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Old: Impressions of San Francisco

My visit to Silicon Valley last week was great fun. I able to make a pilgrimage to the mothership and visit with some old friends. Best of all I was able to spend time in America, with Americans from all over, which is always an eye-opening experience. As a Canadian, America can be a surprising place to visit simply because of all the subtle differences. America is like a parallel universe, slightly out of phase with our “Canadian” reality, where the money is monochrome and the service is terrible.

In my week I was able to visit Cupertino, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Campbell, San Jose and San Francisco. Silicon Valley: the heart of the tech economy, the herald of the future. It seems like The Valley is always a little bit further along in the timeline — or maybe multiple timelines — waiting for the rest of the world to catch up and determine which timeline is the one to actually pursue. Did I expect jetpacks? No. But I did expect a lot of steel and glass, clinical precision and cleanliness. Maybe it was my experience in Apple Stores that biased me. Boy was I wrong.

Driving through San Francisco I felt like I was in a crowded South American city. Palm trees and tiled roofs everywhere and the hills are swathed in low, wooden buildings, like a thick pastel-colored blanket. Sprinkled here and there were (abandoned?) brick factories and warehouses. Like many of the structures, the grime was also 19th century. There is no apparent grid-system for the streets. The city is pre-automobile. I can imagine horse tracks and footpaths lying below the paved streets, peeking through the cracks. It was pointed out to me that the many hills might not facilitate a Tang-style urban plan. Excellent point, I thought. For the Japanophiles, San Francisco is more like a Tokyo than Kyoto.

I spent only a handful of hours in San Fran and only saw the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, the Mission and the Castro. The Castro was flamboyant and the Mission was… well… I think this video can sum it up:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9f8QPtwBBs&w=500&h=284]

Have you ever made the mistake of thinking a fat lady was pregnant? Sometimes in San Francisco it is difficult to tell who is homeless. Better to keep your mouth shut and your change in your pockets.

One thing I should say is the eats are great. The restaurants I visited were:

I know the rents are high, maybe even worse than Vancouver, but I would have to give serious thought to relocating there if the opportunity ever presented itself. It is definitely a place with a vibe. The only negative experience I had in California (besides occasional lack of service) was the massive clusterfuck on the part of United causing me and a number of people to miss our flight. Next time I will be more careful to avoid UA. Next time.

See all of my California pics on Flickr.