The first time I laid eyes on San Francisco I was up in the air.
I was one of those plane passengers with their noses pressed up as close to the window as you could possibly get; the view was amazing, I could see a few towns scattered around, the sea, lots of beaches, and surprisingly, lots of trees.
As the plane was entering the descent we kept getting closer to the ground, there were lots of hilly areas covered in what looked to be forests, and scattered among the trees were houses, no not houses, mansions. Mansions with colossal sized pools and tennis courts, ‘welcome to the world of the rich and famous’, I thought. (I think I saw James Franco hanging out in a very unkempt manner today, but I wasn’t sure it was really him).
I could also see motorways, I counted 8 lanes – not too different from some motorways around auckland, although the roads aren’t black here, they’re a much lighter grey/old brown-ish colour.
When the plane turned around we leaned down, I was on the down side so I got a spectacular view, I wish I could have taken photos but we weren’t allowed to have our devices on at that stage. The landing was pretty smooth, and I’m not gonna lie I breathed a slight breath of release when we were once again safe on solid land.
The airport was packed with huge planes – everything seemed so big! The planes had a big blue and gold globe-like logo on them – I’m not sure what airline they were from but there sure was a lot of them.
When we landed I had to wait for people to pass by and get my bag out of the overhead lockers, I finished filling out the little form we had to give the people (very technical terms here), and ditched the jerky and packet of pods I never ate (another thing I had on my carry on) as I was too scared to get pulled up about the food thing because I didn’t declare anything – haha now that I think about it I’m sure it would have been fine, but the paper said no meat products so I got a little whimpish about it all and left the both on the plane. I regretted that about an hour later.
When I finally got off I went and found the bathrooms to freshen up, putting on deodorant and brushing my teeth felt amazing. This was also a mistake though, as when I caught up to the rest of the passengers I was at the very end of the customs line. Omg this took like an hour to get through I swear!
All the security guards had these belts packed with things that looked like a pop out baton thing, more weapons, a radio, and a gun! Holy moley, these guys are packin’ some heat! I tried not to obviously stare incase he’d suspect I was smuggling something.
The man at the booth, when I finally got there, had quite a few questions for me, “What are you here for?”, “Do you know anyone over here?”, “You’re not going to be working here are you?”, “How much money did you bring?”, “Is that all?”, “What’s your address?”, things like that, I answered cooley and confidently – booyah. They then took my finger prints and scribbled something on my form and sent me away.
By the time I had finished there my bag was the only one rotating around on it’s lonesome. I picked that up and placed it on a trolley and headed off. A security person then took my form and pointed to the right – “San Francisco is through the doors on the right, ma’am” – wahoo! I was totally ready for some duty free shopping and some food.
When I turned the corner I was directed to, I was met with nothing but doors. I hesitated, confused, but as I got closer (and was just about to turn around and look for the real San Francisco) they opened! I walked through and was met with… nothing really exciting.
It was the arrivals area, no duty free shopping, no food, no shops really at all. A few people were standing around with signs to welcome people, no welcoming party for me though! That was all good. I walked all the way to the other end of the building to find a bathroom to get changed and put some shorts on – it was hot!
After that rather awkward situation of trying to push my luggage trolley into the cubicle with me I was finally in my jandals and shorts, feeling much more comfortable, and on my way outside.
Finding a taxi was SO easy, I went outside, looked around and a man was standing across the road allocating people to cabs, he saw me coming and said “number 863 ma’am, right this way” – number 863 was a cab that had just pulled up. Out of it hopped a little man, I was surprised with what he was wearing, a jacket that looked like it was from the 80’s, all ripped up and faded. I bet it was cool in it’s time. Some dirty brown pants and sneakers. He was nice though, so I hopped in, and was very surprised to see him getting in the left side! Oh yeah, I knew that, they sit on the left and drive on the right here – so weird. “California and Leavenworth” I said – ohh yeah, felt so cool. That’s how people navigate here, using a “cross road” system. He seemed to understand and off we went.
We sped along and got on a motorway pretty quickly, I studied the roadside and at first we went into an almost industrial looking area, then the motorway was surrounded by hills with colourful box houses, and then we were surrounded by lots of motorways, going through tunnels underneath other roads, etc. I looked around and saw signs for the Golden Gate Bridge exit – momentarily I panicked and wondered if he had misunderstood me and was going to drive to California! My next thought was “Damn, that’s going to be so expensive!”, but at the same time I realised California is actually a state, and I was in it, he indicated and switched lanes, avoiding the exit – phew!
