day yesterday after landing at 10am and checking in with the local authorities (ie, giving the US Department of Homeland Security my fingerprints). We went out to Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay and had a beautiful afternoon watching the sun set eating battered artichokes and drinking a beer.
Spent four hours in the car driving north west to Lake Tahoe, one of the biggest lakes in the US and home to the best skiing in California. Now, four hours in the car isn’t fun in general, but my whole family and I were crammed in there with all our supplies and Christmas presents for the rest of our family (17 Harrisons in total going to Tahoe), so it was, needless to say, quite horrible.
It was neat watching the temperature drop, degree by degree as we went further north and gained more altitude. Snow started appearing, and before I knew it, it was -1 degrees. Somehow, we managed to arrive there at the same time as the rest of the family, even though we left from two different places at two different times. We headed over to the uber haus we had rented (which would hold 12 people) and started unpacking and getting stuff ready for the fun.
After that was all out of the way, we went exploring; the skiers went to buy their passes and rent their gear, and I went to the pub and sucked down a pint of Sierra Nevada, a tasty brew that is popular around there but like most American beer, sadly lacking in comparison.
The next day, we dropped off all the skiers/snowboarders and left them to have their fun, whilst a few of us drove down to Lake Tahoe itself. Its damn big. Aside from that, it was like many other natural bodies of water. The surrounding scenery was pretty impressive though; snow-covered peaks all over the joint.
We also nicked over the border to Nevada for a while. Interestingly, there mustn’t be gambling allowed in California – as soon as you cross the border, there’s casinos everywhere.
Probably one of the best things about Cal though is the fact that they have no smoking inside laws – anywhere. Its awesome; I didn’t SMELL a cigarette until we were in Nevada and we went inside a Casino. What a great idea. Wish Queensland at least was awesome enough to have a law like that to prevent me from having to suck down smoke from other assholes that are too inconsiderate to drag their stinky cancer stick inhaling asses outside. Anyway.
We then went down to Truckee, which is the closest “large” town to where we were staying. I spent a grand total of 10 minutes walking up and down the main drag looking at the shops.
The day after was Christmas; that was pretty fun with 5 small kiddies doing the young-child-at-Christmas thing. We also dug out a cool toboggan thingy behind the house which we all had turns screaming down – good fun. After all the excitement, I lay down, read the Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe, then went to bed.
The day after my aunt and I decided to try The Tube – the tube was basically a small ride for people which involved getting in a tube and caning down a hill and going round this one bend thing. I did it a few times, and quickly decided I needed to spice it up a little. You see, there were these phat rubber mats carefully placed before the bend to slow you down. I had isolated these mats as the main reason that you didn’t get a hell of a lot of speed or height on the bend, and resolved to try and find a course down the hill which would involve missing said mats.
Eventually, we came back late at night. There were these two girls working up the top, and I casually asked if I could try taking a running jump. They sort of ummed and aahhed about it, but then one of them gave in, and I did so. I took about a 5 metre running start, and leapt head first onto my tube down the hill.
I bounced off the left side of the track, avoiding the groove that had been carefully eroded into the ice by the bodies and tubes of others long gone. I realised quickly that I was going to miss the mats! I hit the bend at the end, going basically straight to the top – a bit more velocity, and I would have gone straight over. At the peak of the trip, I realised that not being in the groove, whatever would happen next would be unexpected.
So, I started going down the wall – instead of gracefully sliding around the bend to a gentle stop, I went almost straight back down aiming towards the fence. I tried to exert some futile control but ended up falling off the tube, landing on my skull, rolling for about 5 metres and taking out the whole fence on the other side of the thing.
The groundstaff there then proceeded to lay down more rubber mats and post a person actually on the ramp to force them into the standard groove path in the event of any more hotdoggers.
Spent some time in a hotel in the city for a few days with the family, which was pretty interesting. Most of the city of San Francisco is pretty hilly – you’ll have seen a lot of the terrain in car chases in movies like Bullitt (Steve McQueen) and The Rock and stuff, giant hills everywhere.
