Exploring San Francisco from the Tenderloin to the Golden Gate Bridge

In 2013, I emigrated my family to the USA. We landed in San Francisco, a city I have loved since I first visited it in 1976 when I was 5 years old. We were unable to find a way to live in SF because of the insane cost of housing, but have gone back many times and will continue to do so. 

In all the cities that I’ve travelled, there are some that stand out as extraordinary more than others. A few come to mind right away Istanbul, Rome, Paris, New York City, Barcelona, Seoul, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Honolulu, Fez, and of course, San Francisco.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco has a rich and interesting history, a vibrant culture, and for a city which is so young – an amazing amount of things to do and incredible things to eat. San Francisco is a melting pot of cultures and you can find restaurants ranging from classic 1930s diners to Punjab, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Lao, Indian, Pakistani, Ethiopian, French, Italian, Bulgarian, Basque, and there’s probably even a Martian restaurant somewhere in Fremont…in short, San Francisco offers more than just something for everyone – it offers many things to everyone.

San Francisco, California

My wife is still a new immigrant to the USA and while our four years together have taught her much about my culture and people, there was still something that she seemed to not understand – the dark underbelly of America – the poverty and homelessness. When you grow up on the other side of the planet watching rich people on television and hearing everyone dream of the promised land – it’s hard to understand that America is filled with homelessness, drug problems, the mentally ill, and prostitution. Aside from places like Detroit and Philadelphia, there may be no better place to witness this than San Francisco’s Tenderloin District.

 

The Tenderloin has always been a rough place, in fact, the name comes from back in the days when police officers were given a bonus for patrolling the most dangerous part of the city – a bonus which allowed them to purchase better cuts of meat for dinner from the butcher – the tenderloin cuts. Today, the Tenderloin is still a place that it’s not advisable to wander through after dark – during the daylight hours hundreds, perhaps thousands of homeless and crazy people wander the streets, sleep on the sidewalks, and openly use drugs.

San Francisco, California

This was, of course, where I decided it would be a good idea for us to stay. Before you start cursing me under your breath, I should point out that I booked us into the COVA Hotel on Ellis Street, a four star boutique hotel that offers amazing service, comfort, and value right in the heart of the city. The hotel was superb with fantastic views of the city, a free breakfast service that included fresh fruit, waffles, and more and that the staff took great care of us while we were there. Our room was quiet, cool, comfortable, and, in fact, it was hard to recognize that twenty feet to either side of the hotel we would encounter homeless drug addicts and mentally ill street people. Most guests chose to use the hotel’s free shuttles which took them directly to Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, or Union Square and back. Not us though.

San Francisco, California

Our walks took us past the people of the streets – my poor wife was terrified, but I felt like it was important that she be exposed to this aspect of America. One tall black man with crazy eyes said “You look like a little nun!” – “I’m a Muslim!” she responded, clasping my arm. “Oh, well you look like a nun,” he told her. Thank you Crazy-Eyes. You can take a homeless tour of the Tenderloin on Vayable, run by a homeless man named Milton…we didn’t do that, but may in the future.

San Francisco, California

My friend Joshua points out that Palm Springs has no homeless people and offers no homeless services but San Francisco offers lots of services and so has lots of homeless. It’s a fair point. America should be ashamed of this problem. Herewith, I offer a solution.

 

The government should buy all the houses in Detroit that are selling on Ebay for $500 – maintain them, and offer them to the homeless. Offer free services, job training, food, and healthcare in Detroit and only in Detroit. Offer free transport to Detroit. Close down all the other services in all the other cities and start works programs that give people who want to stay in other cities jobs and cheap housing – no job, no housing – off to Detroit with you. We can’t make Detroit any worse and we can certainly make other cities better. My family once owned all of downtown Detroit in the 1800s. My fourth great grandfather was the Mayor of Detroit. Maybe if they move all the crazies there, I can be the Mayor of Detroit too…