Soon we were in the city, surrounded by busy looking people, weird little shops, and high rises. I could hardly take it all in! But then somehow, everything changed. The buildings seemed pretty similar, but the people were different. In a matter of seconds we had come into an area that reeked of homelessness, poverty, and gangs. People were wearing different clothing, baggy and colourful, leaning up against walls, people lying and on the footpath, walls covered with graffiti. I think I had found my way to ‘Tenderloin’ – an area known to be filled with questionable loiterers, basically crack heads, homeless, gang members, and straight up crazies. It was very aerie, I felt like I was in a rap music video with a really low budget. I wanted to stare and take it all in, but to be honest I was scared to make eye contact – these guys did not look very friendly.
Later when I talked to Cory from work, he told me “yeah, people in Tenderloin don’t look all that different to homeless people here… except they all have guns”. What the actual eff! Definitely made a HUGE mental not to never come down there, no matter how bad I want to.
Then just as quickly as it had come, it seemed to disappear – the higher up a hill we went, the more normal it seemed. Turns out we were on Leavenworth street. I asked if I could be dropped off at number 1139 – my place! And the taxi driver nodded and said okay. After a few minutes he pulled up and turned around. I looked at the screen in front of me, $42.00 – yeowch! I asked him about tipping, he said normally you’d do about 15% – I was too tired for maths so just asked him how much I should add on, he thought about it and said $6 very hesitantly – I agreed and we added that in. I then swiped my debit card and it worked just like that, no pin needed or anything! Well, that was easy.
Mr taxi man helped me get my suitcase out of the car and I stood on the side of the road with it in hand, looking around all lost-like. 1139 was across the road.
It was a one-way street, and cars were speeding up the hill, but when they saw me standing there they slowed down. A lot. I wondered if I looked so different that they had to stare. It was a long time before there were no cars so I crossed the road, just as a thought entered my head – duh! I could have just walked out in front of those cars and they probably would have stopped. I had heard that everyone’s paranoid of running people over and getting sued for thousands so people sometimes just walk out in front of cars, causing drivers to slam on the the breaks and beep their horns loudly. They love beeping horns over here.
A few minutes went by of me walking up and down the street, I couldn’t find 1139! 1125 was below where I had walked to, and 1143 was above, I finally used my eyes properly and saw through a grated gate like thing that there was actually steps behind it, and numbers on a wall. There was also a little buzzer system. I swear watching American television has helped me so much being here, I don’t know how long it would have taken me to push the buzzer button if I hadn’t seen people do that hundreds of times on TV.
Immediately the gate clicked to unlock and a young man came rushing down the stairs, I asked him if he was Nic, and he was! Hurrah! I made it!
Nic was very kind, he spoke with a European accent and insisted on carrying my hefty suitcase up all the stairs – I tried to tell him no (it’s damn heavy – 21.1kgs! I didn’t even think I had brought that much!) and by the time he had lugged all the way up he was puffing, even though he seemed pretty fit.
The apartment is pretty nice! Plain but it has everything I could need and more. Two bedrooms, kitchen, some working spaces, bathroom (no laundry) trash out through another door and down some stairs – and the best bit? Out that very same door by the kitchen, I can go up another narrow wooden stair case between apartments and access a roof top! It’s amazing! And I can see the Golden Gate Bridge from up there!
After Nic gave me a brief run down of the place he had to jet away to Europe, so I was left to my own devices. It was about 3pm, and I was starving. With the whole Tenderloin experience fresh in my mind I decided to order some food online, surely there would be such a service around here.
Turns out there’s a bunch! And lots of places offer free delivery too! I used Yelp to source this – very helpful. I ordered Japanese – California roll sushi with Salmon and Avocado. I looked at the price and it was $4.75 or something so I ordered it. When the buzzer rang about 25 minutes later I already had $10 cash in my hand, and the lovely man who delivered it looked at the note and he honestly couldn’t believe it, he was so thankful, said thank you about a billion times. I had just tipped him more than 50% – waaay more than the standard 15.
After eating that I decided to watch some shows on Netflix and relax, but I was trying not to sleep so talked to some people at work, dozed off a bit… then woke up and it was dinner time! The California roll turned out to be pretty small so I ordered some more Japanese – a Teriyaki thing, some sesame chicken, a seaweed salad and some Miso soup. This was also really cheap, or so I thought at the time, a reasonable $21. The same man came, and I was once again waiting, this time ready with another $6 tip – he was once again very appreciative, and I suddenly realised my standard tipping today had pretty much all been $6 – man this system is confusing. I opened the package and it was amazing – probably one of the top ranking Japanese meals I had ever had, although, they had given me two sets of chopsticks and forks… that’s awkward.
This whole lot of food was way too much, so I saved the left overs for another day, talked to some more people at home, took a few photos, looked at guitars on ebay, and then went to bed. What a day, my first intro to San Francisco.