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The International Writers Magazine: US Cities

San Francisco
• Fred C. Wilson III
The city I left behind

San Francisco or SF to us natives has an exotic quality about it compared to your average American city with its lookalike brownstone dwellings, the socialist glass boxes we call modern office and government buildings. I left SF when I was a kid. The last thing I remember when leaving was my mom yanking me by my hand pulling me one way as I tugged hard the other way.

San Francisco

I left not only my many friends, an enemy, our large touristy home – EVERYTHING -- my entire way of life behind. Train travel was popular in those days before intercontinental flying became the norm; Greyhound if you couldn’t afford train fare for the rich by air. Long distance vehicular travel wasn’t in vogue. Superhighways or interstates were still on drawing boards.

San Francisco like Seoul and Rome is a city of hills. I stayed away from my hometown until my early 20’s. Upon my arrival I toured the city on foot. I walked from the Presidio across the Golden Gate Bridge to Lime Point on the other side and back again; what an experience! During my long hike I peered over the guard rail and noticed long white lines in the water below. Someone later told me these were shark trails. The Bay is infested with those vicious critters!

George Harrisson in Haight Asbury When I returned the hippie movement was still the rage. I took the customary jaunt through Haight-Ashbury. What I saw was depressing. The so-called ‘flower children’ were dirty, ragged, emaciated, the streets were cluttered with garbage, store and street signs were in varying stages of disrepair and people were walking about like zombies. It was a living episode of ‘The Walking Dead.’ The negative vibes moved me to tears. I said to myself if this is what they call countercultural they could have it. The only other place that moved me to tears was when my wife at the time and I spent an evening in a Downtown Chicago abortion clinic taking a class in natural family planning. I left Haight in a big hurry.
Lombard Street is a must do experience if you've got the legs for it. It’s a wicked walk. I’m 68 with two bad knees. If a trip to SF is in your future take a hike along twisted Lombard Street; you’ll never forget it.

On of the finest examples of colonial Spanish religious architecture is the Dolores Mission. It's a church with a history; founded in 1776 by Spanish missionaries under the supervision of Blessed Junipero Serra the cemetery is final resting place to a cross section of people. Luis Antonio Arguello first Mexican governor, graves of early Indians, settlers who came to strike it rich during the Gold Rush, victims strung up by the Vigilance Committee or Vigilantes, and a slew of others lay under ancient headstones.
Dolores When I took a stroll through the flower garden and read the tomb stones I noticed how short life spans were back then. To borrow the old cliché they died like flies aptly applies. Diseases treatable today were considered incurable then. The average life span was between 20 to 30 years. The mission was the first building in San Francisco.
* Image from original building in 1791 that withstood the 1906 earthquake

When I took a stroll through the flower garden and read the tomb stones I noticed how short life spans were back then. To borrow the old cliché they died like flies aptly applies. Diseases treatable today were considered incurable then. The average life span was between 20 to 30 years. The mission was the first building in San Francisco.

The traditional café society flourishes in San Francisco. Unlike the rush-rush lifestyle back east folks sit for hours sipping tea or coffee with friends instead of hurrying off somewhere else.

Lots of homeless people in SF. With the present no-go economy, the ridiculously high salaried ‘Dot Com’ computer geek types from Silicon Valley pricing ordinary San Franciscans out as rents sky rocket. Its easily understood why the homeless population is growing exponentially. The financially challenged live in the small communities that border the city limits; hint-hint-bring money when visiting.

SF is very risqué. On the street copulating between two prostitutes wowing their audiences with free sex shows as part of a Prostitutes Convention, live S & M demonstrations during the annual Gay Pride Week; Did you know that there’s a monument dedicated to Miss Carol Doda first person to perform topless? That’s a fact. By way of suggestion perhaps you may want to enjoy more traditional venues of entertainment and let the seedy stuff slide. You’ll stay out of trouble, return home disease free with your reputation and bankroll intact.

San Francisco became part of the United States after being seized from Mexico during the Mexican-American War of 1845-48. Prior to that California was part of New Spain, then Mexico, the short lived Bear Republic before merging with the United States in September of 1850.

35% of San Franciscans are of Asian decent. San Francisco appears ‘Asia friendly.’ Historically SF wasn’t kind to its Asian population until very recently. Thanks to Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s and subsequent passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 African-Americans, Asians, Mexican-Americans, economically challenged whites and Gays benefited tremendously from Dr. King’s legacy. Asians didn’t receive full civil rights until the signing of the Immigration and Nationality Act a year later in 1965 and the nixing of the earlier Chinese Exclusion Act.
Of San Francisco’s many Asian-American enclaves, Chinatown the largest, is home to nearly every subgroup on the vast Asian continent. The city’s ‘Chinatown’ is a great place to visit either with a tour group, though best walking. If you’re going to San Francisco I’d cozy up with some of the locals who’d be more than happy to tell you where the good restaurants are rather than pricy tourist traps. Whenever I’m in a new place I always ask those who know where the best and cheapest stuff’s at.

If you’re planning to go dress appropriately; bring a hat and light jacket. Bay area weather is finicky. Nowhere was that so obvious was when I watched the Giants play Chicago’s Cubs. Though the home team won in the 9th inning 2 to 1 over the visiting Chicago team I nearly froze my ass off. The seat I purchased was in the shade three seats back from where the sun shone. I shivered in the shade while fans in the sunny sections were in T-shirts. The kindness of a young lady usher who felt sorry for me made the ball game enjoyable. She gave me permission to move to a seat in the sun; God bless that girl!

