Where Are My Pitons?

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007, 7:50 pm

I come from hill people. Dad’s from Lawrenceville, where once you get off the 40th Street Bridge the roads rise up, up and away, until you reach the imperial fortress of Children’s Hospital at the tippy-tippy top. Mom grew up on Polish Hill, which is perhaps the most vertiginous neighborhood in Pittsburgh. It lacks the altitude of Mount Washington, but when I visit my cousin who lives up there I feel like I’m gonna tumble onto Liberty Avenue every time I make a left-hand turn. The roads seem to drop away into the ether, especially at night. As for me, the street I grew up on was a long, steep hill and was bordered by a longer, steeper hill. The road out of our plan was longer and steeper still, and for years I walked up and down those slopes delivering newspapers.

I say all this to let you know that I’m no stranger to hilly terrain. So when I tell you that I was absolutely blown away walking around San Francisco today, that I was astounded and flabbergasted by the insane grades you have to endure just to get around, you’ll know that I’m not some flatlander who gets in a tizzy bouncing over a speed bump. The hills here are sick. SICK. San Francisco may be thought of as America’s most liberal city, populated by hippies and Deadheads and tree-huggers galore, but this has to be the most handicapped-unfriendly city on Earth. I don’t like heights, and a few times I felt queasy peeking over the lip of some especially-steep boulevard. The idea of trying to go down one of those streets in a wheelchair…you can’t do it. You’d have to tack back and forth across the road a dozen times to make it to the bottom. And all that would mean is that you had to go down ANOTHER monster hill.

I got to the bottom of this hill and I said, "Jesus, now I gotta get back UP". And yes, those are steps cut into the concrete at the far right of the picture. I should’ve used them.

I didn’t bring the good camera with me during my wanderings today, but I think you can get an idea of how nuts these hills are:

Up and down, up and down, up and down:

Because I’m an idiot I went in the opposite direction of Chinatown when I left the hotel. I wandered around Union Square for an hour before I got my bearings. . Mr. Speaker and DP recommended Lucky O’Doul’s, and I did stick my head in there, but I was confused by the strange buffet offerings and weirded out by the couple of barflys sipping suds there at 11AM. I decided to table my visit there and pressed on to Chinatown. I was getting hungry and planned all along to find a place to eat there, but it’s hard to pick a spot when you’re confronted with a bewildering display of signs and sights:

By now I was hungry and thirsty and I took a page from Anthony Bourdain’s book when it comes to finding a place to eat in a strange town. I looked for a place that was crowded, and one that was filled with locals. I stopped by a joint that looked like a diner and there wasn’t a single Caucasian inside. I figured that a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown has to be pretty good to attract a large Asian crowd, so I walked in and grabbed a seat. It looked like the place specialized in duck–there were a bunch of the crispy critters lined up by the window. I would’ve ordered duck but from the lunch menu it looked like that would’ve been way more food than I could eat by myself, so I punted and got a combo platter of spareribs, kung po chicken, fried rice, and hot and sour soup:

It was all good, though not really extraordinary. I’m less adventuresome when I’m wandering by myself and Mark has already expressed his determination to eat Chinese a few times before we leave, so I’ll get a few more chances.

If snapping pictures and frowning at my map didn’t already mark me as a tourist, my wardrobe choice clinched the deal. It was around 70 today, and sunny, so I wore a polo shirt and cargo shorts. During my wanderings I didn’t see one other person wearing shorts. Not ONE. When I left PIttsburgh it was around 40 degrees and I saw some bucketheads hanging out by my building in shorts and T-shirts. In the ‘Burgh you see that kinda thing all the time. Here, everyone was wearing sweaters and jeans, and lots of people even had their winter coats buttoned up tight. I’ll admit that it got a bit chilly when the wind kicked up later, but it wasn’t really cold. Still, I felt like a bit of a rube.

Tonight we’re going to dinner with a few other folks, and then tomorrow I’ll do some more exploring and try to see some of the places folks have recommended. We’re gonna cross over to Oakland and catch the Warriors-Mavs game (after last year’s playoff series should be pretty interesting) and we’re still not sure what we’re gonna do our last day here. But, we’ll figure it out. Chances are it’ll include climbing some unbelievable hills.

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