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Saturday, May 24, 2008

A San Francisco Trip

This is late in coming, but so be it. I recently went on a lovely, yet strangely difficult trip to San Francisco to meet with Paul Genesse, author of The Golden Cord (you can find the review here and my interview with the author here). So, here's how it went down:
    Figuring out how to get to San Francisco without a car is actually a lot more difficult than you might think. You see, there are plenty of ways to get to San Francisco from the actual Bay Area (i.e. places that actually border the same bay as San Francisco). But when you're coming from the South Bay, across the Santa Cruz Mountains along the coast it's a whole different experience. There is only one public bus that goes over the mountains and it doesn't go to San Francisco, but to San Jose. Then you have to get from San Jose to a train or subway that will take you into San Francisco, which is a problem because there is no direct route from San Jose to San Francisco at all, despite it being relatively close to a variety of methods that can get you there. The only way to get directly to San Francisco from Santa Cruz is via Greyhound, which is fine, except that the Greyhound stops in a lot of rather scary places (such as the not-so-nice part of Oakland) and the types of folks who ride the Greyhound from Santa Cruz aren't exactly "friendly" looking. Regardless, I didn't want to take one bus from SC, another from SJ to Fremont, and then get on the rather confusing BART system (i.e. SF's subway) and end up lost in one of the largest cities in the United States. So I decided to take a Greyhound.
    In comes problem #2. The Greyhound only leaves from SC four times during the day and only comes back four times during the day, each trip being about three hours. Those four times, however, are really crappy if you are wanting to meet someone in San Francisco at around one or two in the afternoon and even more crappy when you don't want to come home at three in the morning because you have class at 8 AM (or only spend two hours in the big city rather than several). So, I made the decision to take a Greyhound there and do the whole BART/Bus thing and take a cab from downtown to home.
    Exciting as that may seem, it was actually somewhat terrifying. When I got downtown to climb onto the Greyhound and head out to lovely SF I was bothered by Santa Cruz's most noticeable and downright irritating of groups: the homeless. I have nothing necessarily against homeless people. I understand that life isn't easy and sometimes you get a good kick in the butt and you can't recover. The problem with Santa Cruz isn't that we have homeless, because most towns/cities have them, but that they all cluster in a part of town that, quite frankly, is meant for tourists and to simply look good for the city. You see, Downtown SC is actually a nice little place. There are an assortment of fascinating stores and restaurants, and it's built to basically look good. Except for the homeless. Some cities have a lot of pigeons, but Santa Cruz has homeless. They collect on the streets, on the sidewalk, on all the benches where shoppers might want to sit, in corners, in front of doors, in the alleyways, and anywhere else they can get to. And nobody does anything about it. You can't walk downtown without seeing ten or twenty of them in your immediate vision. It's sometimes so bad that I don't even want to go downtown, even though several of my favorite stores are there (Borders and Logos, both fantastic bookstores).
    Having said all that I can now explain my first disturbing experience of the day. I got off the bus and was heading for the Greyhound station just on the other side of the metro center when this lady came up to me and started asking me for money. As a rule I don't carry cash on me, except in this instant because I needed it for all the buses and what not that I would have to take. So I calmly told her I don't have any cash (technically a lie, but I didn't really have any cash, since the money I had was, in theory, in use). Then she proceeded to ask me if I was going to the Greyhound, to which I said yes, which prompted her to ask me if I could buy her a ticket, which in turn received my answer of "no, I can't". That's mostly the truth. Yes, I could probably have afforded to buy her the ticket, but I'm also not rich and have to make sure that the money I do spend is on what is most important to me. That might sound selfish, but, you know what, I don't have a lot of money as it is and I'd rather it went to myself or my immediate family or a close friend first, rather than someone I don't know and who generally kind of scares me.
    So, having averted the homeless lady I headed for the Greyhound where I was confronted with a peculiar group of people: European surfers (and more specifically German and Slavic surfers). Beyond that there isn't much to say except that I got my ticket, sat down and began to read. When the bus came I got on and found myself a seat amongst the folks who looked like they very well could have been gangsters. I'm talking the scary types, some of which were carrying things with them as if they were their final possessions before going to prison. So I spent most of the trip huddled in a corner praying someone wouldn't go postal and starting the place up (or steal the bus, for that matter).
    After making several stops along the way, the bus finally made it to San Francisco and I headed off to the streets with my cell phone set to call up Paul on his cell phone. One problem with that: Paul's last email to me had his home number in it, cleverly posing as his cell. Meaning, when I called, I was calling his home number, some thousand or so miles away. Paul, of course, wasn't home, but his wife was. She promptly gave me Paul's cell, averting a disaster.
So, I called Paul on his cell and we arranged for him to come to where I was. Then together he and I, and his friend (you'll have to forgive me for not remembering names as I am horrible with names) headed off to the Ferry House or Ferry something. Basically it's this sort of shopping center type thing along the water filled with local wines and culinary oddities (such as actual Japanese iced teas!). Then we started talking about all sorts of things from writing to cancer (Paul is a registered nurse, by the way, which is totally cool). Most of the conversation was about cancer, actually, which was probably a good thing because Paul's friend knows someone who has the same cancer as I do (mine is in remission or whatever you want to call it) and so we talked about about this person's condition. I hope that this person keep his chin up and beats the crap out of this cancer.
