After a painfully long day of airports and airplanes, I made my way to the Hilton Union Square bar and sat down to find this rare red handle among the beer taps. Pliney the Elder, mythologized in beer circles in Richmond (cuz it’s not distributed to Virginia) is a 8% double IPA. Beyond that, I didn’t know what to expect. The aroma hit me. Of course! It smells like sticking your nose in a plastic baggie in Humbolt County. A little sweet. Very smooth. And aromatic in a way that’s sure to launch a thousand beer geeks’ wet dreams as they recollect on their stoner days. By all means, enjoy it.
Just two blocks from my hotel, sits Millenium. One of the most highly regarded vegetarian restaurants in the US. People had been pushing me to go there. But, seeing the prices and the vibe inside (thru the window), I decided against it (or did I?).
WE ARE A PART OF THE RHYTHM NATION. That’s what went through my head when I passed this scene on Market Street and that’s all I’ve got to say about it. This was just after 5pm and I’d started exploring downtown. This bizarre sight compelled me to get the hell off Market Street and walk through some neighborhoods away from the shopping districts. I consulted my map.
The Tenderloin! A high crime neighborhood with a long history of poverty and conflict. Also, known for its murals (zoom in on this one, if you can). It’s been called Wine Country, because of the preponderance of winos. True, I did give a buck to a charming man who confessed that he just really wanted a cold beer. But, there’s street people begging all over San Francisco. You can’t give to them all. He was an exception because he gave me deja vu. Once, as a child, a man came up to me on the street seeming to know me. After a bunch of back and forth, he clued me in that my name was on the back of my shirt. People just play with you like that in this city. The place has lots of problems, but also a sense of humor about it.
A couple from the Yucatan province of Mexico were running this shop. Strangely, they’ve got an African menu too. My poor Spanish botched the order and I wound up with a chicken tamale and a little plastic baggie of lightly spiced tomato gravy. As a byproduct of the adventure and owning my own ineptitude, I ate the tamale. It was phenomenal. Oh, I could taste the lard in the sweet masa mash, the chicken stock, and of course the miscellaneous pieces of dark meat. But that mild tomato salsa turned the whole thing into a satisfying treat of high and low flavors. I’m sure it would have been better if it were prepared vegan.
I ate that tamale while sitting on a park bench looking at this amazing community garden. There was a bee-keeper harvesting honey just out of frame. Poetry and artwork decorated every surface, calling for peace on earth and harmony with nature. Below this first level (and beyond that artichoke) there’s a garden built into a tiered labyrinth style pattern. Yeah. I just happened to pass this on my walk. I’m sure they’re lurking at every turn in San Francisco.
Past the Tenderloin, things got more upscale and hills made the journey more laborious. Then, I climbed up into this park called Alamo Square and found a cute little shoe garden. There must have been five dozen shoes, many with stuff planting in them. Anyone care to Google that and tell us what it’s all about?
This bit of stained glass greeted me my first encounter with Haight Street. Oh, yeah. Did I forget to mention that at some point, I decided I was just going to walk all the way to Haight/Ashbury? Well, this clue really encouraged me to continue. I love it.
Just a block past the stained glass sign, I find this little storefront. I’d been craving espresso. Since they didn’t serve macchiatos (my favorite drink), I asked for a latte made with their special concoction of “peanut milk.” It was weird. You know that faint taste of roasted nuts that you sometimes get with the combination of roasted coffee and steamed milk in a well made latte? Well, I was missing that subtlety in my peanut milk latte.
Eventually, I made it to Haight/Ashbury. Behind me, while taking this picture, is a Ben and Jerry’s. There was lots of commercialization, but also, the burning embers of a 40 year old counter-cultural revolution. It’s mostly sad druggies running up and down the street, acting like the place is their playground (cuz it is). They puff on joints and pipes nonchalantly while others ask everyone in sight if they want “McNuggets, sticky buds, shrooms, LSD.” Can you tell I was annoyed? Where were they when I was lookin for that stuff in 1994?
Like any commercialized area of San Francisco, the green theme is prevalent. Here’s an attractive, if slightly tame-looking, natural food store. But, Jimmy peers over the back to the land flavor of the month as a reminder of neighborhood theme of perpetual self-destruction.
The apex of my walk, as far as I cared to go, the opening to Golden Gate Park. See that white head of hair behind the column on the right? He jumped out and tried to sell me weed. On my walk back, my legs threatened to turn to jello and I caught a cab back to the hotel just in time for a late dinner.
To be continued… (focusing on food in the next one, I promise)