Saturday, April 18, 2015

2015 San Francisco - Day 4 - Evening

(Link to all 2015-April San Francisco / Berkeley trip blog posts)

Late afternoon by the time I reached the National Maritime Museum. Looking back through my notes, I can't believe I didn't take any notes on this or on the several galleries I wandered through after.
I skipped the ships just as I had given no more than a slow walk-by at the World War II ships at Pier 45. I did spend a lot of time in the late-art-deco styled ship-shaped once-a-pricey-bathhouse Maritime Museum. As well as the cool rear of the building facing the water. Not only do you get an unobstructed ocean view and the soothing sound of lapping waves, you get a sheltered-from-the-sun patio to rest yourself.

And thank god for not-locked public bathroom! In fact, in San Francisco, city of code-locked customer-only bathrooms, let me pause here and thank Pier 39 and all government facilities for their thankfully free-access and clean bathrooms!

The Maritime Museum's displays continued in a separate space several blocks away adjoining the Argonaut Hotel. However, it would take a rather long time before I finally got there because of all the galleries along Beach Street. In particular I spent quite a bit of time in the Franklin Bowles Galleries, looking at the works of former Playboy-artist-in-residence LeRoy Neiman (everyone instinctively says "Neiman Marcus" for some reason) and trying to appreciate the abstract pieces of hot newcomer Miquel Gelabert.


Finally I made it to the Maritime Museum adjunct at the Argonaut Hotel, and the historical bits and pieces no longer interested me. I wandered to Starbucks up the street for a cold drink.

Starbucks didn't seem as pervasive in San Francisco as it is in Vancouver, and in all of my time in Berkeley I think I only saw two. Their storefronts are also not pinked by La Boulange logos though they carry products from that bakery. Peet's Coffee & Tea is apparently (according to my Berkeley friend) the preferred chain of locals.
Anyway, I was glad my Canadian Starbucks card worked fine in San Francisco, as a friend of mine had purchased a Starbucks Card in a US Walmart and it didn't work in Vancouver. Hmm.

Starbucks at Beach Street and Hyde Avenue (which Yelp reports as closed at the time I am writing this?!) was also the site of another curious encounter during my time in San Francisco. While waiting in line, I happened to chat with the lady before me about the Evolution Fresh™ Mango Carrot Smoothie and whether she'd had one before, she having looked like an active sort with an ipod on her shoulder and possibly having jogged her way in. I was wondering if the Mango Carrot smoothie would just be the same as the bottled Evolution Fresh in the counter, and whether the addition of healthy superfood kale would make it grassy and yucky.
Anyway, she ended up letting me go ahead while she figured out her order. While I was waiting for my drink, I noticed she was frantically tapping at her iPhone. Something had glitched and she was not able to pay for her order. I didn't see her pull out any cash, so I don't know if she had alternate means, but she certainly seemed insistent on using whatever app she had on her phone.
And here I was with my Starbucks Card and plenty of money on it.
I went over and tapped her on the shoulder. "Technical difficulties?" I asked. She sighed her confirmation. That's when I paid for her order. Didn't have any idea what it was or how much it was. She was so surprised, and I think I was too. I told her not to worry about it, that my Starbucks Card was good only for one thing anyway, which is buying stuff at Starbucks.
The (probably old-fashioned) etiquette on giving up seats is that when you have given your seat to someone, you move away, presumably to avoid compelling them to courteously engage you in further conversation or continuously thank you for your gesture. Following that etiquette, I tried not to make a fuss when she thanked me for my gesture and simply told her not to worry about it, then proceeded to find a seat.
She left shortly after, passing by one last time to hope that I'd enjoy my kale-infused drink.

I didn't think much of the incident at the time, but the gears of my ever-over-thinking mind started turning later. Social interactions and icebreaking is hard enough as it is. That's one of the complaints about Vancouver, and strangely my friend who'd moved to Berkeley about five years ago said San Francisco was an even tougher place to engage strangers in conversation.
Today I'd found a friendly person for fluffy conversation about a drink. But once I'd given her a hand during a time of inconvenience to her, suddenly etiquette demanded that I withdraw to release her from any perceived social obligation to me -- exactly at a time when we'd bonded more.
How paradoxical was that?
Or maybe the universe nudged me into that Starbucks because it was her turn for a serendipitous encounter. For me to be the angel that gave her a little lift, only to mysteriously disappear.
Did her good karma pay for her order that hot afternoon?
We'll probably never run into each other again.

