GABST Day 6: Escape to Alcatraz

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Not a bad way to start the day.

Distracted by blue skies and blue waterfronts, lush trees and chirping birds, I’m a little late to write. Also because last night I fell into wine-fueled deep sleep, the kind that kept me knocked out until the downright shameful hour of 9:30 a.m. So long 7:30 internal alarm clock, you’ve been felled by San Francisco.

SF is a lovely city, as lovely as everyone said it would be, or at least implied with reverential oohs and ahhs when I said I was heading out here. It’s got all the hustle and bustle of a big metropolitan area, while a 20-minute walk from downtown in nearly any direction gives way to boutique shops and eateries, populated with well-dressed and laid back SF residents, sipping cocktails and munching on foodstuffs with the primary ingredient of avocado.


My first day in SF took me to the Ferry Building, where I dined at The Slanted Door and drank brunch cocktails within sight of a beautiful coastline. From there, I donned my tourist cap (listen, I can’t be cool all the time) and boarded the boisterous ferry for Alcatraz, the infamous island prison featured in — outside of U.S. history, of course — 1996 movie The Rock. For all the gimmickry that’s been added to Alcatraz over the years (before you even get on the boat, they try to sell you a picture of yourself standing in front of a backdrop of the island — a backdrop, when the real thing is literally right behind you) it’s still an incredibly interesting place. And even though the prison’s audio tour provides plenty of examples of how life on Alcatraz was no joke, the place feels almost pleasant, basked in sunshine and home to astoundingly beautiful vistas in every direction. If you happen to have scored a third-tier cell facing a window, you might have even had a million-dollar view (from the vantage point of a decidedly less glamorous bedroom).

After Alcatraz, I was eager to get on with my bookstore binge, and so dragged my friend up to the Russian Hill neighborhood (actually, more like dragged myself, since I took one look at the hill we were supposed to climb to and went “Oh fuck that.” A five-minute bus ride later and we’d been saved by public transportation). While there we popped into the Russian Hill Bookstore, a used book outlet with a friendly staff and a great selection of old pulp fiction. After that we meandered down Polk Street and eventually wandered into Kayo Books, a really awesome used bookstore with, again, a lot of old pulp fiction but most adorably a gigantic black lab, who kept providing (completely welcome) distractions from the overflowing shelves of paperbacks.

Russian Hill Bookstore
Russian Hill Bookstore

After a brief stopover at the hotel, where my feet and legs were yelling “Please no, let’s just stay here; it’s so nice here” we stepped out for a sushi dinner and then came back to rest our weary bodies (or at least my weary body). Which brings me to why, however impressed I’ve been by the city, I could never actually live in San Francisco. These hills, guys — they ain’t cute. I heard a lot of pre-trip glorifying of the SF topography, including pronouncements that I would have “fun” traipsing up and down multi-block sidewalks at a 45-degree angle. I don’t know if I have a different definition of that word than everyone else, or (perhaps more likely) wasn’t talking to anyone pleasantly chubby enough to sweat at the mere mention of physical exertion, but I don’t know if I could get down with a city that can’t provide me with a decent 45-minute stroll that doesn’t include huffing and puffing my way up a steep incline. It’s a lovely lovely place, San Fran, but the risk of my defecting from New York is pretty close to nil.

(And yes, of course I realize that SF has a bounty of public transportation options.)

Kayo Books
Kayo Books

So today it’s off to Haight-Ashbury, where I hope to see/smell the abundance of pot-smoking I was led to believe is going on here (what gives, SF? So far, Seattle has you beat by a mile for random wafts of weed floating through the air.) After under-anticipating Portland, I’m glad I’ve given myself a solid three days in San Fran. If nothing else, it’ll do wonders for my glutes.


Bookstores visited: 3
Alexander Book Co. 
Russian Hill Bookstore
Kayo Books

Books purchased: 2
The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton (Russian Hill Bookstore)
The Fall of the House Of Usher and other writings, by Edgar Allen Poe (Kayo Books) 

One thought on “GABST Day 6: Escape to Alcatraz”

  1. The hills are ALIVE, with the sound of sweating!! San Fran’s topography freaked me out in a car, much less having to hike them.

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