SF Race Weekend
Sonic said his plane would land in San Francisco at 0930AM. I did the backward math and prepared for my early morning departure to make the four-hour drive up the California coastline. Samurai was originally going to meet us in San Francisco as well. Sadly, she was whisked away to the deep south to begin her life as a country music starlet or something not remotely similar. Our race-running trio was down to two, as I planned to tourist the heck out of Sonic.
We began by paying an exorbitant amount to park in a secure lot down along Pier 5. I knew the main tourism area was further down but couldn’t remember which Pier was the right one. Spoiler alert: it was Pier 39. Start walking, boots!
Our late-night Alcatraz tour didn’t start until late afternoon, so we made our way along the busy sidewalk. Fellow tourists, joggers, street performers, and street vendors weaved among each other on the bright, sunny day. Panoramic views of the bay were broken up by warehouses, some dating back to 1908. Spotting something that appeared to be the love child of a museum and a science center, I dragged Sonic though the front door in hopes of finding a bathroom as part of the exploration.
This place is all about interactive science. Unfortunately, instead of being filled with adults exploring like curious children, it was full of actual children who were not good at sharing with adults. It’s my turn, kid! I get to be the rainbow now. Also, germs. The hand sanitizer was frequently accessed. Unfortunately, hunger and later appointment kept us from seeing the whole place. I think we’d need several days and a gallon of hand sanitizer to properly experience the entire Exploratorium. We were both fascinated by the chunks of dry ice that were tossed onto a large disc of water to swirl and spin their selves out of existence. No mind-altering chemicals were required to stare fixated at the dancing smoke balls. It made me wonder if the Exploratorium had any issues with recreational drug users getting lost in exhibits. I can hear the crackle of a handheld radio as an employee comes across a glossy-eyed Cheshire cat of a man. “Security, we’ve got another gazer in the west wing. Bring some Cheetos and tinfoil to lure him out.”
The Rock Awaits
Further down, we came upon Pier 39 and all of its consumer glory. Even the sea lions have been coming here for 30 years. See them here on a live cam. Scouting out the shops for the perfect souvenirs and snacks, Sonic and I partook of roasted almonds and explored every variety of shops. Finally, it was time to make our way down to the Alcatraz waiting dock at Pier 33. It is recommended that ticket holders arrive at least 30 minutes before departure. I had purchased our tickets online several months ago because I heard that the evening tours sell out quickly.
After we boarded the ferry, we found seats on the upper deck to admire the island. The ferry makes a full circle around Alcatraz Island before unloading at the dock. At first, I didn’t understand why it was taking so long to get off the ferry. At the dock, they divide everyone into smaller groups to begin the tour in waves. The tours of twenty feel far more personal and allow everyone a closer look as they progress through the tour. We started by winding up the steep East Road that passed outbuildings in various states of disrepair. Halfway along our hike, the first Park Ranger gave us some historical background of the island and instructions for the audio tour. Once we reached the main building, we were ushered through a giant shower room that reminded me of many military washrooms. The island was originally occupied by the U.S. military in 1850, and most of the buildings were constructed by Soldiers. No wonder it felt so familiar to Sonic and I. Most other tourists were horrified by the shower room, but I appreciated the ample space and drainage of the facility. After our shower scene, we were given headsets and audio players in the language of our choice. Up the stairs, we wound around through the various cellblocks, hearing descriptions of daily prison life and stories of escape attempts.
In early February, I was thankful to have on a light sweater as we walked through the drafty hallways. Outside we were greeted with fantastic views of the San Francisco skyline and bay bridges. Back in the only cafeteria, we saw a riot control system that was supposed to release gas into the room and marveled at the small room. It was akin to having a chow tent that seats sixty on a base of 300. Again, my military experience was surfacing during the tour. Awkward yet entertaining. At the conclusion of the audio tour, we had 45 minutes to wander around the island and hear presentations given by Park Rangers at various locations. Like any well-planned tour, our last stop was through the gift shop, where we found books and postcards to take home. Sonic and I went back to the solitary confinement cells to explore on our own. Inside one cell, there were postings of inmate names and what transgression had landed them in the lightless box of a room. Our favorite was the inmate who told off a guard after crossing the cafeteria to get chocolate milk from an unauthorized area. He served a week in solitary confinement for his dairy fueled aggression.
Finally, we trooped back onto the ferry for the ride back to the mainland. Once freed, we made our way back to the car back at Pier 5. Race weekends always seem to include an excessive amount of walking before. It serves as an extended warmup for the run.
SF Marriott Marquis
This is where I remind you that I do not receive kickbacks or compensation for anything I write here. While I normally have great things to say about Marriott, the Marquis in San Francisco was all snobbery. It started with the parking garage at the hotel. As guests of the hotel, you can usually use valet at a discount or self-park on-site for a lower price. The valet parking for hotel guests was $80 per night, and there was no other on-site option. I was told I could drive down a few blocks to a public garage that might have spaces for $30 a night. Being tired and hungry from the day’s adventures, I handed over my keys to the valet in disbelief. Bee had made the reservation for me through his app. The employee at the check-in desk acted like I was trying to steal someone’s reservation, having just wandered in off the street with my luggage. It wasn’t until I called Bee in front of him that he dropped the attitude. “Oh, you don’t have to call him! You’re his wife? I’m so sorry, Mrs. Bee!” the weaselly man pandered. I had mentioned that I was Bee’s wife but did not change my last name because of the military. Mr. Weaselly Weaselton finally handed over our room keys so we could find the right bank of elevators to reach our room. It was a clean, double queen bedroom with views of surrounding buildings. We had too much to explore to spend much time in our overpriced room. Onward!
