Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Ferry Queen

October 10

Litter can tell you a lot about a place.  Discarded Sierra Nevadas and Haagen Dazs wrappers indicated Berkeley was slightly more upscale than the average American city.  A return to Bud Light and used condoms let me know I was entering Oakland.
Oakland does have a reputation as a fearsome place.  The city conjures images of Hell's Angels running wild or Raiders fans dressed up in costumes better suited to a medieval battle.  Oakland recently topped the FBI's list of most dangerous cities in California.  The reality for me was quite different.  I enjoyed a rather pleasant stroll down Broadway to the Bay.  I would have been tempted to stop at numerous bookstores and restaurants if the early hour had not meant that they were closed.
My experience at Cafe Gratitude had left me eager to try more Bay Area cuisine, so when the open for lunch signs were finally lit, I immediately pounced.  My target was the Chicken and Waffle, a spin off of Los Angeles' famed Roscoe's Chicken and Waffle.  The diner was packed, soul food in demand these days from people of all colors.  I examined the varied menu, most of the choices pictured on a mural covering the wall behind the counter top where I sat.  My decision was easy.  I had never tried the unlikely combination after which the restaurant is named.

The meal was at first disappointing, the fried chicken and macaroni failed to ignite a passionate response in my mouth.  There did seem a method to the pairing, though, as I discovered when I bit into the waffles, the contrast of salty and sweet delivering an extremely pleasant taste sensation.  I wouldn't want the duo for every meal, but i now understand the allure.
The impatience of my stomach was punished upon reaching Jack London Square and the Ferry Terminal.  I had just missed the previous ferry and would have to wait two hours for the next.
Don't worry, I'm not cheating and then rubbing it in your face.  The boat is part of the ADT - pedestrians aren't even permitted on the Bay Bridge to the best of my knowledge.  I didn't mind the rare opportunity to sit and rest.  When the ferry finally showed I appreciated even more the chance to advance effortlessly. Seven miles of no effort whatsoever and suddenly the captain was directing us to disembark.

Months of work had finally brought me to San Francisco.  A Spanish name, but a very American town, filled with a vibrant array of peoples and cultures.  Interestingly enough, however, the name did not come from the mind of a Spaniard.  The original settlement had been known as Yerba Buena*.  Colonel Bartlett, who liberated California from Mexican disinterest during the Mexican-American War, picked the current name during a brief stint as mayor.
There were few visitors in those days, but that changed only a couple of years later, when the Gold Rush turned San Francisco Bay into a bustling port virtually overnight.  Evidence of the Bay's usefulness was everywhere along the shoreline.  Piers, marinas, boats old and new crowded the water.  Fish, shrimp, and dungeoness crab sat in various stages of preparation at an endless string of seafood restaurants.  Even the lonely island out in the harbor, Alcatraz, had once served a purpose in the maritime economy, as the site of the first lighthouse on the West coast.  Later on the island adversely effected the shipping interests of certain members of the criminal class, as Al Capone could have attested had his syphilitic brain not melted into a pile of pus.

I spent the night at Fort Mason, where Hosteling International gives the less than wealthy traveler a chance to stay in the heart of downtown San Francisco.  Mason has had many uses over its 150 year history, defending the city from possible attack, hosting exhibits for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and operating as a storage facility and staging area during World War II.  Now the Fort is stuck with me and a gaggle of smelly Europeans as house guests.  Oh how the mighty have fallen down, cracked their head on the sidewalk, and bled out. 

10 miles/4069 total miles

*Which means dank herb in Spanish, I believe 

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