On Fog and Ferries

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I am not enamored with San Francisco.
This is confusing to me. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Perhaps I’m spending too much time in less than ideal neighborhoods. A lot of people whose opinion I respect love this city, so it can’t be awful. Tons of my freaky creative people call this place their home.
I’m not from a pristine city. There are tons of homeless people and drug addicts and the smell of urine in DC. I do not live in the isolated pristine pocket of DC, either. I hear gunfire and it’s actually gunfire, not fireworks or a car misfiring. I have spent some time in New York. Hell, I lived in Delhi and Ho Chi Minh City.
I don’t recall ever smelling urine during quite such a large portion of my walk as I do here. Everything seems to smell like urine and pot. I also haven’t seen quite so many addicts sitting cross legged on the sidewalk with their eyes rolled back in their head, lost in their own minds, as I have here. And holy shit am I sick of repeating myself six times to really stoned waiters and bartenders. Not all of them, of course. But a noticeable percentage of them.
So. I don’t love this city, from my brief time here. I see glimpses of the city that I could love in the people I see – funky queers, artists covered in tattoos, people in chaps, etc. My tattoos slide in unnoticed and blissfully uncommented on. The coastline is gorgeous and the houses in obscenely expensive neighborhoods beautiful and so far out of reach they might as well be clouds.

However, three times over the course of my life I’ve considered moving here (or Oakland). For Mills College in undergrad, when Luke moved here, and UC Hastings Law School has a really interesting gender and refugee program (but their employment rate sucks and they don’t give out decent aid packages). I’m glad I didn’t move here, but I find myself wondering if I would be a different person if I had. Do I fit so well in DC because I fit into DC or because DC wore away at the funky edges of my personality until I was simply sensibly quirky with that undercurrent of ambition you see so much in Washington?

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Immigration detention barracks on Angel Island

The thing I was most looking forward to doing here was Angel Island, which I did Saturday. It’s kind of a pain in the butt to get to – the ferry runs on a rather limited schedule, and the immigration station on the island is a good twenty minute walk up stairs and hills from the dock. It’s totally underfunded compared to Ellis Island. They’re doing what they can within the confines of a state park, and it’s a worthwhile museum. But a museum that makes me wish I had lots of funds to give them to meet their potential.
I was excited for this because oddly enough, the detention center is wrapped up in my own genesis as an immigration advocate. I didn’t even know the place existed until I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 – and Angel Island was a result of that racist bit of policy, eventually. It was surreal to visit, to chat with the son of a woman detained there, to feel those moments of your life coming full circle. To have an opportunity to input faces and personal histories and poetry into your memory bank of impersonal research.

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I warmed slightly to San Francisco my second full day there, which was gorgeous and blue and sunny. Molly and I rented bikes and biked quite literally all over town. We had Turkish coffee in a random café in the Lower Height, ate our sandwiches in front of the Painted Ladies skyline, sang the Sound of Music while pedaling through Golden Gate park, walked through the ruins of the Sutro baths, and questioned our life choices as we took the hilly route from there to the Golden Gate bridge before pedaling back into town along the Bay. We hauled (walking) those fuckers up the hills of Hyde street to look at the ridiculous crooked street then walked them back down the hills to a point more reasonable bike route. All told, 7 hours of being cycling fools on our bikes with the best weather we could hope for.

Sam met up with us at the hostel and after some truly disappointing Vindaloo (the only mild Vindaloo I’ve ever tasted), we packed and repacked our bags. Scooped freeze dried chicken into twenty bags of our premixed dinners in the hostel kitchen (to the somewhat confused looks of a few fellow hostel goers), and separated out the stuff that would be shipped to LA. There’s still a bit of freeze dried chicken in the SF downtown hostel on the free shelf with the directive “Add me to your ramen.”

This morning, those shipments made a dent in our wallets before we hit the Greyhound station to wait and wait and wait for our delayed bus. I’m finishing up this post using only my phone (the bluetooth keyboard was mailed to myself in LA) and I’m somewhere in Western California (Turlock, per Google maps) a couple of hours still from Visalia. It’ll be my last post until after the trail. We do Mt Whitney next Sunday, and I’ll try to take some time from my planned beach day in Santa Monica to catch y’all up.

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About Amy R. Grenier

Washington, D.C. based migrationist and advocate.
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