But, back to San Francisco. Our walks took us out of the Tenderloin and into Little Saigon where Hanane had her first bowl of Pho. I had forgotten just how delightful Pho can be. Oh man, it is sooooo good. Little Saigon is San Francisco’s ‘newest’ neighborhood and borders the Tenderloin. From there, we walked to Union Square and marvelled at the corner where Levi Strauss, sold the first pair of Levi’s to miner forty-niners back during the Gold Rush. The first Levi’s 501 jeans were created in the 1890’s and people all over the world still wear them. That’s some classic fashion! Strauss used sailcloth from the abandoned ships in San Francisco harbor (because many ships made a one-way trip to the Gold Rush), dyed the cloth blue, and re-enforced the stress points with rivets. It was the merchants who sold to the miner’s who made the enduring fortunes.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco, California

Union Square itself got it’s name from the pro-Union rallyies that were held there during the American Civil War. The beautiful golden statue called “Victory” that commemorates President McKinley and lost sailors was modeled on a San Francisco Beauty named Alma de Bretteville. While she was wooed by many, she went where the money was piled highest and married a sugar baron named Adolph Spreckles who was 25 years her senior – the newspaper’s at the time mocked the union, calling Spreckles her ‘Sugar Daddy’ – which is where the term originates. The couple built the largest home in Pacific Heights which today is the home of author Danielle Steele. One of my personal heroes, Jack London, used to attend parties at the Spreckles mansion. She was one of the most influential art collectors in the USA and San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Fine Art’s Museum was one of her pet projects – she also brought a number of Rodin sculptures to the city which are still there. The Legion of Honor sits high on the headland’s above the Golden Gate Bridge…

And this is where I will stop for now. We’ve gone from the poorest to the richest and from the Tenderloin to the Golden Gate Bridge. More soon to come…

San Francisco, California

Ah, one last word about Alma Spreckles – she started a chain of thrift-shops to help the poor, they were eventually turned over to her favorite charitable organization – The Salvation Army – which is why the Salvation Army operates thrift stores all over the United States….including the one in the Tenderloin which also operates a shelter there…it’s astounding how everything is connected if you know where to look. Crazy-Eyes gets his meals and bed from the woman on the statue in Union Square…

Great thanks to SanFrancisco.Travel for providing so many great resources and fantastic information for our trip. More to come soon….

The Enchanted Forest Theme Park of Oregon #FlashbackFriday

Back in 2016, I finally had the chance to take my wife and daughter to The Enchanted Forest. A wonderfully quirky and crumbling roadside attraction that still doesn’t charge you college tuition for a few hours of theme park enjoyment. As we sit here on Maui where even the worst attractions cost you $30 per person, I have a great appreciation for this place looking back. 

Enchanted Forest Oregon

I cannot count the number of times I’ve driven by The Enchanted Forest theme park – just south of Portland next to Interstate 5 – it’s a roadside attraction that has called out to me for my entire life…The theme park, built by highway worker Roger Tofte was built the year I was born – and being a west coast kid who used to answer the question “Where are you from?” with “I-5” – it seems to have always been there – which for me it has…finally, earlier this year, I decided it was time to stop – as we walked through the slightly decaying concrete ‘amusement’ park – I felt a creepy sense of familiarity that told me I must have come there as a child…it was like walking back into a house you had lived in which had gone from bright and shiny new to moldy and falling down…the rides were a half step up from a county fair and the concrete storybook and Alice in Wonderland structures all felt like stepping back into the Disneyland of the 1950s – homemade attractions painted brightly but faded.

Enchanted Forest Oregon

The log ride is the largest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest (not a region known for amusement parks, I am afraid) and the western town and English village are fun. The whole thing is fun, actually – I don’t want to sound like a wet Nelly in my description. And the price is right – that’s for sure. Right around $10 to get in and then additional fees for the rides. We were there early in the season and the park was not fully staffed or crowded.

