17. Shady Characters and San Francisco

Because we had limited time to travel with our 1o-day Ameripass we planned to travel at night to attempt a sleep/travel combo to save time and be more efficient (it seemed like a good idea at the time). We got onto the Greyhound bus late in the evening and began the very long journey from Seattle to San Francisco. There were a lot of sights and parks that we wanted to stop at between the two cities, but none of the bus stops put us close to them and we didn’t have time to arrange transportation between these bus stops and the sights we wanted to see, so alas, we had to pass up tons of beautiful places and head right to the next major city.

I slept through most of the night with strange intermittent encounters with an assortment of characters. The first guy I met was wired—like he had way to much caffeine or speed or something. He talked about smoking pot, racing cars, losing his license, and all sorts of other stories. It is amazing how some people will just open up and tell you their life story if you just sit there and quietly give them your attention.

In the morning a middle aged guy named Cliff sat down next to me. He was visiting his parents in Oregon. He was a truck driver and lived in Utah with his wife. He told stories about him and his wife doing LSD and smoking weed (apparently people love to disclose their stories about drug use to perfect strangers) and going hunting together—hopefully not all at the same time. He told me facts and stories about the geography as we sat and looked out the window together. Somehow the conversation turned to topics of religion, politics, and war. I wrote in my journal, “He was a really cool guy.”

We and an hour layover in Redding, CA where we ran down the road to get donuts & coffee. We changed buses a bit later in Sacramento and had a very intense two-hour ride to San Francisco. The three of us were finally sitting together in the back of the bus. There was a big guy with a very strong and intense build sitting about three rows in front of us facing out into the aisle who became our object of concern and discomfort. Looking back on it now, I’m sure he was having some sort of drug trip. He was real twitchy, his eyes sort of wandered around his sockets never quiet focusing on anything, he kept scratching his body, giving himself the sign of the cross, and putting a bandana off and on again repeated. It was actually really stressful watching him. It seemed like he was perpetually on the verge of standing up and punching something. After a while, we casually got up and moved to some open seats at the front of the bus to get some mental and physical space.

From my new seat I started talking to a guy who told me there is a lake in the area that used to be a city but was filled with water and is now a lake. Upon later research I learned that this city was Kennett, CA (more history here). He told me that when the water gets low enough you can walk on the old bridges (I don’t think this is true).

We met another guy named Matt who, according to my journal, I described as a “clean, pot smoking, herbal vegetarian, and college graduate.” He gave us lots of tips about the city and what to expect.

It always seemed like the Greyhound bus stations were in the shadiest parts of town that were least conducive to walking anywhere of relevance. We started wandering around the streets of this unknown city (keeping in mind this is before smart phones) looking for a hostel or cheap hotel that we could make home base. After 10-12 blocks we were so tired of not knowing where we were going or what we were doing and desperate for a place to rest and refresh ourselves. Just then, we happened to see a little sign that simply said Hostel $20. That seemed good enough.

We waked down a small alley and into the lobby of this hostel that seemed shadier by the minute. We were greeted by a friendly guy with an Australian accent who worked behind the counter. He claimed to be an artist when he wasn’t working at the hostel. We paid for our room and headed up to the 3rd floor of the building. It was a square room with 3 single beds, a tiny dresser with one drawer, and a closet with one lonely hanger inside, a mirror and a window that looked into the dingy alley. It just felt great to set our stuff down and have some private space after an entire night on the Greyhound bus.

We headed out to explore the city for a bit and said goodbye to the friendly Australian working at the counter. Just as we headed out he offered, “Oh, in this area it’s probably good if you’re back here before 11pm—and don’t talk to the street guys.” We weren’t quite sure what to make of that comment.

We headed toward Haight and Ashbury—the origins of our nations hippy movement—just because we could. We walked along Haight St. which was full of hippy shops and record stores. We were offered “buds” numerous times and we politely declined. There were lots of what appeared to be burnt out hippies who seemed to still have one foot in the “good old days”. We finally came upon a little burrito shop called the Santa Rosa where we got the best burritos I have ever had. We were starving having survived on random bus stop snacks and donuts for the last 12-20 hours and were ready for a hearty meal.

From there we headed toward the Golden Gage Park. On the way we passed a guy playing guitar and signing about George Bus being a crack head. We stopped in a record store to peruse a bit. I bought the Sunny Day Real Estate cd “Circles” which I still listen to today.

When we got to the park we followed its winding sidewalk passed two adult kick-ball tournaments and then into a different section where there were random people sitting around playing drums and others lounging around in the grass. It was the people-watchers paradise.

We decided to make our way to the Golden Gate Bridge. By the time we got to Baker Park it was almost dark. We could see the Pacific ocean and bay area up ahead of us. It was symbolic moment for us. We felt like we had finally gone as far west as we could go. We had somehow made it from northeast Ohio to the lapping shores of the pacific ocean. We kicked off our sandals, rolled up our pants and ran down to the water’s edge to stand in the cold waves. We were so excited that we forgot to pay attention to where our sandals were and had to chase them down before they washed out to sea.

The Golden Gate Bridge looked incredible lit up at night. We soaked in the view and the excitement of the moment for a while then realized that we had better find our way back to the hostel since we had been walking most of the afternoon and were now miles away. A park ranger slowly passed by and we asked him what the best way would be to get back to where we came from. He suggested we take a bus and told us where the nearest stop was. We got back quickly and safely where we caught up again with the Australian guy at the hostel and told him about our day and what we had been up to. We headed up to our room where we were finally able to shower for the first time in 10 days. I’m pretty sure I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow.

Unfortunately this was a very picture light post, but there will be lots more in the next post on our second day in San Francisco!

Next Post – Gardens, Trolleys, Chinatown, and Prison

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