Follow the Rainbow Road
The next day, our goal was to experience the rich history of San Francisco’s LGBT community. The hotel was only 2.5 miles from Castro Street, so we opted to walk. We walk because the distance never seems that far, and we are foolishly overconfident in our ability to conquer hills. The race is tomorrow, right? Might as well warm up those quads now. We applied our sunscreen and followed the rainbow flagged road. Our first stop was the SF LGBT Center, which stands out as a beautiful purple building on Market Street. We ventured inside to peruse their bulletin board and use their restroom. The gentleman at the front desk was genuinely nice and waved us on our way with a smile to continue our journey. Our destination was the GLBT Historical Society Museum and Archives. Here, we viewed historical items and read about the turbulent history of the LGBT community.
Often misunderstood and oppressed, the violence was in stark contrast to the human spirit’s ability to persevere in the name of love. While it was sad to see all of the struggles the LGBT community has endured, I am so thankful for the brave individuals who continue to fight for the rights of my friends. When I think about the first same-sex marriage I was able to attend just years ago, I hope that the idea of barring a loving couple from marriage will someday be just another section of the history museum. We rounded out our Castro Street experience with lunch at Harvey’s, named for Harvey Milk. As an openly gay member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Harvey Milk was shot and killed by a fellow board member in his office on November 27th, 1978. The restaurant has large, floor-to-ceiling windows so patrons can fully appreciate the festive atmosphere out along Castro. With my back to the window, I was still able to subtly point out a few nudists enjoying a sunny stroll. Acceptance of differences is the overall theme for Castro Street.
Race Day Weather
The morning of the San Francisco Half Marathon dawned bright and breezy. I put on Sonic’s donation flannel over my race clothes, and we drove to Golden Gate Park. By using the parking garage under the Music Concourse, we were remarkably close to the start line of the race. Little did we know, the finish line was at the other end of the park. Huddling out of the wind, we waited for our group to begin and promised ourselves that it would warm up once we started running. Without Samurai to babble to during our run, Sonic was forced to endure my random exclamations.
“There was a dog in that window watching the race! Look at that busy duck pond! Is that lady on the Segway part of the race? I just saw a woman walking in fuzzy slippers!”
Slowly, Sonic edged ahead of me and maintained a faster pace. Sonic has always been a faster runner, but yelling my observations to everyone within 20 feet was becoming comical. The sunshine, views, and comfortable pace made the first 7 miles fly by. As we crested the hill, we got our first glimpse of the ocean and sandy beach along the racecourse. The lovely sea breeze quickly turned into an industrial sandblaster as we battled through miles 8-12. I ran with one arm covering the side of my head to keep the sand out of my ear. My sunscreen and Chapstick acted like glue for the grainy particles, creating a spontaneous mud-mask on my face. A slight twinge in my left knee became a full immobilizing muscle spasm in the cold wind, requiring me to swing the entire leg from the hip to keep moving forward. I was no longer yelling cheerful observances but shuffling with my head down to protect my eyes and keep my feet moving. The last mile climbed back uphill away from the brutalizing beach and ended at an idyllic windmill. The race was over, and we collected our hard-earned bling, complete with spinning windmill sails. It had been a battle with the wind, and I felt like the battered windmill from Disney’s The Old Mill.
Where the San-Friction were we, and how far was the car? The dismal answer to the latter was 2.5 miles back through the park. If you have ever seen someone finish several hours of physical exertion, you know that they seem disoriented and zombie-like. Within our own tired fog, Sonic and I made our way back to the car. However, nothing looked familiar where we expected to find the parking garage. After another 15 minutes of fruitless wandering, we asked a security guard for directions and the not-so-secret entrance back into the underground parking garage. Traditionally, we follow races with a large meal, tall beer, and a long nap. Searching for the car had cut into our nap time, but we managed all three before heading out for our next adventure.
Float Your Boat
In an attempt to ease sore muscles, I had booked appointments for Sonic and me at Reboot Float Spa. The practice of soaking in a bath of Epsom salt after a race is supposed to help with recovery. An hour in a warm pod of saltwater was just what I convinced Sonic we needed. Reboot Float Spa was serene and immaculately clean, earning immediate points for putting me at ease. We were each shown to a private room and given instructions. There is a pre-float shower with special soap and a post-float shower to remove the salty goodness. The floating itself is done in a pod that doubles as a sensory deprivation chamber. You don’t have to be Daredevil to appreciate the solitude of a sensory deprivation chamber. Still, I have discovered that my creative mind actually becomes unsettled in that amount of silence. In order to relax, I play an audiobook on speaker while I float and stretch so that my brain doesn’t splash around on its own. We each emerged after an hour looking blissful and slightly damp, reminiscent of the Pier 39 sea lions.
Golden Gate Bridge
The following morning, we had several more hours of touristy goodness before Sonic’s flight left. It wouldn’t be a proper tourist trip to San Francisco without a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, followed by mass consumption of sourdough bread. The Golden Gate Bridge has a clever toll system that allows you to leave the mainland for free but charges you to return the other way. You can avoid the toll by taking a long way around, which turns a 5-minute trip into a 3-hour expedition. Sneaky, sneaky bridge. We parked on the far side for photos and a chance to walk along the pedestrian sidewalk of the bridge. Halfway across, the wind was whipping at our faces, and the call of lunch had us hustling back to the car. Halfway was plenty for the Golden Gate experience. The Boudin Bakery was the final stop before our San Francisco adventures ended. Inside, I was tempted to purchase multiple loaves but limited myself to a couple to bring back home. What is San Francisco known for? Fabulousness and sourdough bread. Safe travels, my fabulous friends!