Forgive the delayed response. School is starting back up. I’m back in Pennsylvania. The adventure has ended. But. I have more stories to tell. So… how did my final two days in California go? Well…
I won’t bore you with the details of me driving out of Redding except that I stopped at Dutch Bros one last time.
And ordered two different drinks.
The drive was mostly boring with desert scenery until I drew close to San Bruno. That’s when the traffic started to increase. And when I say traffic, I mean traffic. While I was only 12 miles away from the rental car drop-off point at the San Francisco Airport, my GPS kindly informed me that it would take an hour to reach my destination.
And not just any hour. An hour full of inching in crazed traffic where people make up their own driving rules, making the guy driving a rental car pretty nervous. I mean people would whip around you on the shoulder and weasel their way in front of you and it would all happen so fast that all you could do was stare in both awe and pure anger.
Eventually when you get pushed enough, you push back. Well, some weasel tried to force his way in front of me, but I gunned forward both blocking him and forcing myself into another lane. I felt like a boss–and also a jerk.
San Francisco traffic, y’all!
After a couple hundred years, I was able to return my rental vehicle but then I got lost in the airport. Airports have designated areas for Lyft/Uber drivers to pick you up. I rode a shuttle around the airport, went to a parking garage, ended up on some rooftop and finally admitted defeat and asked somebody for help. Mind you, I’m carrying around a large bag and a carry-on. Not entirely pleasant! Especially for my blistered feet. I finally made it to my Lyft driver, at least.
After I checked in with with my AirBnb hosts, I called a Lyft to drop me off in San Francisco. I had no set plan or agenda so I just had the guy take me to Fisherman’s Wharf. It seemed like a good place to start. This driver, unlike my super friendly prior driver, was as quiet as a rock. He barely said hi and bye. Also? He had no problem zipping through traffic like a madman. Add the steep hills and inclines to the experience, and I was swimming in motion sickness by the time I was dropped off.
I enjoyed just walking around. Me and my little drawstring bag against the piers. I saw the seals (they smell awful), visited a handful of shops, and tried what was labeled “the famous fishwhich.” I ate that fishy boy while I sat on the peer, gazing out at the harbor where boats lazily swayed in the water and daring seagulls and pigeons tried to steal food from unsuspecting tourists.
Don’t worry. I was a suspecting tourist. They dared not draw near to me.
I walked to Pier 39 and during my walk I had a bizarre encounter. It’s San Francisco. No doubt, you expect it to be a fairly progressive place.
I was wearing my Black Lives Matter shirt when a balloon animal vendor smirked and yelled out, “Oi! Black Rifle Lives matter too!”
That should’ve been my first sign to keep walking. Alas, I paused and said, “Huh?”
He repeated it and said, “You know, like guns?”
“Oh, I thought you were talking about a group or something.” It was my attempt to save face.
Then things got a bit weirder.
He pointed to my shirt and said, “Nah, all lives matter, man. I’m not into that racist shirt you’re wearing.”
I furrowed my brow and said, “Of course all lives matter. However, this is trying to make people aware that certain groups of people are being treated with systemic inequality.”
“Of course, of course, but it’s calling attention to one group–excluding people.”
As a White male myself, I recognized this man’s White privilege showing. I used to have a similar view as him. I would say, “Ahem. All lives matter in response to Black Lives Matter.” That was before I became educated on the matter, did research, and talked to people about the subject. He, like most White people I know, say All Lives Matter to detract from the racial inequality Black people face in a system run primarily by White people. It’s like looking at a burning house and, from inside your own non-burning house, saying, “All houses matter!” However, one house in particular is under fire. At that particular moment, that burning house needs support the most. That’s what Black Lives Matter is trying to say. And this man did not seem to want to understand that.
But wait. He gets even more… uh… well… you be the judge.
Gesturing to my shirt he said, “Black rage. Ever hear of it? It don’t matter what shirt you wear. They’ll kill you all the same.”
Ah, so clearly, in his perspective, all lives mattered, however, he wanted to generalize/associate Blacks with bad behavior. It is probably safe to say my shirt triggered him.
And then he brought the LGBTQ community into the mix. As a gay man myself, I tensed up. Of course, he didn’t know I was gay. I wasn’t sure where he was about to go with this. He said he supports fair treatment for all, but he attacked trans people, declaring that they were messed up and, essentially, disgusting. He focused on the fear-mongering bathroom issue. I did my best to defend the trans community, but it was going nowhere–and he was becoming agitated.
So I said, “Sorry, man. Look I’m a teacher and–”
“I’m busy now,” he snapped, fumbling with a balloon animal even though nobody was approaching the stand.
Interesting. Me being a teacher was a threat to him?