Enchanted Forest Oregon

The history of the park is part of what makes me love it. A highway worker bought the land for $4000 and built it one bag of concrete at a time. It’s the kind of thing that would be impossible now, but in the 1960s we weren’t living in such a regulated society and people could decide to build amusement parks, castles, or ski resorts and do it on a dime…if Walt Disney tried to build Disneyland today…it just wouldn’t happen. Roger Tofte built the park and continued to build. His children, and now his grandchildren continue the work. What started as a hobby…is now a 45 year old icon along the Interstate 5. It is worth the price of admission.

Enchanted Forest Oregon

Enchanted Forest is the kind of place that everyone can enjoy….it’s also the kind of place that can be written about tongue in cheek over and over because I’m not sure there is anyplace on the planet filled with more innuendo…I mean look, it’s not an over the top phallus filled piece of land like The Penis Park but there is a lot of adult fun to be had in The Enchanted Forest that the kids just won’t even notice…have fun there…but not as much fun as the writers of this Portland Mercury piece had…they may have gone too far.

Enchanted Forest Oregon

Enchanted Forest Oregon

Camping Oregon’s Sunset Beach State Park in October

My Volkswagen Vanagon went into the shop yesterday for some much needed repairs – in celebration of that, I’m going to post this memory of  our first camping trip in her from back in October of 2016. My goodness, how far we’ve come since then. 

Sunset Bay Beach Park Oregon

Oregon’s weather is always a danger when you plan a camping trip and if you plan it in October at a state campground on the coast like Sunset  Beach State Park- the danger is magnified quite a lot.

 

Sunset Bay Beach Park Oregon

Despite hot sunny days the week before, as we came close to our first planned outing in our new Vanagon (which we named Misefrou) the forecast called for rain, rain, and more rain. I’d been stowing gear in the van for two weeks and getting everything ready…I’d bought an Add-a-Room tent from Bus Depot and installed our old school Coleman refrigerator ice box. One block of ice keeps it going fr 4-5 days. It’s a great piece of gear. We had a propane burner and a butane burner – plenty of food and snacks, three heavy pendleton wool blankets, cook gear, folding camp chairs, a little teak table with detachable legs, a nice carpet to sit on in the add-a -room, games, my ukulele, and I made sure to put the girl’s sleeping bags in. We had a lantern and a couple of battery powered lights. I had my solar panel charger for our phones.

Sunset Bay Beach Park Oregon

 

To keep things simple, I left Hanane out of the planning and told the girls to each pack a bag with clothes that could be worn in layers, toothbrushes, and a book.

I forgot a couple of things I never used to be without…my swiss army knife (with can opener) was in my other bag – so to open cans I had to resort to grinding the top of the can off on concrete – easier than it sounds and effective, but not ideal or as easy as a can opener. I also forgot to pack my sleeping bag! I didn’t bring my water bottle, which was a mistake because I didn’t hydrate nearly enough, and I didn’t bring a sponge or dishcloth for washing dishes. In addition, it would have been nice to bring a coloring book and crayons for Sophia and to buy firewood before leaving home because the tiny $5 bundles of firewood in the camp tend to burn like shit – green and not at all seasoned properly.

Sunset Bay Beach Park Oregon

 

 

The add a room was awesome – heavy and bulky, not terrible to set up but not more than a 15-20 minute job.  If you have the space for it and the time to set it up – it doubles the size of a van. Hanane brought sheets which was nice, but they were that clingy polyester cotton blend, I think they call it cottonelle – not a good fit for a van or camping…or even for a bed in my opinion. I like cotton linen sheets and not much else. Lucky for us, it was not raining on the day we arrived – a little cold, but dry to set up the add a room. It rained at night which was alright, we had a little fire and got an early night’s rest – for about two hours.