Another thing about the encounter was a sense that I was operating at a slightly "better self" version of myself. Maybe because I was in another country and conscious of being a stranger and visitor and traveller, but I felt I was more alert to being courteous and patient, as if I didn't want to give Canadians everywhere a bad name with any bad behaviour.
Would I have offered to pay for someone's drink in Vancouver had they been similarly stuck?

As for the smoothie I ordered, I watched them prepare it. Juice from a large container. Kale from pre-measured portions in small plastic bags, a glob of yogurt, and a dusting of something -- cinnamon powder? I could have sworn they actually made more than they needed and poured some away, but her back was turned to me at the time and I can't be sure. Anyway, as expected, there was a grassy note to the drink from the kale, in addition to both sweetness and sourness from the mango.

Looking around from my seat at the communal table, I found this was actually a rather nice Starbucks. It was big, but they hadn't jammed it too tightly with seats so that it still felt roomy to airy, especially with the high ceilings. Plus it was deep enough that you could get away from the sun.
(Have you figured out I'm allergic to too much sunshine yet?)

Hiked up the hills back toward Market Street, and feeling keenly aware I was going entirely in the wrong direction or just the wrong way, given the steepness of the roads. Somehow ended up in what looked like a Chinatown with "art and antique" stores lining one side of the street. I started with Michael Fine Art and Antique and browsed their interesting array of heavy ornaments, including ancient-Greece inspired statues and columns. Obviously not packing any of those in my backpack to take home, but I did pick up a jewelled turtle case (the shell opens!) for my mom.
Mom's not really into gifts and souvenirs, but I remembered her saying something about how the turtle we had at home was a charm against earthquakes and anything which might shake down the house. Turns out she accepted the jewelled turtle when I got back from my trip, but said that turtle charms only work with "real" (i.e., stuffed) turtles. Oops.
Anyway, I also, unfortunately, picked up a the disinterested, surly vibe from the owners. Who were also heavy smokers. He did give me a nice (too-big) gold-coloured box for the turtle, but I had to provide my own padding to ensure it didn't get knocked about too much.
Up the street were maybe two more stores that looked honest-to-God exactly the same. They even had the same array of cheap jewelled trinkets on tables near the store doors, for sale at the same $10 price.

Chinatown proved quite boring. I thought maybe I could pick up a very cheap backup baseball cap, but nope, not even here. I continued on to Crustacean Restaurant (recommended to me by friends who used to live in San Francisco) but was mindful of the time. I had kirtan at 6:30 PM and we were close to 5 PM.
I got to Crustacean before they were open and got to speak with both someone who worked in the restaurant as well as the maître d' at the door. They all assured me their "Secret Kitchen" crab was as good as the hype. Estimated price was close to $60. Was this going to be a big crab?
Time was ticking and I decided against eating there tonight. Instead I called my friend in El Cerrito and asked if they could please change the Sunday dinner we'd planned from my earlier pick at 7:30 PM (Anchalee Thai Cuisine) to 5:00 PM dinner at Crustacean. They graciously obliged to help me eat crab. It was going to be on my dime no matter what, but I still preferred to have help so we could all try more than just crab.

I got to the Moksha Life Centre too early for kirtan at the Moksha Life Centre, and instead went across the street to the steps of the Old Federal Reserve Bank Building to look at the intriguing sculpture, "Hermes and Dionysus - Monument to Analysis". And also to take off my shoes and rest my tired feet.

The building in which the Moksha Life Centre was housed was interesting for its very old elevator and our disorientation with how to use it when I helped one of the kirtan volunteers bring items up. It opened from one wall at the ground floor, but another wall on our destination floor!
Anyway, we hauled everything into the yoga centre and set it up, then I sat cross-legged on the floor waiting for kirtan to begin, trying to snatch the moment of peace in closed-eyed quiet.

I'd been to kirtan in Vancouver, and this one was in a jarringly different style. The emphasis didn't seem so much on Krishna or the maha mantra or bhakti yoga, but on just the meditative of repetitive chanting. There was an open invitation to whoever wanted to lead a song, which led one of the participants to sing a Native American incantation.
After kirtan we concluded with a potluck and social. This was far and away the friendliest of San Francisco I'd seen, and some of us left with hugs from people we'd met for the very first time -- and, in my case, will probably never meet again.

Also at this kirtan I chanced on two girls who initially looked Korean but turned out to be Mongolian. They gave me a curious lead on Mongolian food in San Francisco -- "Let's Jam".

Back to the Golden Bear Inn and sleep after a long day.
Looking back on my journals, it wasn't necessarily the most eventful day in my entire San Francisco trip, but it sure gave me a lot to think about.

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