So I said, “That’s okay! I don’t have the time to listen to discrimination. I don’t tolerate that. Have a good day!”
As I walked away, he shouted at my back, ranting against trans people. Loudly.
How is this man allowed to sell balloon animals? Like… seriously.
Anyway, I decided to take an hour and a half cruise around the San Francisco Bay. It was wonderful. I stood at the front of the ship, giving me a great view of the descending sun sprinkling light across the bay waters. I got fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, even going under it. We even got near to Alcatraz, but didn’t go on the island. By the end of the cruise, I found that I was super drowsy. I almost fell asleep leaning on the railing of the ship.
That would’ve been… unpleasant.
So, after buying a frozen coffee drink, I ordered a Lyft to take me to Barnes and Noble because I wanted to buy a book called How To Be An Antiracist (a good read so far, by the way!). As I was nearing my pickup location, a friendly Black man smiled at me and said, “I love your shirt, man! It’s great!”
I had almost forgotten the shirt I was wearing. Like an idiot, I glanced down and said, “Oh! Thanks, man!”
We passed each other and then he shouted, “Hey! Wait! Can… can I get a picture with you? My wife will love this!”
Considering what happened to me earlier, this made up for it. It was a cool moment. I didn’t think to ask for a picture of myself with him, but that’s okay. It wasn’t about that to me.
My Lyft driver, Gloria, was a fantastic woman. Spunky, fun, and a lady who talked to bad drivers as we went along. I found myself liking her even more as I quickly discovered our political views were similar. She was especially concerned about racial issues in our country as she herself is a Black woman. She expressed her disdain for what the president said about Baltimore when he attacked their black leaders and said no human being would ever live there. Heartbreaking.
I felt like I left a friend when she dropped me off as we talked about so much during our 30 minute drive. Gloria, if you’re reading this, keep being you because you’re awesome!
This pretty much concluded my day. I went home, thought about writing a blog post and/or reading my new book, but I passed out at 9:30 PM.
The next day was the day I was looking forward to. A lot. Why? Because whales, that’s why.
Thursday, August 15th saw me waking up fairly early to get a Lyft to the Golden Gate Bridge. With much fervor, I began to march across the bridge, snapping beautiful pictures of the sun rising above the bay. Pedestrians and fellow tourists walked and/or ran along the bridge, while bikers zoomed by. If I lived here, this would be a morning routine for me. It was beautiful, exciting, and powerful. I mean you could literally feel the bridge hum beneath your feet with the traffic.
Far below, waves crashed against rocks. I could see dark spots of seaweed bob on the surface of the deep waters and boats dart along the water. I even saw some surfers riding the waves far below. Like…. far below.
I made it to the other side in about 45 minutes and realized, perhaps, the biggest mistake I’d made for this day.
Wearing flip flops.
Look, don’t cross the Golden Gate Bridge in flip flops. I had the mindset that my feet would be happy to be open and free from the blistering confines of my hiking shoes. They were not. While my ankles and blistered toes seemed moderately okay, the bottoms of me feet screamed with fire. And I still had to walk back across the bridge.
I took a 20 minute rest, drinking in the scenery, before I hauled my angry feet back across the bridge. I debated on buying shoes and tossing my flip flops. If the opportunity arose, I was going to do it.
For now, I called a Lyft and visited the Palace of Fine Arts. It was absolutely gorgeous. Lush green grass and trees framed colossal structures next to a gentle pond. Sure, it meant more walking, but the sights were worth it. When I stepped into the dome structure, I felt like a tiny human. It was massive. As you can see below, I had some fun taking pictures!
I had two hours before my whale watching tour was to begin. I started walking toward Fisherman’s Wharf–a 45-minute walk according to my phone, when I stumbled across a tourist bike rental station.
My feet demanded I take advantage.
I did not deny them. I rented an electric bike for the day. I was going to get around town much, much faster now. I biked up winding pavement in a nice park, out onto a pier (where I totally ran into the back of my foot with a pedal–ow!), and then decided I was going to check out the famous twisting Lombard road.
Worst. Idea. Ever.
I followed the map and quickly realized that biking on the roads in San Francisco is pure torture. Even with an electric bike, it’s extremely tough to bike up the hill. When I realized my attempts were futile, I hopped off my bike, pushed it onto the sidewalk, and walked it up the hill. Within 30 seconds, I was dripping with sweat and panting with exhaustion.
And I still had more steep hills to push my bike up.
I was near death when I finally made it to Lombard street. And by the time I arrived, I really didn’t care too much about the street because, well, there was no way I was riding my bike down that death road. So, I decided to walked along the sidewalk that ran parallel to the road, going down.
A sidewalk that had stairs.