California is famous for its eccentrics. Stuff they’d put you in jail for here in Chicago is ignored, smiled upon and tolerated in San Fran. Case in point: the Hippie movement had a long run on the West Coast. In Chicago it was quickly quashed by brutal authorities. I could never imagine an ‘Emperor Norton’ decked out in his goofy getup meandering through the streets of New York City, Chicago, Detroit, or down south without getting jacked or mugged, arrested and committed. Could you visualize a hooker or Gay convention in Savannah, Georgia? Most anything goes in Frisco! I’m just letting you know that SF can be wild despite its reputation as the most snobbish city in the U.S. City Lights Bookshop

Are San Franciscans snobby? uh-huh. My being a native spared me the cold shoulder when I intermingled with the locals. A family friend recently attended her daughter’s wedding to a local man. She told me she enjoyed the wedding but felt shunned by some of the guests. She returned to Chicago post haste once the padre pronounced the couple hitched.

I’m a practicing artist (ceramicist & sketch artist). I have an honors degree in Fine Arts. I know my business. Art (and writing) is my life.

Museum San Francisco has so many fine art, craft galleries and museums you couldn’t possibly see them all. If you’re an art aficionado, an artist and or planning to visit SF do yourself a big favor and visit ‘San Francisco Art Galleries, San Francisco Gallery Guide’ Not only will you find a seemingly unlimited number of local art institutions but listings of every ‘important’ gallery in the United States. As a side note if you’re in to the fine arts they have ways for you to buy and or sell your stuff on line or in their galleries; email or call them up.

California has its own cuisine. ‘California Cuisine’ a distinct style of cooking that’s a fusion or joining together of disparate cooking styles using fresh local ingredients. Foods that are virtually fat free, fresh garden grown veggies, local fruits, non-fatty meats and seafood from California’s coastal regions now that’s California style cooking!

SF has food items that cater to whatever suits your fancy. I'm partial to Asian cooking particularly Filipino… Chicken Adobo, Barbecue, Bistek Tagalog, Camaron rebosado, Crispy Pata, Kaldereta and the ever popular Lechon Kawali or suckling pig with brown lechon sauce on the side; go to ‘List of Philippine dishes’ for a complete listing of these and other yummy food items from the Archipelago.

The world’s premier cuisine is Chinese; I love ‘Chinese!’ I’m carnivorous by nature; I crave meat! If you prefer a vegetarian regime its still a free country; go for it. Russian, Italian, fusion, Filipino, Vietnamese SF has it all. For a complete listing of the Bay areas top 100 restaurants log in to Just because somebody’s wrote a book, you heard it on TV, read a restaurant review in some classy publication don’t mean food critics are infallible. Here in Chicago we have a guy on a popular television channel whose show I can’t mention by name ‘cause he’ll sue the pants off me, recommend viewers his favorite dining spots about town. My wife and I’ have occasionally ate at some of his recommended restaurants but found most of them wanting. Check it out before plunking down big bucks on ‘Alpo outlets.’

California ranks 41 out of 48 states surveyed in terms of church attendance ( Despite the state’s low religious ranking California is noted for having some of the grandest houses of worship in the country all of which are well attended. Californians are very spiritual people but they don’t attend church all that much.

The San Andreas Fault is the Golden State’s great divide. It physically separates the state. There’s an even greater divide that separate urbane sophisticated San Franciscans from their glitzy more colorful cousins in the south. For decades I thought it was California’s version of Chicago’s Northside vs. Southside vs. Westside thing, but the Balkanization of California runs deeper.
SF Homes The perceived chaos in the southern half of the state with its burgeoning population, the Los Angeles gang culture, growing social problems, underfunded public programs serve to drive a wedge between the two ‘Californias.’ Northern California is sparsely populated, ecology minded, has state-of-the-art rapid transportation service that local government officials use at least twice weekly compared with the disorderly south is another cause for discontent among northerners. At one time state legislators seriously considered petitioning Congress to divide the state in half forming two states.

There’s no State Department Advisory for the Sunshine State; it’s the United States for heaven’s sake; just use your head. Don’t go out at night unless with a group, don’t be dumb and put your wallet in your back pockets easy pickings like I almost found out the hard way on a Roman bus when I had a run in with a Romani or Gypsy wire gang or let your purse dangle on your shoulder while walking or wear expensive cameras around your neck. Buy a smaller one and put the friggin’ thing in your pocket! Don’t look like a tourist, an outsider. Like the padre told us one Sunday morning in a church throwing distance from Waikiki Beach in Honolulu; “Hawaii may be a paradise, but it’s not Heaven;” same for pretty San Francisco; watch yer’ ass!

Flying to Frisco’s not a problem. Go online, type what you want, and BOOM! Its’ all there; hit ‘Best Hotels in San Francisco…’ or for bargain basement specials. If you have cash to spread then by all means let those eagles fly; helps the local economy. When visiting SF stay at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins the city’s premiere hotel in my opinion. What I like about the MK is the place drips with class. Men in expensive suits, black ties, long gown wearing ladies and tuxedoes are de rigueur. I felt rich just being there. This hotel has an awesome Bay view! The Top of the Mark is an ideal setting for nightcaps, fancy cocktails, meeting that significant other, and aforementioned the Bay view is out of this world. I did a walk through of Top of the Mark; didn’t buy anything; too expensive but if you got the cash check it out. If you’re like me and the silver spoon missed your mouth by a mile, go on line to (*Hackwriters recommends The Palace Hotel (For it's history) and The Beresford for the more budget wary)
One last thing visit Alcatraz; I didn’t have time.
© Fred Wilson May 2014
If you would like information on SF night life go to:

Fred W Wilson

This city isn’t for the weak and faint of heart. You slip up it can and will eat you alive.

Fred C Wilson 111

I’ve studied up on Bali; it’s all good. The scenery, indigenous art galleries, Hindu temples laden with ancient artifacts, the spicy foods, exotic markets and the wonderful folks who make up this beautiful place

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