Thursday, May 17, 2012

San Francisco with T and S

Last weekend I was lucky enough to have yet another adventure with two rather special people; T and S. This time, T had occasion to be in San Francisco, so what should have been a surgical fly-by-night conference visit quickly transformed to an eclipse-class zeppelin behemoth of awesome.

On Thursday, we somehow managed to pack the car with everything we needed and an equivalent mass/volume (=density?) of optional extras, and took off for the airport. Parking, transfer shuttles, checking in, security! Wonder of wonders, travelling with a 4-year-old gets you waved past the cancer-testicle-blaster-of-doom, and for the first time in my life I missed out on being 'randomly selected' for additional screening. Racial unprofiling, I believe. We settled into our luxurious sofa-sized chairs (for S) and egg-carton seats (for T and I), and before long were in the air, over California, and plummeting back to earth. With a budget for travel-related expenses to enjoy, we took a cab to the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara, a miniscule boutique bed-and-breakfast 20 floors high just next door to the old Hewlett-Packard headquarters, now looking for a viable company to enclose. Within minutes of checking in we had already swum laps in both pools, sorted out all the tiny soap, failed to hack the entertainment system, allocated beds according to nationality (northern hemisphere on top, southern hemisphere under the bed, of course), and organised dinner. T went with a few co-conspirators to her Women Achievements in Science conference, while S and I met my Silicon Valley inclined friends D and R at Tomatinos, and ate our own weight in pizza. S also brought his toy hippopotamus, which turns into a complicated 3D puzzle if you ask it nicely. D is doing well since his move to the states 3 years ago, and looks forward to the impending arrival of his fiance, L. R, who I met through CSing in Sydney, is doing absurdly well and seems happy and fit! Soon S and I retired to bed, reading a few books while we waited for T to return and, ultimately, sleeping.

Next morning we stumbled to the hotel restaurant for a rather pricey breakfast, then took the VTA tram downtown to the San Jose convention center, where I met E, my former office mate of 2009, with whom I tracked down my ex-adviser MdS. We found him hiding in a local cafe, and he looked rather surprised to see me! Meanwhile T and S checked out the Children's Discovery Center next door, featuring a mammoth excavated in the adjacent park. With a quick detour to possibly the grottiest urban creek/drain I've seen all week, we headed for the Caltrain station. Beneath the blazing sun and burdened with luggage and unused child-sized legs, we were picked up by an uncharacteristically helpful bus driver and dropped much closer to our destination. We caught the train with minutes to spare, and quickly snuggled down between our bags for a well deserved nap. Once in SF we took another tram to our hotel on Market St, the Edwardian San Francisco Hotel. In a narrow building with seven rooms per floor (originally perhaps twice this number!), and subsequently retrofitted for electricity, lifts, and running water, it was sufficient for our purposes. So, after a quick break to freshen up we took to the streets to meet T's friend K, with whom we successfully located and consumed dinner, as well as chatting rather a lot. In the meantime S constructed Pleistocene Park between the plants surrounding our table, ate yet more pizza, and engaged several other customers of Arlequin diner in happy chitchat. I walked K home, then set out once more to find contact solution for T, since her supplies were aircraft incompatible. My initial guesses for locations of open chemists proving unsuccessful, I engaged an expanding spiral search until I bumped into the hotel staff dude, who pointed me in the right direction. Dodging clouds of magic purple smoke emanating from several establishments I located a safeway, obtained my product, and returned home triumphant.

Next morning, after a slow start, we began a highly convoluted journey across San Francisco to the Exploratoreum, next to the palace of Fine Arts, via a sushi restaurant, a bagel shop, a few climbable trees, an impromptu lecture on sailing by yours truly, some nice views of Alcatraz, etc etc. Once inside, T and I vied for S's attention on behalf of our respective disciplines, split roughly between electricity and stuff that dies. In the end we pronounced it an honourable draw, since the real winner was both of us, reliving our respective childhoods discovering science. For me, this was the Questacon in Canberra, which had some similar-looking experiments. We walked back from the Exploratoreum toward the city, eventually catching a series of buses, all the while entertained by half a dozen or so variously incoherent vagabond types, until we met my friend J at Lers Ros, a rather nice Thai place somewhere near Civic Center. In due course, we were joined also by T's friends M and L. The six of us had one of the most tremendously erudite conversations in which it has ever been my pleasure to take part. All too soon, however, I had vacuumed up my Pad See Iew with Beef (still not as good as Thai La Ong's) and J and I set out for the Davies Syphony hall, at which we were set to see a concert. I had planned to see it, since one of my favourite musicians, Cameron Carpenter, was performing. In truth, I did not even know the program's theme before the show. It turned out to be a collage of musical moments from the history of the "Barbary Coast" region of San Francisco, the region between the Embarcadero and Market St, between the gold rush in 1850-something and the exhibition in 1915, celebrating the recovery of the city from the 1906 earthquake. The music was terrific and the stories were even better. I was sorry that S was too tired and wriggly to enjoy it at the time. Soon!
I headed back, and fortunately was able to sneak into the hotel, since T had fallen asleep after locking herself in!

Next morning, we packed, checked out, and headed into SoMa to visit some more of T's friends who live in warehouse conversions in a rather sketchy part of town and consume waffles. Sadly we were unable to visit the group who went to live on an icebreaker, but these ones (at least the ones who weren't in LA for the Mindshare conference) were pretty cool too. On the street, we dodged litter and dangerously incoherent types. Inside, we walked past a collection of bicycles, photos, and maps reminiscent of places I once frequented in Newtown. A warehouse conversion with centralised kitchen and living space, indoor trees, and an alleged boat in case of sudden flooding, it was a fine place to while away a few hours in interesting chit chat. At one point we went down the road to the Sight Glass Cafe, where I ran into non other than A, an ex-Pauline who has since made his way in VC in the states. We spent a good 20 minutes catching up on news that I hadn't had updated since the day I moved out of college!

All too soon it was time to once again lift our luggage skyward and begin the long trek to the airport. After applying our combined 42 years of education, T and I managed to deduce how to buy tickets to get on the BART to SFO, though as it turns out we messed up the amount, and had to reapply our exceptional computer skills to get off at the other end. Once more we settled in for our short flight home. By 10pm we had dropped S and K's place and found something to eat - the end of a long adventure, though only a taste of what's to come.

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