Listen, this was a moment where I should’ve hung a flashing neon sign around my neck that read, “STUPID TOURIST! RIGHT NOW! ABSOLUTE AMATEUR! WHAT A FOOL! LOOK AT THIS GUY! HE SUCKS!”
I had to walk that electric bike down the step steps. I was already exhausted. I was soaked with sweat. Luckily, a nice man walking behind me helped me by picking up the back of the bike, while I carried the front.
I decided that if I ever saw Lombard street again, it would be too soon.
To forget that torture, I biked my way to Fisherman’s Wharf, parked the bike, grabbed some food, and got in line for the whale watching tour.
I. Was. First. In. Line.
This made me so happy. It didn’t seem to make the lady who appeared .2 seconds after me happy. In time, we actually had friendly conversation–once she stopped staring at me with her dagger eyes. Can it be known that people, mainly tourists, do not seem to understand how lines work? I felt like I worked for the whale tour because when people would bunch up near me in the front of the line I’d be like, “Are you here for the tour?”
“Nice. Well, there’s a line.” And I’d point to the growing line of people behind me.
Most people awkwardly smiled and walked to the end of the line, entirely disappointed. Hey, not everybody arrives an hour early to a whale tour. Better luck next time, peasants!
Anyway, one group I told simply stared at me as if I were an ant and they were the boot. Like they were challenging my place in line. I repeated myself to them.
I was prepared for war. If the gates opened and they tried to steal my spot… somebody was going to end up in jail–and probably not see whales.
Thankfully, it all worked out and I was the first on the boat. I sat in the back corner. On one hand, it gave me a great open view of the ocean. On the other, it also made sure that I was splashed by water enough so that I bought a poncho.
Literally. I was the only one who bought a poncho.
The captain and the two young ladies who worked on the boat carefully explained everything they knew about the wildlife we may see. They talked about humpback whales for the majority of the time since that is what they said we could expect. The tour before us had seen a whale and they were certain we would too.
We got to the spot they’d seen whales earlier, but there was nothing.
The captain said he was pushing us out more. We were over 18 miles from the shore. I couldn’t even see the Golden Gate Bridge anymore or, really, the coast. I could just barely make out the mountains that lined the oceans behind us. In front of us was nothing but blue. I was starting to worry we may not see whales. I mean we were far out there and whales are wild animals. You can’t pay for a whale tour and be guaranteed to see these majestic beasts.
I was on the verge of resignation when a shout went out from the captain of the ship.
In the distance, I saw something I’ve only seen in the movies… a puff of mist and water shooting into the sky. A whale was surfacing to breathe.
And then the body, black against the blue waters, sliced through the waves. I saw a fin. A tail. A humpback whale! I was–
Did you know that humpback whales are primarily solitary creatures? They don’t stick together. Well, today was a treat. They were everywhere. In fact, the boat had to slam on the breaks–or whatever it is the boat does to stop suddenly–because a humpback surfaced right before us.
They were surfacing, flopping their fins, their tails, and lunge feeding. It was stunning. Absolutely unbelievable to think we were surrounded by these beautiful sea creatures. I tried my best to capture pictures or footage, but the whales were unpredictable. I do have videos of the whales, but I can’t get them to upload here. Feel free to contact me for them. It’s nothing to0 spectacular, but it makes me smile when I watch them.
The whole way back, I was grinning like an idiot. I couldn’t believe I got to experience that. I told myself that it’s something I want to do again. Except next time I want to see my favorite whales: Orcas.
After I got back, I decided to go through the San Francisco Bay Aquarium. It was nothing special, but after whale watching, it felt right. Hey, I even saw two snakes in the aquarium–and I wasn’t freaked out. Something had happened to me on this trip. If anybody knows me at all, you know I run at the sight of a snake. On this day, I peered into their glass cage and smirked in defiance. Okay… maybe not that dramatic. But I did take a major step.
After I returned my electric bike, I grabbed pizza at a place called Patxi’s Pizza. Deep dish heaven, let me tell you. I sat at the bar alone, drank a beer, and ate half the pizza. However, I had three slices left and, well, since I was to leave early the next day, I didn’t want to waste it.
I explained my dilemma to my waitress who looked at me and said, “Go give it to somebody on the street.”
I nodded. “How will I know who is homeless and who isn’t?”
She laughed. “They sleep on the sidewalks. Any of them will be happy for the pizza.”
So I set out on my mission. I did see one man within two minutes, but he looked like he was on some sort of acid trip. I had a feeling it was best to leave him alone. In hindsight, perhaps the drugged out man would’ve been more sane than what I encountered twenty minutes later.