Standing at the top of some of them is pretty freaky, especially when you’re looking down into the CBD. Its like some bizarre runway at the bottom of a canyon; these big 4 lane streets that scream down with giant 50 story buildings looming over you.
We spent a bit of time doing a favourite tourist pasttime – the cable cars. The cable cars are one of SF’s most well-known attractions, and they’re actually pretty cool. The sure as hell make going up and down those giant streets a lot easier. One thing I noticed on these cars that most of the other tourists on there were American; I guess they get a kick out of it too.
Day 2 began with me finally shaking off a horrible sore throat, the final chapter in the cold that hassled me on the plane. Dad and I jumped up early and headed over to Fort Point, an old military installation built back in the late 1800’s to guard the coastline. It was also used in World War II as part of a submarine net to prevent nastly little subs from sneaking in and wreaking havoc upon the city. Normally, the Fort is open for tourists but unfortunately is currently closed for restoration, so we can’t go in and check it out.
So, we just moseyed around for a while. Fort Point is behind the Golden Gate Bridge on the south side, and offers extraordinary views from that angle. From there, it just looks incredible; the giant span being supported by the amazing array of steel and concrete that you are standing right next to. You can hear the peak hour traffic rattling across the surface of the bridge.
We didn’t really spend enough time there to fully check it out, but its worth of a separate heading. Maybe more later if we go back. The Presidio is an area of San Francisco that was established over 200 years ago as a military base by a Spanish expedition that arrived from Mexico. After the US won the boringly-named Mexican-American war in 1821, the US Army moved in and stayed there until 1994, at which point the National Park Service took over (I imagine this probably happened peacefully, not in a war-like scenario).
Something that may be of interest is that there is word on the street that George Lucas will be setting up shop in the Presidio, building a giant uber-studio thing. The land value alone there in normal terms would be absolutely enourmous – as a historical attraction though, I can’t even begin to speculate.
Academy of Sciences:
After lunch, we made a family trip to the Academy of Sciences, an old favourite from our first SF venture back in ’84. The Academy was founded back in 1853 primarily to study the surrounding California flora, fauna, geology and anything else worth poking a stick at, putting under a microscope, cutting open, or blowing up. It was originally housed in Market Street, but then the uber-earthquake of 1906 hit and basically destroyed the building and everything in it.
The citizens of San Francisco, flexing the arms of democracy, decided that the Academy should be rebuilt in the Golden Gate Park. It was reopened in 1916, and has spent the time since then going through several upgrades and expansions, including the awesome Steinhart Aquarium.
Anyway, that’s what we did this afternoon. My sore throat thing came back, rendering me useless for a while until I managed to get back to home plate and hit the ice cream.
One of the main things I miss in Australia is chocolate chip icecream. Sure, you can sort of buy some variants of it, but you can’t get anything like you can over here. The best I’ve found so far is Dreyers – they make a huge variety of different ice creams, but I can happily sit down with a human-skull sized container of this stuff and eat the lot of it. Oh – so yummy.
After knocking back a cubic metre or so of this stuff I started to feel human again, and then tried to brave the cold (10 degrees or so) out on the veranda watching a quite spectacular sunset. Too cold though; I ended up back inside and had a quick bash of q3dm17 and laid down the smack .au style (all without using the railgun), and then had to listen to the Americans whine about it.
Kicking back tonight waiting for my grandfather to arrive from LA, then we’re having a roast dinner and probably going to drink some rum or something. Tomorrow – the city!
The plane trip
Travelling in economy class is quite obviously the worst possible way to get anywhere. Being in a cramped metal tube whilst screaming through the air in the worst possible seats sounds bad from the start, but actually having to experience it is a new kind of hell. Throw in the tail end of a cold (including free sinus slaw) and we’re talking pretty unenjoyable stuff.
