Before my move to San Francisco this year, I had envisioned a futuristic city with an immaculate appearance. After all, most of the articles I had read highlighted the beauty of this hilly city while propagating it as the hub of technology and innovation.
In my experience, there are some aspects of San Francisco which are hard to absorb but perhaps this is what renders the city as unconventional, mysterious and vibrant beyond belief. There is never a dull moment: whether you are strolling the streets, riding the trains or exploring the parks.
My initial days were spent at a hotel near Fisherman's Wharf which has a breath taking view of the San Francisco Bay. It's a magical sight to watch the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. However, while walking along the pier, it's hard to miss the countless homeless people sprawled on the cold floor or benches in the area. Be it day or night, the homeless are just as much a part of the backdrop like the yachts or the sea lions at Pier 39.
While it is natural to be empathetic, one can't help but feel a little uneasy as most of the homeless are usually talking to themselves or under the influence. Though most people just hold up cardboard signs asking for money to buy weed, I was quite enthralled by this one instance where a homeless guy demonstrated his ingenuity to make a few bucks. He had camouflaged himself with some leaves and he took great pride in playing peek-a-boo with passersby who were scared out of their wits.
There is definitely a method to the madness in this city. I've been told that a lot of homeless like living on the streets of San Francisco because of its pleasant weather throughout the year. Sometimes these people take shelter within the train stations.
If there was an official city scent, San Francisco would definitely come in last. The sour smell of piss permeates most of the train stations, making it difficult to breathe. Even the elevators within the stations are not an easy feat unless you hold your breath till you arrive at your destination. Make sure you don't enter one just after you've had a meal!
On a serious note, the urine situation in the city should not be taken lightly. A recent article in The San Francisco Chronicle reported that "a light pole corroded by urine collapsed and crashed onto a car, narrowly missing the driver."
Excluding the smell, the Bart (train) provides an efficient and entertaining mode of transport to other areas in and around San Francisco. I've often witnessed a singing and dancing performance within the confines of a Bart which is soon followed by a request for some money. It's really intriguing how people feign ignorance while the collection bag is being passed around. Keeping your head down and staring into your phone does not make that bag disappear. Similarly, playing angry birds at full volume does not make the birds angrier but it might give your fellow commuters high blood pressure.
Once you are out of the Bart and make your way to Market Street, which is the main downtown area in San Francisco, it's a common sight to see adults riding kick scooters on their way to work or back. So don't be surprised if someone whizzes by you in a suit or high heels atop one of these contraptions as they seem to be a rage here. Being a health conscious city, it is also common to spot people cycling or jogging on the streets during their lunch break and then getting back to business as usual.
Cluttered along Market Street is a bevy of office buildings, cafes and shopping outlets. The area between Market Street and Union Square is the main tourist attraction as the infamous cable car/tram station is located here.
I don't think it is possible for anyone to get bored while waiting in the long queue to ride the cable car. This is the place where drama awaits you. Where else can you find half naked people dancing in a nonchalant manner, street performers using empty buckets and bottles to play drums and recreate a 'Stomp' musical experience or random people using a megaphone to express their religious views only to be told to, "Shut up and go get some weed!"
While walking around Market Street, I decided to do some impromptu shopping. I was baffled at being asked if I needed a bag to carry the dinner set I had bought. Of course my answer was a yes! It was only later that I realized I'd been charged for the bag.
In an attempt to go green, the city is discouraging the use of plastic bags which is credible but they meticulously charge ten cents for the useless brown paper bags that can't withstand much weight. Be it any retail outlet or grocery store, no one in San Francisco hands out a bag for free! Still learning the ropes, it took me a few brown paper bag debacles to realize that I should switch to totes which are reusable. Shopping bags have become a permanent feature in my backpack now.
Although I've come across some major eye openers about the city, it grows on you after a while. There is always something exciting to look forward to. One day I was shocked to see people randomly parading the streets with pillows in their hands. Since these people didn't seem homeless from their physical appearance, I became really curious about what they planned to do with the pillows. To my amazement, they were all heading to a Valentine's day pillow fight!
One of the greatest things about San Francisco is that there are a lot of events taking place which focus on building a community spirit rather than turning a profit. Festivals, parades, music in the parks and many other events are free or very inexpensive around the city on any given day. The community values artistic expression in all forms which depicts San Francisco as one of the most liberal and innovative cities in America.
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