Sunset Beach campground does not offer much in the way of privacy between camp sites…in fact, despite the beautiful surroundings, I wouldn’t go back unless it was a group camping experience with friends and family filling an entire section of the camp – we had empty spaces around us when we arrived but the neighbors from hell showed up at about 10pm. I’d put the curtain up in front of the van so the headlights shining in when they backed their tent trailer into their space weren’t that big a deal. The man was yelling at his wife to be louder as she directed him – she said  ” I don’t want to wake those people up, they are right there” of course we were already awake so I got to hear Mr. Asshole scream ” I don’t care if I wake them up” – Oh great. They had two couples in the tent trailer and someone sleeping in the car. At 2am the person in the car accidentally set off the car alarm and so we had flashing brights and honking horn in our face for five minutes while he tried to wake the deep sleeper in the  tent trailer (Mr. Asshole) to shut off the alarm. Then it happened again.  They woke up at 5am to go crabbing and woke us up again.

Sunset Bay Beach Park Oregon

 

Day 2 was lovely. We hiked the coastline from Sunset Beach to Shore Acres State Park Botanical Gardens. The coastline was stunning and we had a picnic at Shore Acres. Back to camp and it was starting to drizzle a bit. We bought more wood and tried to have a fire, but the green wood wouldn’t burn hot and we decided to go to bed. The RV campers nearby had their gas generator fired up so they could watch a game and the expensive RV buses on the other side must have been searching for it as we watched their Satellite dish spinning and spinning like it was on the Mars Rover. So, we went to bed hearing bar-room cheers and soothing sound of a gas generator over the noises of nature which presumably might have still been there. The rain on the roof of the van blocked all that out finally.

 

It rained heavily. Hanane decided she didn’t like the upstairs bed – which is okay. It took me a while in my old bus to adapt to sleeping in a pop top. The rain stopped in the morning after breakfast.  We tried to dry off the add-a-room as we packed it, but it will need to be air dried on the next sunny day. It was nice that the rain let up while we packed up. It started again as we drove off.

Sunset Bay Beach Park Oregon

 

It was a good test run. We learned a lot and had a lot of fun. Sophia proved herself ready for the ukulele and for learning to play chess. Lessons learned by me:

  1. Bring my Swiss Army Knife
  2. Bring water bottles for the whole family
  3. Cotton sheets or no sheets at all – also bring pillows
  4. Make sure the campground offers privacy between sites
  5. BYO Firewood

Camping has changed a lot since I was a kid. Campgrounds used to be full of families setting up tents, having fires, doing fun outdoorsy things, playing games, and stuff like that. Campgrounds now are filled with mostly far too expensive mobile homes, trailers, and 5th wheels mostly filled with retirees and seniors and instead of the old school camping activities…it is people sitting in their recliners watching TV in their home on wheels. I, personally, think that sucks but like the election of 2016 – there isn’t anything we can do about it.

 

 

Vagobond in New York

me and guttenberg bible

Me taking a picture of the Gutenberg Bible at the New York Public Library.

I love New York. A few more photos in slideshow format of some of my time in this amazing city. I can’t wait to go back again. Obviously, the big hole in the ground is where the Twin Towers were – since then Freedom One has gone up.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Portland Maine is one of my favorite U.S. cities….

fiddlin in Portland, ME
I absolutely adore this place. It’s filled with funky bookshops, boats, quirky cafes, and plenty of people that fit into that scene. I arrived and met my couchsurfing host at the restaurant she works at “Sillys”. I had a very delicious Thai chicken pizza and then my lovely couchsurfing host Allison wouldn’t let me pay for it!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Vagobond in Big Bear Lake #saturdayslideshow

Big Bear Lake, Belleville Cabin

When I tell people that I grew up in the mountains above Los Angeles or a ski area near L.A. – they often look confused. I grew up in a small town called Big Bear Lake. 7000 feet above Los Angeles in Southern California. Big Bear is famous for skiing, Hollywood shoots, gold mining, and – not surprisingly – big bears.

On the left is the old Belleville Cabin in Holcomb Valley. Hard to believe this is all that is left of what was once the largest Southern California gold rush town. Belleville was nearly 25,000 people and had more than it’s fair share of prostitutes, miners, and desperados. The town was named for Belle, the first baby born in the community. It brought the nearby communities of Big Bear Lake, Big Bear City, and Fawnskin to life but then died.