Starting in Brisbane, my brother (Stick) and I went through Auckland, which involved a boring hour-long stopover. After that, the lengthy 10-12 hour flight (lost track of the time), which involved us watching four movies which were obviously carefully hand-picked by Qantas staff to try and reduce us to unconsciousness in as short a time as possible. Fortunately, I removed the headphones and jerked my eyes away before becoming catatonic, and starting reading my new book (Darwin’s Radio, by Greg Bear). About 4 hours later, I’d finished it, and then slept for a few hours.
Eventually, we arrived at LAX, which then involved the usual pain-in-the-ass immigration thing where we had to line up and go through customs. Fortunately, the canned passionfruit we had in my brother’s bag wasn’t deemed worthy of requiring an additional cavity search (“no, the guy with the rubber glove was suprisingly gentle”) and we fought our way though thousands of other Christmas holidayers through the major west coast entrypoint to the USA.
Found our way to American Airlines, then an hour or so later, we were on our way to San Francisco. I promptly passed out on the flight, then awoke just before we started descent into SF. By this time I was fairly dehydrated, my sinus were about to cause my head to explode in style, I was cramped and sore and I was already counting my pennies to try and organise business class on the way back.
Touched down in SF, did the bags thing and luckily my parents were at the right airport, so we then drove back to my uncle/aunt’s place in Pacifica (about 40 minutes drive south of the city on the coast).
Sunday: Day 1:
A lot of Day 1 was spent recovering and chilling out, but we also had a trip into the Golden Gate Park, a giant splotch of greenery in the middle of the inner Bay Area. We drove around for a while and sussed out some of the old family haunting grounds like Spreckles Lake (where a lot of SF’ers go of a weekend to take their remote control boats for a spin). Basically, we spent the time doing a bit of recon as we tried to decide which places we wanted to heavily strafe with our tourism cannon, which worked out well – got a glimpse of everything to whet the appetite and also planned future parts of the trip.
During this time, I’d been catching tantalising glimpses of what I really wanted to see on this trip – the Golden Gate Bridge. Teasingly visible from high points on the freeway, the giant gaudy structure stands out as a major attraction for me and many others. Its often seen on promotional stuff for the USA – just like the Statue of Liberty, its was quite often the first thing people saw when they came to this country.
Though it was getting dark and cold, we decided to head over for a pre-emptive look at the bridge. Heading down to Baker’s Beach and watching the Bridge swing into focus for the first time in its entirety is a pretty awesome site. Open since 1937, the 1.2km-long bridge is painted in “International Orange” as a complement to its surrounding environment and also to provide greater visibility through San Francisco’s famous soup-like fogs that frequently roll in from the Pacific Ocean to coat the city and Bay in a visually impenetrable white.
The Bridge is one of the few places that I can go to and just sit there and look at it and be happy for no other reason that being there. The scenery is stunning from any angle. I’ve tried to take some good photos of it, but I fear nothing on the screen or on paper will ever do it justice. I’m insanely jealous of the people that live here and have it as just part of their surroundings.
The rest of the scenery is pretty spectacular as well – driving home along the Great Highway, you’re driving practically along a stretch of beach looking out over the Pacific. Watching the sun set through the fine fog gives amazing sunsets with really rich colours. And its just interesting to watch the sun set over the ocean – not something you see very often in east coast Australia.
Another phenomenon over here which is somewhat more consumer-oriented is the Safeway miracle. If you’re in Melbourne or maybe Sydney (one of those heather mexican states in .au) you’ll know what they are, but for the QLD’ers, Safeway is basically a Coles/Woolworths thing. However, over here, its been shot up with steroids to the point where its busting at the seams. The one we went to, randomly chosen out of the sample population was awesome. Included in the actual shop is a bank – open til 7pm EVERY NIGHT OF THE WEEK. Oh, the shop itself is open incredibly long hours (still trying to find out if its 24hours or not).
The range of stuff in there is amazing. They sell alcohol, as well – not just Bud, either – they probably had a bigger range of beer than most bottleshops in .au – including the obligatory box of Fosters. The range of icecream and cookies is awesome as well – two things that you seriously can’t get good implementations of over in Australia.
More to come!