Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fog City

      Well, I hear it gets pretty foggy, but that certainly wasn't the case on Sunday. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen so much sun in my life. But that's besides the point.

     After looking at the Jeep and getting some lunch, I decided to get off my butt and go into the city. After failing to find someone from the 'tvte who was in the area and wanted to go with me, I packed up my laptop and bag and took off to the Caltrain station, with only a vague idea of where in the city I would end up, and even less of an idea of what I was going to do. Turned out that I was going to do a lot of walking and should have packed lighter.

     I arrived at the Mountain View Caltrain and ran into a bit of a dilemma. I was approaching my credit limit, I still didn't have a checking card, and I only had a small amount of cash that was supposed to cover me in the city. Now, Caltrain has a policy that you're supposed to buy a ticket before boarding the train, and they check it on board. However, in all the times I had ridden Caltrain up until that point, I would buy a ticket, and nobody would check it. I felt like I was bleeding money for no reason. So, I was awfully close to not buying a ticket, based on previous experience, but my gut told me, "If you don't have one this time, it'll be the only time they check for it." So I bought a ticket, and of course, while I'm staring out the window and listening to music, I hear a faint tapping through my headphones. Ignoring it for a while, I finally turned around to see a ticket-checker (I feel that any other name would over-glorify his job) looking up at me angrily. Well, at least I think it was angrily. He was wearing sunglasses (inside the train -.-), so I couldn't tell. I fumbled around and eventually found my ticket, at which point, he grunted and moved on, disappointed that he couldn't kick me off. I found it rather obnoxious that on a two level train, he just walks on the lower one and bangs on the ledge of the upper one to get people's attention (these train cars are super weird. Note the giant hole in the second level)
     So I passed the time on the train by some combination of listening to music, reading the musings of James May, and sleeping; at some point, I'm pretty sure I was doing all three. The train finally arrived at the last stop, I got off, and walked in the direction I thought the bay was, because I wanted to walk up the coast of the peninsula and take pictures of the Bay Bridge. So I walked a few hundred feet, crossed a small drawbridge, and wound up here:

     So I may not be from around here, but I thought San Francisco was supposed to be a city... Not a giant empty lot. I was a little confused and kinda sketched out by the lack of any signs of civilization. Luckily, I turned around and saw AT&T Field, home of those other Giants (I usually forget that when people talk about the Giants, they don't always mean the football team). I had been a little disoriented, but I managed to find my way back to civilization shortly thereafter. Even though the Caltrain station did put me near some interesting landmarks, I was still a little puzzled as to why it was on the very edge of the city. It just seemed odd.

     I crossed back over the drawbridge and started walking toward AT&T Field, as I knew that the Bay Bridge was just up from there. Whilst walking past the stadium, I caught a glimpse of this awesome piece of engineering:
Look at this freakin' counterweight!

     I wandered up past the stadium and found a nice big green area, and watched a man play catch with his dog for a while. As Jessie would say, "PUPPY!"
And a flying one, at that. I hung around and messed with my camera a bit and enjoyed the beautiful weather. It was a pretty great scene, with people enjoying their three day weekend with their children and their dogs (there were about equal quantities of both), the nice new city on one side (new compared to Boston, at least):
the bay on the other side:
and this thing in the middle:
... I guess it's better than Transparent Horizons. I'm afraid to admit it, but I actually kind of like it. Maybe because it's so massive. Maybe another perspective for a slightly better sense of scale:
Note the tiny people in the not-too-far-off background.

     As you can imagine, the green grass and large piece of scrap iron lost my interest pretty quickly, and so I moved onto that large bridge in the background, stopping along the way to watch some high school drumline performing for cash outside of some high class restaurant. Like I mentioned, my only real objective on this trip was to see the Bay Bridge. I'm an engineering dork, and I spent a fair amount of my time prior to MIT watching big engineering projects on TV (despite the host's occasional blatant stupidity, I still enjoy watching "Build it Bigger" on the Science Channel). The Bay Bridge counts as a big engineering project in my book. Just look at it:

That's a cargo ship on the right, by the way.

The bridge is 74 years old, 4.5 miles long, has an island in the middle, and carries over a quarter of a million cars a day. Freakin' 74 years old! They were so much more hardcore, back in the day. It's also on Route 80, so if I really wanted to, I could get on the Bay Bridge and go straight back to Flanders, NJ without a single exit in between. The bridge also just seems to loom over the city.
Long story short, I think it's awesome. Deal with it.

     After spending far too much time staring at the bridge, I got sick of all this sunlight making my head hurt. I wandered off between the buildings to get some shade, and to find the Transamerica Pyramid. I did so rather easily, mostly just by looking for the big pointy thing in the sky. I took some more photographs to fulfill my voyeuristic engineering urges, but my camera is ten years old and they managed to disappear between taking them and putting them on my computer. I'm obviously devastated, as you should be. Now how can I prove to you that there's a giant "church" of Scientology across the street? You'll just have to take my word for it.

     After craning my neck for a while at the base of the pyramid, I went off to find some food on Market Street, walking through the financial district along the way. About half way to market street, I noticed a Cathay Bank. I was under the impression that it was just a sketchy Chinatown bank in Boston, but no, it's apparently a sketchy Chinatown bank with locations all around the world. This made me even more annoyed with my bank for its sparse locations.

     I eventually stumbled upon Market Street and walked back and forth a few times, looking for a place to eat. Unfortunately, it being a Sunday, everything was closed. I am disappointed San Francisco. You're not supposed to be like Boston. Things are supposed to be open on Sundays!