I approached a man who was curled under a blanket on the sidewalk. His clothes were brown with dirt and grease. His beard was a tangled mess and his eyes looked haunted and broken. He wore a baseball cap over his matted, uncut hair. He was maybe in his late 30s, but the streets had taken their toll on him. The wrinkles and lines on his face made him appear like he was nearing 50.
“Excuse me, sir? Would you like the rest of my pizza? I couldn’t finish it and don’t want to throw it away.”
He sat up, regarding me with fierce skepticism. He narrowed his eyes as he looked from the small box in my hand and then to my face. “Is it poisoned?”
I stopped myself from snorting in amusement. He wasn’t kidding. So, I simply said, “No” and held the box out to him.
Tentatively he grabbed it, but he looked at it as if it were a bomb. “Hmm. Do you have any money so I can buy some marijuana?”
“No,” I lied. “I only have credit cards on me.” Did I feel bad about lying? Yes. But I didn’t think it wise to pull my wallet out. I was getting weird vibes.
“Oh.” He looked at the box, raising his eyebrows. “You’re sure this isn’t poisoned?”
“No,” I assured him. “It’s fresh out of the oven. I just couldn’t finish it.”
“Because the homosexuals are trying to poison me.”
I stared some more.
“They are always trying to poison me.”
Note to self: do not tell him that I’m gay.
“Oh. That’s… I’m sorry…” I muttered.
“And they are also trying to persecute Christians. All of us.”
This was taking a turn.
“Did you know the homosexuals killed Jesus?”
Didn’t see that coming. I could only widen my eyes and say, “I-I did not know that.” I mean I wanted to correct him and tell him it was the Romans, with the urging of the Jews that killed Jesus. But you don’t argue with a man who thinks you might’ve poisoned the pizza in his hands. You play along.
“Yeah. Homosexuals poison everything. They got me, you know.” He stared at me.
I stared at him.
“They gave me genital warts. They gave it to me bad.”
Lordy. Listen. Clearly this man was… somewhere on some level of something, but those were words I just did not expect to come out of his mouth. I honestly wish I were making this up.
I am not.
So I did what I thought best: I continued to stare and pretend to be shocked-I didn’t need to pretend to be grossed out that a strange man had informed me of his genital warts. Not an image I wanted to have pop into my mind.
“You see they stick it in the pooper.” He demonstrated by putting his index finger into the circle he made with his other finger. “It’s not meant for that. No. It gives you genital warts. It’s how I was poisoned.”
“That is awful. I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
Did you know I was going to wear my pride Pete Buttigieg 2020 shirt that day, but decided against it? Good thing, right?
“So… you’re sure the pizza isn’t poisoned?”
“Yes. I’m so sorry about what happened to you, but I assure you that it’s good pizza.”
He opened the box. “Wow! It’s still warm!”
“Yup! I has pepperoni, black olives, and green papers on it. Just be careful as I don’t know if you’re allergic to anything or not.”
His head snapped up. “It’s not poisoned, is it?”
“Hmm. I just will take the black olives off.” He looked up at me. “Thank you! Thank you so much. I was starving. Seriously. I was going to go down to Pier 39 later and massacre people for food. Now I don’t have to.”
Welp, that sounded delightful… and terrifying.
“You know, just so many people waste food and it makes me so mad.”
I nodded eagerly. “Yes, yes. Me too. That’s why I couldn’t throw it away! Have a good-”
“It’s really not poisoned? Because I don’t want to die.”
“Not at all.”
“Thank you, man.”
With a final smile and a nod I
ran walked away. Had I just saved the world? Did I stop a massacre from happening? Did that encounter really happen? What sorcery just happened?
I needed ice cream. That would make everything better.
And so that’s how I found myself buying an $11 sundae in a ritzy square in San Francisco before I hailed a lift back to my AirBnB.
That is how my night in San Francisco ended. Expensive sundae, a poisoning conversation about genital warts, and an understanding that the world is just full of surprises. Maybe those surprises lurk in your own backyard. Maybe they find you on a self-ordained adventure. Maybe they whisper to you when you least expect it.
But they are out there. It only requires one thing from you.
Step out into the world. Do things. Live. Breathe. Embrace the unknown. Look around you. No, really look around you. See the world. See the people. Appreciate all of it because it’s only then that you can uncover the surprises life offers.
I ran into this trip with arms wide open. I did things I never thought I did. I talked to people I never expected. I overcame some fears. I received inspiration. I was invigorated. What’s more is that I did all of this on the heels of a battle with depression that crippled me for months. A depression that kept me from the surprises of the world.
And, yet, here I was. Ending a grand adventure on the other side of the nation. Exploring. Existing. Adventuring.
It has been a wild ride. It has been something that, while my bank account/credit cards regret it, I never will.
This trip was everything. It was freedom. It was a true adventure.
And I need more.
Until next time.