As it is spring break, a couple friends (let’s call them Darius and Cecil) and I decided now would be the best time to road trip down to San Francisco to tour grad schools. Darius and Cecil are looking at art school and I’m looking at getting my masters in writing and as our top choices are all in San Francisco, we decided to move down at the beginning of fall term 2015 with one other buddy (I’ll call her Meep) and share an apartment. Meep is in Costa Rica at the moment, so it was up to Darius, Cecil and I to check out the area.
Darius and I left at the crack of dawn (it seemed like that, anyway). We picked up Cecil and were on our way.
The drive was long and straight. 10 hours down I-5. Surprisingly, we didn’t run out of music.
On the Oregon-California boarder, a check point had been set up right on the freeway. Security at the airport and various important buildings aside, I had never been stopped at a checkpoint. But Darius had, and she was driving, so I didn’t think too much about it. The security guard asked us if we had any fruits or plants, to which we said “No,” and she waved us through. Don’t want to bring ravenous crop-devouring worms or invasive species across states, I guess.
I was surprised how quickly California looked like what I knew of California. I had spent a year in Orange County going to college, so I had a pretty good feel for Southern California, but I’d never spent any time in mid and upper California. I thought northern California would be a lot different than Southern California: and they are, I guess, but Northern still has a distinct California vibe. Palm trees start showing up, the layout of towns, the way people dress, the weather…much more “Californian” than I had expected.
Something I didn’t realize about San Francisco: there are more than one bridge and they’re all amazing! Driving into the city, we passed over this big, beautiful bridge and we were convinced it was the Golden Gate Bridge, but it turned out to just be the little one that takes you from the mainland to Treasure Island (yes, there’s a Treasure Island). Then we drove over another, super awesome bridge, but it wasn’t the Golden Gate Bridge, either. I’m still not sure which one is the real Golden Gate Bridge. (Edit: I know now, once I had looked at a map. It goes north to south, so, not a bridge we would see accidentally.)
Driving in San Francisco at night, as a rural Oregonian, was…let’s use the word “exciting.” Yeah. That’s a good, non-descript word. I will say we didn’t die. I won’t say that we for sure drove only on roads we were supposed to drive on. But we made it to our hotel, and our car was small enough to fit in the little underground garage, though I’m not sure how I’m going to get it out, to be honest.
We stayed at the Hotel Mayflower, which is somewhere between an old hotel and a nice hostel. The whole time staying there, all I could think of was the Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s a beautiful, old, quaint little hotel. The lobby is all dark wood banisters and red and gold carpet, and the elevators are the old kind where you open the door and pull back the iron gate. It is in a safe part of town, a 10 minute walk from Market Street (the main street, also where you can catch the subway) and it’s nice and clean and quiet. It’s one of the quirkiest and most fun places I’ve ever stayed. I definitely recommend it; just know that unless you have a compact car, you’ll need to find a different place to park.
Today was the taking-care-of-business day. We had a tour at 10am, and another one at a different school at 2pm.
It was a beautiful day to be walking around, sunny and warm (a little too warm for the sweater I was wearing, but it was too late now). The walk to Darius and Cecil’s school was only fifteen minutes, and it was an easy and enlightening walk. We walked across Market Street, and got a feel for the area. I’ve gotta say, I really like San Francisco so far.
Touring Darius and Cecil’s school kinda made me want to go to art school. All the art on the walls, all the graphic novels, costumes, animation labs…I had never been anywhere like that, and I was geeking out a little.
We had a few hours between tours, so we went to a Starbucks to figure out the easiest way to get to the other school.
Despite the advice of a friendly lady, we decided to try the subway. We were curious how far it reached anyway. Plus, I like the subway.
While I appreciate that San Francisco has a subway, it’s nowhere as user-friendly or expansive as the Tokyo subway. We spent a long time trying to figure out which train to take and where exactly it would drop us off. We finally figured it out, but boy was it difficult.
We took the train past AT&T Park and then walked through the sketchy back area to my school. I was glad I wasn’t alone. I would need to find a better way to get to school. None of this walking behind warehouses nonsense.
We finally found my school, a quaint little garden and building that housed the graduate writing program. It seemed like a fun program, but I’m not convinced it would be worth the price. I have some thinking to do.
Our tours finally over with, we went to a diner close by for a very late lunch. We decided to try for a different train station, one where the path would take us through civilization.
It turned out to not be a Muni station, but a Bart station. We had come in on a Muni train. The Muni station was at least a half hour walk in the opposite direction, so we decided to take the loss of our round trip ticket and just buy a Bart ticket. Bart is clearly the most expansive public transportation in San Francisco. I don’t think a person without a car could get around San Francisco without getting a Bart pass eventually.
Anyway, we took the Bart train back to Montgomery Street and then went back to the hotel to rest before dinner.
Figuring out the public transportation was difficult, but I feel like it was the first awkward step towards understanding it and once we get a feel for it, using it will be second nature.
Our agenda today was to go to Japantown and Chinatown.
We slept in and then went to get bubble tea from a sandwich shop on our street. As I was trying to order, I realized that I didn’t know what to call a plain, black tea with milk and tapioca pearls. I told the guy at the counter that I was just looking for a standard bubble tea. His face lit up and said that he knew exactly what I was talking about and made it for me.
With bubble teas in hand, Darius, Cecil and I made the twenty-minute walk to Japantown.
I didn’t realize how homesick I was for Japan until we went into Japantown. It isn’t Japan, obviously, but the way people act, the things that are sold, vending machines with Calpis in them, the way the buildings look, were all just close enough to make me very happy and very sad at the same time.
We went to a bookstore with a full second floor of manga. I got myself another volume of Nabari no Ou.
One of our sub-quests for the day was to get ramen at a ramen shop. It was harder said than done, but finally we found one on the second floor. Boy was it good. It also served taiyaki, but $2 per pastry was a little too steep at the time.
After Japantown, we were all pretty spent, so we decided to find a coffeeshop and sit and write.
Later, Cecil and I went to Chinatown, partially to check it out, and partially to see what the area was like after dark. Chinatown was interesting. Probably not as dangerous as the Chinatown in Portland, but definitely sketchier than Japantown. Walking back to the hotel after dark, the city had changed, but it didn’t exactly feel dangerous. I only saw one homeless person and most of the people around seemed like they were going to get drinks after work.
I was ready to stay in San Francisco and start looking for work and and an apartment, but alas, we had to go back to Oregon. We left the hotel at 10:30am. I had been concerned about getting my car out of the tiny garage and also about driving in San Francisco again, but neither were as terrifying or difficult as I had anticipated. I only got honked at once or twice, and that was because I forced myself into the correct lane too late, so…yeah, not too shabby.
Before heading home, we took a detour to go check out Hayward, a town 45 minutes south of San Francisco, and where we are most likely going to end up finding an apartment. It’s a nice town. Very flat and desert-like. Kinda quiet, but big enough to have places to buy things and work. Plus, the Bart goes directly to Hayward, so we wouldn’t have to drive into San Francisco every day.
The rest of the drive home was long and uneventful. We ate at a cute bear-themed diner and listened to Coraline on CD.
I was sad to leave San Francisco so soon, but we’ll be back in August. I just have to be patient.
A/N: When I was starting to write this post, I thought, “Why do I feel the need to document everything I do and everywhere I go?” Then I realized, that’s kinda what writers do, isn’t it? That’s how we understand and share.