     In my wanderings, I did a careful job of dodging the homeless, the unemployed, and the hippies. Everyone below the age of sixty seemed slightly eccentric, at the very least. At some point, I gave up on trying to find a reasonable place to eat and settled for fast food. I wandered into a Carl's Jr, which is apparently the fifth largest fast food chain in the country (even though I had never heard of it before). After getting my food and watching some crazy people get theirs, I sat down on a stool by the window and ate my food. At some point, a man wandered over with some food and sat down near me. I didn't really think anything of it, since he didn't seem particularly crazy or homeless.

"Mind if I sit here?"
"Not at all"
"Ok. I just know some people like to be by themselves so they can have time to think. I didn't want to intrude"
"Heh, nah, it's fine. Don't worry about it"
"Where are you from? You don't mind me asking, do you?"
"No, not at all. I'm from Boston."
"Man, Boston!? What're you doing all the way out here?"
"I'm working for the summer"
"Really? What do you do?"
"I'm an engineer"
"Shit man, an engineer? That's awesome. There's a lot of money in that.. Yea man.. Lots of money"

... Uh oh. Maybe I was wrong.

"I'm not gonna lie to you. I'm homeless. I may not look it, but it's true"

     Ugh... Yea, I was wrong. The conversation went on. He explained to me that he was 63 years old and has had HIV for the past 20 years (didn't look like either of those was true), but something about some "drugs they have in California" was "keeping him alive", and he was "one in a trillion". It was hard to follow what he was saying once the crazy came out. At some point I gave him the rest of my french fries, but he kept talking. Something about him being very spiritual, how hard it is to get a job, how cold it is at night - Wait, what? I interjected here.

"Yea, I've seen the homeless in Boston out in the snow during the winter.. It must be so rough"
"... O.. Shit. In the snow? Really?"

Based on his facial expressions, I imagine he was thinking, "Hm... Maybe it's not so cold here"

     The fries were not enough, and he continued begging for help. I had already been sucked into casual conversation, so my technique for ignoring the homeless and crazies wasn't going to work here. I was getting frustrated by my pocket change, and I did feel for the guy, so I gave him the fairly decent sum of change in my pocket. He continued to beg. I lied and told him I didn't have any other cash. I actually had about $20 in my wallet, but seeing as my means for getting cash were limited, I wasn't in a rush to give it up. Also, it's never a good idea to pull out your wallet in front of a homeless person. Eventually, he started asking me to go to an ATM and get money for him. Here, I was able to tell the truth.
"Sorry man, I lost my debit card. I can't get money from the ATM."
"Come on, I know how it is with you kids these days. You just gotta punch a few numbers and you can get cash"
"Yea, but I lost my card, so I can't. Look, I wouldn't lie to you "

Err... Yea, well, I'm not convinced he was telling the truth either. They guy on his ID didn't look like him.

"Come on. I'm begging you. You need me to beat someone up?"
"No man, it's cool. I've got nothing against anyone"
"Come on. I will beat someone up for you. Need anyone beat up? Need someone's car to get fucked up? I'll do it"

     If you couldn't guess, I was really anxious to get out of there at this point. He was finishing his food, and once he was done with that, I was afraid he'd follow me out the door, or hang around and beg if I stayed. So I looked at my phone to check the time and said, "Hey, I've got to run and catch a train. I'm really sorry I can't help you out anymore. For what it's worth, take this-" I passed him my drink, which I had pretty much forgotten about "-take care of yourself, man"

     I walked out the door and quickly walked away from the Carl's Jr, in case he decided to follow. Glancing behind me, it seemed as though he had stayed where he was an I had actually gotten away. I briskly walked back to the Caltrain station to wait for the next train to San Jose. I had walked a ton and been exposed to enough crazy for one day. I didn't know what else to do in the hour before the last train out, so I just took the second to last train instead. I got on board, relieved that things would go back to being calm for the rest of the evening.

     Except they didn't. I sat down in a mostly empty car. A little while later, all these kids started piling into the same car, wearing sweatshirts from various big name schools, like Cornell, CMU, UC Berkley, Brown, Princeton, Yale, etc. They all seemed to know each other, which all made sense when I saw one of them wearing a Stuyvesant shirt. Ah. I see. So, living up to their reputation (although I certainly know some likable people that went to Stuy), they were obnoxious for the entire train ride. At one point, one of them was convinced that they should attempt to have a party with "all the interns in the bay area." Good luck with that one, buddy. They wound up playing several games of Mafia over the course of the train ride, having people standing in the aisle and getting in the way of Caltrain employees and passengers who were attempting to get on and off the train. I'm not really familiar with the game of Mafia, but it seems like a moderately less nerdy version of Dungeons and Dragons, but with people pretending to be mobsters while one guy dictates a story that he makes up. Needless to say, it was really annoying, and I was glad to finally get off the train in Mountain View. I walked home and called it a day.

     The following day was Memorial Day, but I decided not to do much of anything. I found out that Jason lives within walking distance from an In-N-Out (and by walking distance, I mean a 40 minute walk), so I went there for lunch. I got two double-doubles, one of them animal style, as well as animal style fries. It was a bit too much, to be honest. But it is strangely addictive, for some reason. On the way back, I stopped by a convenience store and bought some batteries for my camera. This is what I got:
Welcome to California, I guess?


  1. Glad I'm not the only one who attracts the crazies.

  2. Wow. Your crazy radar sounded good, but that guy was a serious nutcase. Nothing quite like Cali.