The last time I visited was 2009. Big Bear (which is what the whole area is called by locals) was a lot smaller than I remembered it and was filled with quite a few odd people. If someone told you they had just spent a fun-filled weekend at a popular southern California resort called Yuhaviat, you probably wouldn’t know what they were talking about. Yuhaviat is a Serrano Indian word that means “Pine Place,” and it is the name Big Bear had for more than a thousand years.

Big Bear is no longer called Yuhaviat, because back in 1845, Benjamin Davis Wilson rode into Yuhaviat Valley with a posse of 20 men. They were chasing Indians who had been raiding their ranches in Riverside. As they entered the valley, they found it swarming with bears.

Wilson divided his men into two-man teams. Each team went out, roped a bear and brought it back to camp. They had eleven bear at the camp all at the same time. This prompted Wilson to come up with the name Big Bear Lake. However, it should be noted that Big Bear Lake is a man-made lake that didn’t exist in 1845. The lake Wilson named Big Bear was actually the natural lake at the east end of the valley, now known as Baldwin Lake.

Ben Wilson is not only remembered for giving Big Bear its name, but he went on to become an important figure in Southern California history. Among his accomplishments, he is remembered as the first mayor of Los Angeles. He was also a two term California state senator, and he built the first railroad between Los Angeles and San Diego. Wilson died on March 11, 1878, but before he died, he donated land and buildings for the construction of a college. This new college eventually became the University of Southern California.Wilson’s energy and leadership qualities were passed down through his children to his grandchildren. One of those grandchildren was the famous World War II General, George S. Patton.

Today, Big Bear is a tourism town. Sometimes it seems like the main industry is making ugly chainsaw carvings of bears, but actually the big draw are the ski resorts of Snow Summit and Bear Mountain along with weekend camping and mountain getaways by the people that we used to call ‘flatlanders’.

About 15 years (1860) after Bear Valley was discovered by Wilson , prospector Bill Holcomb discovered gold in nearby Holcomb Valley . After abandoning his prospecting and mining efforts in Northern California and Oregon where he spent 10 years searching for gold, Holcomb and his partner Jack Martin came to Bear Valley in the winter of 1859. Although the partners worked hard they made only a modest strike. Martin returned to Los Angeles to get his family.

Meanwhile, towards the end of April, while Holcomb was hunting bear, he crossed the meadow in the center of Bear Valley and climbed up the west side of Bertha Peak and saw what he described as “the most beautiful mountain valley I have ever seen”. A few days later, he returned to that valley with companions, and while tracking a grizzly he had wounded, along what is now Caribou Creek; he noticed glittering specks of gold in a quartz ledge.

News of his find spread fast and soon prospectors began staking and working their claims. The population of Holcomb Valley swelled to over 2,000; buildings and businesses sprung up, including a General Store, Saloon, Grocery Store, Blacksmith Shop and the famous Octagon House where the “glitter girls” danced and otherwise entertained men in small dimly lit cubicles. As more and more prospectors came to Bear Valley in the hunt for gold and silver ore, the Bear Valley Mining District was founded.

When I was a child, that history was still celebrated in a big way. Each year we had a two week festival called “Old Miners Days” during which there were pageants, dances, parties, a parade, and an annual event that I always looked forward to – donkey baseball and the annual burro race. There were large herds of burros and donkeys that lived wild in Big Bear in the 1970s and each year they would be rounded up and people would race them around the lake and play baseball with them – with runners having to ride wild asses around the bases.

As kids, we were allowed to run wild in the San Bernardino National Forest – we were real natives and would catch rattlesnakes and scorpions, explore abandoned gold mines, and hike off in any direction for as far as we wanted. Most of our parents were busy with the booze, drugs, and sex of the 1970s – so there was no one to bother us.