    Then it was time to head off to Borderlands. For those that don't know about this wonderful store you need to click the link to it. This is one of the few speculative fiction only stores in all of California, and probably the entire country. I was fortunate enough to learn that there are two others in the general Bay Area, which gives me some hope in finding a good selection of books from all over the place. Borderlands is, basically, a specialty store for those of us who only like speculative fiction. The great thing about this is that not only do they carry the more mainstream of the speculative fiction (minus the huge series stuff like Buffy and such), but they also carry small press books and some obscure ones, as well as an amazing selection of magazines you won't find anywhere else. This is really great news to me because I am a huge fan of the small press. It's also great news because now I know where to go to find some truly amazing works of fiction AND nonfiction.
    So, while we were at Borderlands I decided to wander around and see what I could find. I kept myself on a budget, though, as I could have easily spent everything in my bank account there. What did I end up with?
A Signal Shattered by Eric S. Nylund (it has an interesting premise)
The Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction by Patricia S. Warrick (which goes perfectly with my academic interests)
Borderlands Magazine, Issue Seven (not named after the store; this is from Australia actually)
    There were loads more that I wanted too. Anyway, so I bought some books and hunkered down to listen to Paul read a little from The Golden Cord. Unfortunately, by this point it was getting close to when the last BART I could catch left from the nearby Mission and 16th station (if I didn't catch the 7:49 PM BART I would be stuck in SF or SJ or someplace else, which would not be remotely good). So unfortunately I missed Paul reading from later in the book (he reads rather well actually), however I did get a lovely surprise. Paul gave me a free official printing of the book with a beautiful personal inscription inside that made me smile. Paul Genesse = Cool. If you don't agree then you need a new brain, because it's true. I will treasure this book for as long as I live. Paul, you rock!
    It all feels so short lived. I wish I could have spent more time with Paul because I think we got along great and it was such an honor to meet him. As such I am making a resolution: if I get a novel published I will do whatever I can to make sure it releases near the same time as a book of Paul's so we can both go on a book tour together! Yes! Certainly one of the best ideas ever!
Okay, enough of that. So, one of Paul's friends was kind enough to offer to drive me to the station, since it was a few blocks from Borderlands. Once there I went through the insanely confusing process of getting a ticket for the BART. Okay, so you have to buy this ticket from this machine, only if you're not smart enough to know how to do it you end up doing something most people who ride the BART think is completely retarded and buy two tickets. Then you slide it into the little gate thing and it lets you through. The problem is when you get to the other side the machine is too stupid to realize that you have two tickets you want to apply to the same ride and so it tells you "not enough money" and eventually gives you the "see attendant" (or whatever they are called there). But I'm getting ahead of myself.
So I went down to the frightening subway type place where lovely little pigeons have made their homes, and I walked around trying to figure out where the heck I'm supposed to go. Pretty much at a loss I decide to ask someone for help and am gifted with an excellent response which helps me out because it ended up being a million times less confusing than what the online thing told me. Skipping ahead, the BART proved to work out okay except at the end where, as I mentioned, the machine was far too stupid to take two tickets for the same fare. Then I had the luxury of having a completely idiotic moment. Apparently if you want to get to the buses you have to take this ticket from a little machine and go out on the other side. Except the attendant didn't make it very clear to me what the heck she meant so I ended up going back up to the platform, wandered around for a bit, came back down and asked her to explain it again. From there I walked over to the silver door, since apparently I could go through that door seeing how my ticket was busted, and sat there confused. You see, I'm smart, but if you don't explain something to me I can't really figure it out without some sort of direction. You can't tell me to learn how to give birth if you don't explain to me what the parameters of that request are. So I went to this silver door and stood there thinking "is it supposed to magically open?" No, it's not supposed do. So I inserted my little ticket thing that the lady told me to get and was promptly barked at from the other side of the exit area (there is an exit for each parking lot). Then I realized I could just push the door and it would open. So I did, and it worked, much to my amazement. I felt like a caveman discovering fire or something else of equally amusing value.
    From that point on nothing interesting really happened. I got on the bus at the Fremont BART station, then got on another bus at Diridon Station and ended up in Downtown Santa Cruz again, where I called a cab and went home.
    Yeah, that's about it. Thank you for your time.

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  1. Ufda - do I have memories flooding back :P In 1997 I took the Greyhound Bus from Fargo, ND with my BFF from HS and it took us 2 days to get to the Bay area. Luckily we had each other. It was an awesome adventure and I love SF. I was able to visit once more in 2004 & I hope to head back the way soon. Yes, Bart is great. Intertwining it with the bus system & it will get you anywhere.

    So, kudos on the interview (as I am heading there shortly to read more) & Boderlands looks like a neat place too. When I was in SF, I was mesmerized by the Virgin Records Store - cheesy - I know!

    Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

  2. Paul Genesse! The person that also likes George R. R. Martin. I agree, he must be fascinating. Now properly reminded of him, I suppose I'll go look up his book.


    Stereotypes aside, I'm glad that most of your problems came from traveling to SF, but not actually being in SF. You've also rekindled my busphobia. I'm going to look for a Borderlands equivalent in my home area now.