“San Francisco Bay, past pier 39, early PM can’t remember what time.” So starts “Have a Nice Day” by the Stereophonics. Its one of my favourite songs, and is one of those songs capable of evoking strong memories. For me, the memories are kicked off by the great opening line which take me back to one of the good times for me. It’s the reference to San Francisco that does it, and is a reminder of a great long weekend I had there in 1998 with my two closest friends.
We were right in the middle of a three-week holiday in the United States, having travelled from Chicago to San Francisco by train via Lincoln NE, Denver CO, Flagstaff AZ & Los Angeles CA. All of the stops were fantastic and are memories I’ll treasure, but the weekend we had in the Bay Area will always be in my mind. It started off by arriving in Oakland at 10pm on the Friday after a 12. hour train ride from LA. The train bypasses San Francisco and continues up the west coast to Seattle (we resumed our trip after San Francisco by catching the train in Emeryville, the stop up from Oakland to get to Seattle via Portland OR & Olympia WA.) A bus service completed the journey into San Francisco. My first sight of SF was from that bus coming over the top level of the Bay Bridge. San Francisco was glorious. The view from the bridge was, to use an Americanism, awesome. Surely the city by the bay has never looked so good as it did that night.
Our first experience of San Fran was quite an exciting one. We arrived in Union Square at 1030pm or so, and we were staying at the top of Geary Boulevard, a taxi was in order. First taxi hailed stopped – success! – then when we told him where we wanted to go to, he asked, “where is that?” Not a good start! Fortunately I knew it was (roughly) in the direction of Golden Gate Park, and after a journey of nearly getting killed (he just about ran into the back of a stationary car at red light) we made it. Check-in was fine. We were in San Francisco.
The weekend was one of the finest I’ve had. After a morning or rooting about in downtown San Francisco, it was time for me to be able to indulge in one of my American passions – baseball. America’s pastime is a wonderful experience, and I’d already got myself & my friend tickets for the Giants Saturday game against the Dodgers. The afternoon was lost in a haze of Californian sunshine, Giants homeruns (2 grand slams) and Barry Bonds in an 18-4 Giants win. In the midst of it all, after a Giants homerun, beers in hand, my closest friend and I exchanged the iconic American high five. It really was a perfect moment in time, and I won’t forget that. My friend took his own life in 2003 and those memories of San Francisco will always be precious.
The Sunday was just as good. Again we braved public transport and took the BART train over to Oakland for the Raiders/Broncos NFL game. My friend was a Broncos fan, but decided against wearing his Denver shirt to the game! Probably a wise move with Denver fans there being subjected to (generally) light hearted abuse and being showered with beer. It was another great sun-kissed afternoon spent in the company of friends. Its one of life’s greatest pleasures. Denver won the game 34-17 and it topped off a true bit of Americana. Back to San Francisco on BART (the BART station was right outside the Coliseum in Oakland – take note UK!)
The weekend was extended to Tuesday, and it left us time to be proper tourists! It was a trip out to the Golden Gate Bridge on late Monday afternoon that brought the reality of it all home to me. I can still clearly remember standing on the GG bridge looking out over the Pacific Ocean when it struck me – what was I doing on the west coast of America? I was 8,000 miles from home. Although I’d had a good childhood, we were never lucky enough to experience foreign holidays, and I didn’t go abroad until I was 15 on a school trip to Switzerland. But her I was on America’s Pacific coast in the middle of the experience of a lifetime for me. I loved the baseball, and the NFL, but standing on the GG Bridge looking at the Pacific is a memory to treasure.
Alcatraz was visited on the Tuesday, our last act before moving on. We were in San Francisco for just four days, but Lombard Street (the steep windy road), Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge, Candlestick Park & the Oakland Coliseum were all squeezed in. Maybe no surprise its stayed with me really, and it’s the reason I love hearing that Stereophonics song. I’m so glad my friends and I took the chance when we could and had a great road trip together. Chicago and Seattle were other highlights, but the weekend in San Francisco was unforgettable. San Francisco Bay, past pier 39, early PM can’t remember what time. What I will remember is the fantastic City by the Bay and the company of great friends. It was a blast.