We all went to North Shore Elementary School in those days (which always gets a funny response when I tell people in Hawaii – they say “You mean Sunset Elementary School?” – then I explain my school wasn’t on Oahu’s North Shore but Big Bear Lake’s). Big Bear was a great place to be a kid and the 1970s were a great time to be a kid. Below are a few photos that have meaning to me – the old Juniper that generations of kids built tree forts in, my spaceship looking elementary school, a couple of my childhood homes, my first job at the Alpine Slide, and the little market I used to buy Lemonheads and play Defender and PacMan in. Also a couple of pictures of the lake – look for the tiny white building in the distance – it’s the world’s most important solar observatory – which might be where I got my love of space and my universal outlook on life.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Originally published 07 June 2009

Top Five Paintings from the The Art Institute of Chicago + Saturday Slideshow

Back in 2008, I took Amtrak trains across the United States of America. I started in Portland, Oregon and ended in New York City. Along the way, one stop was in Chicago where I visited the glorious Art Institute of Chicago – one of the top art museums in the world. Below there is a slideshow of the pictures I took there but before showing you that, I’d love to show you the five pieces that hit me with the most power.

Founded in 1879, the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest and most respected art museums in the United States. It is the second largest art museum in the United States (the largest is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City which I visited a few days later). With more than 300,000 paintings in it’s collection and thirty wings – the Art Institute isn’t a one day stop – but I did the best I could with the time I had. Here are five paintings that brought out a vivid sensory feeling in me….but these are just five…the collections at the Art Institute of Chicago are mind bending – Hopper’s Nighthawks, Picasso, Miro, Rembrandt, Andy Warhol, and so much more….take my word for it, you simply must go!

American Gothic Grant Wood

American Gothic by Grant Wood – 1930
I really didn’t expect this to have an impact on me. Of course, I’d seen it in books and film and I’d seen lots of parodies of it. Standing in front of it, however, I was quite taken with it. The allusion between the farmer’s face and the gothic window in the clapboard farmhouse behind him. The pitchfork also seemed to echo both elements and then there is the absurd, almost constipated look on the woman’s face. Interestingly, it’s not suppossed to be his wife but his daughter or sister. Looking at this painting, I could feel exactly where I don’t want to be and who I don’t want to spend time with.

Art Institute of Chicago

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. At the Moulin Rouge, 1892-1895

The woman’s blue face and the energy in the drinking hall behind her captured my imagination and wouldn’t let go. All of Toulouse-Lautrec’s work captures my imagination with his modern art deco style and compelling figures. This one, however actually made noise in my head. I could smell the smoke and hear the chatter. There is a depressed somberness to this painting – like something that you want but know that you can never have.

 

Nightlife by Archibald John Motley Jr

Nightlife by Archibald John Motley, Jr. 1943

While there was something almost opiate about Toulouse-Latrec’s work – Nightlife just made me want to have a drink and go dancing, do the jitterbug and swing to some serious frenetic jazz. Again, I could hear the music in this one. The complete opposite of the Moulin Rouge but better and more fun.

 

Art Institute of Chicago

The Drinkers by Vincent Van Gogh – 1890

On a totally different drinking level are these guys sharing a drink (with the child as well) on a cloudy afternoon. It’s not starry night, but there is the same sort of dreamlike fluffiness to this painting that is real enough to take you there, but dreamy enough to make the entire world seem suffused in magical realism.

 

Resting by Antonio Mancini 1882-1892

She is so beautiful. Looking at this painting, I had the urge to call in sick and climb in bed with her. Could there be anything better than this moment?  The soft beauty of this painting is a major contrast to the nearly inch thick impasto of the work. The paint on this is so thick and hard and jagged and yet – the subject is so soft in the light. It’s no wonder this took ten years for Mancini to complete – no doubt it took him that long to buy enough paint! This impressionist painting captured all of the longing I’ve ever felt for love…

 

These pictures were taken with my old 8 megapixel Pentax back in 2008 – it’s amazing how much better my iphone takes pictures now – but these are what I have for the moment. I hope you enjoy the slideshow.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

%d bloggers like this: