San Francisco in a nutshell
Geneve and I were in San Francisco for five days this past week, staying with my gracious highschool buddy from Toronto, Ray. I don't think I've ever done so much in such a short time while on vacation, but some of the things we did include:
- Fisherman's Wharf (touristy, although the seals were cool)
- Took a ride down Powell Street hanging off one of SF's famous cable cars
- Hung out one afternoon in Golden Gate Park (the Rose Garden and Japanese Tea Garden were nice)
- Shopped in The Haight (it's like a crunchier version of Toronto's Queen St)
- Took a bus tour to three winerys in Napa and Sonoma (Madonna, Cline, and Viansa)
- Walked across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Sausalito side, then back across when we realized there was no bus into SF
- Dined finely, at Cha cha cha in The Mission (Cuban-ish Tapas), and Sushi Groove (excellent Japanese where G and I had delicious Mochi for the first time, which is a round rice cake with ice cream in the middle--so good)
- Saw Super Size Me (fascinating, definitely recommended by me and by the 90% of people who gave it a thumbs-up on Rotten Tomatoes)
- Went to the SF MOMA (saw the Pop! (art) exhibit, Larry Sultan's The Valley, and Yves Béhar's fuseproject, all of which were interesting)
I missed out on Alcatraz last time I was in SF because tickets to go to the prison (where Al Capone was once incarcerated) sell out two or three weeks in advance, so I was sure to get tickets this time around. Geneve and I got the self-guided tour, which is highly recommended. The narration describes the inmates' living conditions and day-to-day routine, but what I found most interesting were the stories of attempted escapes from Alcatraz.
There were three specific anecdotes that I found fascinating. The first involved the tale of a prisoner who managed to break out of prison, and survived the one-mile swim from the island to San Francisco--which was notoriously difficult due to sharks, the strong current, and sub-60-degree waters--only to be captured on the other side by SFPD. He was so close, and yet so far--it must have been agonizing.
The second involved two brothers and another inmate, who, the story goes, scraped through their cell walls to freedom Shawshank-style, using spoons. The night of their escape they used fake heads (with real hair obtained from the barbershop) and fake bodies to fool the guards at the bed checks, and their absence was not noticed until dawn. The three were never heard from or seen again, and it is believed they drowned attempting to swim to the mainland.
The third was a bloody escape attempt that resulted in the deaths of several inmates and guards. The inmates captured the "gun gallery", which is a three-story cage along one side of the prison which allowed a guard in the gallery to see (and presumably, shoot) anybody leaving or entering a prison cell. The gallery was the only place near the prisoners that guns were allowed, but it was thought safe from ever being captured... until one inmate captured it in 1946. Six guards were rounded up and put in a cell, where one escaping inmate decided to shoot them at point-blank range. Two guards were killed, and some survived by playing dead.
Incredibly, the inmates could not escape to the exercise yard and eventual freedom, because the key that they used to open the door was very sensitive and would jam if improperly used--which it did. And so the Marines and National Guard were called in to restore order, which they did by killing three inmates. The other three inmates retreated to their cells, but they were eventually tried for the crime, and two of them were gassed at San Quentin.
It is a fascinating place to visit, and really stirs the imagination at the types of things that occurred in what was once billed as America's toughest prison.
SBC Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, is one ballpark I've wanted to visit since it opened in 2000. I was not disappointed. The park is beautiful. It is built on the water, and the view from our seats along the third-base line was spectacular. The lush green grass of the outfield in the foreground was framed nicely by the Pacific ocean in the background. Truly awesome.
The play of the Giants, however, was anything but. They stank up the joint and got pummelled by the Phillies, 12-4, and I saw some fans streaming out of the park in the fifth inning, when the Phillies were leading 8-2.
Barry Bonds got good wood on the first two hittable pitches he saw, smacking a double down the left-field line on the first pitch in his first at-bat, and lining out to the shortstop in his third--the second was an intentional walk with men on second and third, for which the Phillies were soundly booed by the hometown fans. I did give the remaining fans much credit, however, when they gave Bonds long and loud cheers when he came up to bat in the eighth inning. They love him in San Francisco, and rightly so, as he's one of the greatest to ever play baseball.
Nothing at SBC could compare to the food, however. The garlic fries (with garlic ostensibly from Gilroy, whose garlic festival is one of the "premier food festivals in the world") were absolutely tremendous. They were easily the best ballpark food that I have ever had, and they would not be out of place at a good restaurant. The all-beef hotdogs were very tasty, displacing my favorite Hebrew Nattys as my sporting event 'dog of choice. The hot chocolate was made with real milk. The kettle corn was great, the fresh-squeezed lemonade was drool-worthy, the fried dough with cinnamon and sugar (the name escapes me) was super-tasty, and even the Coke was awesome: it had the perfect balance of carbonation and syrup so as to be indistinguishable from bottled Coke.
Let me just say that I am generally not one to rave about ballpark food, but SBC provided a dining experience so above and beyond what is expected for a stadium that it is worth drawing attention to and commending.
SBC is worth checking out for the beautiful scenery, the food, and a chance to see one of the all-time greats in Barry Bonds. It is the best "new" park I have been to, and runs neck-and-neck with Boston's Fenway Park for the second-best park I have had the pleasure of visiting (the Cubbies' Wrigley Field is numero uno).
All in all, it was a seriously amazing trip, and served to reinforce the notion that I should live in the Bay area at some point.