Friday, August 9, 2013

Back in San Jose (and San Francisco), California (updated with photos)

There is something great about feeling comfortable, especially when you've been without that feeling for a long, long, long time.

San Jose, California has special meaning to me.  It's the first place I ever lived in the U.S.A.  It's the third largest city in California, with just under 1 million people.  There are multiple highways/freeways/expressways crossing it.  There are too many cars, but light rail, commuter rail, and buses are available.

Way back when, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) was building down toward San Jose but then, it stopped.  Conflicting opinions and a lack of money forced changes, I suppose.  Building around earthquake central is difficult anyway.

The Light Rail map is fairly extensive
Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority has put together light rail transit at an amazing cost--$6.00 for an adult day pass.  It not only includes light rail, but also access to buses.  That's just amazing to me, especially having used Philadelphia, PA's SEPTA on a daily basis and New York City's MTA on occasion.  SEPTA's Independence Pass is $12.00 for unlimited travel and their day pass is $8.00 but limited to 8 trips.

A typical light rail car

I am conveniently located at a motel along North First Street, and there is a VTA light rail station across from the motel.  This made it extremely convenient to go to downtown San Jose.  On the Winchester-bound train, I can even connect with Caltrain for a $9.00 (one way) trip to San Francisco.  Consider the price (and headache) of parking and that's a huge, huge bargain.  In fact, public transit almost anywhere is a huge bargain.  The last time I was in Philly, I paid $17.10 for parking near Independence Hall for a little over 3 hours.  Obviously, I was paying for the union and not the parking, as it was about double what I paid in 2012 at the same location.

Even though I am essentially a stranger to the city, people have been extremely friendly.  I remember asking people in Los Angeles for help, and people were rather rude, and either didn't know anything or didn't want to give away the secrets.  I also remember people complaining that LA was just weird!  :-D  Of course, people say that San Fran is weird, also!  :-D

I stopped at Walgreens to get something to drink.  For some reason, 7-Eleven does not have stores downtown.  I found zero convenience stores of any kind downtown.  That seems odd.  However, I found a really expensive breakfast, at almost $20.00 with tip, and it was a casual Mexican place.  I could have made better food, to top it.  In line at Walgreens, I was talking to a few people about the weather, as it's really chilly, not exceeding 80 degrees F when 95 wouldn't be unexpected.  Normally, Summer in San Fran can be under 80 degrees F, but not San Jose.

One of the people from the line was giving me some advice and we talked for quite a while about getting around the city and things that were happening.  In my experience, there are few people like that to help a stranger, but time and again, I find that people from San Jose are willing.

I even went to our old neighborhood and looked for our old house.  The builders had plowed a sugar beet field into non-existence to put up houses.  Things are much the same now, and it's the bad side of town but it has a good view and I can't really see a downside to the area, except in people's minds about location.  It's not cheap, as housing prices have rebounded from the worst.  I won't be buying a house here, or even living in an apartment.

A pleasant backdrop to the old neighborhood, on the wrong side of town

There was a man washing off the driveway at the house and I spoke to him briefly.  I was afraid that I scared him, having parked across the street, looking at the houses.  Funny how the little two lane road has four lanes, parking on either side, and a high school directly across from it.  We grow, and the city grows with us.

I could remember bits and pieces from my early childhood there but nothing too serious, I suppose.  Through it all, I had this calm, secure feeling that was certainly never replicated when we moved to the midwest.

San Jose may not coddle you, but it certainly feels that way.  Chill is a great way to describe it.  Now, if I can just find my way to San Fran for some photography.

Update: Wow, I didn't even write about my trip to San Francisco.  When I returned, I was so tired, and my feet hurt, and my toes felt as though they were going to fall off my foot.

I took the Winchester (like the Winchester Rifle company family) VTA train to San Jose Diridon station.  I crossed under the tracks to the Caltrain side of the station.  I bought a second day pass for Caltrain, which was US$18.00, the same as a two way only pass.  Thankfully, any of the trains were going all the way to San Francisco.  There are some express trains that do not stop everywhere in-between, so you have to be careful with the Baby Bullet trains.

It took something like 90 minutes to get to 4th Street, near the Embarcadero (loading dock!), near the AT&T/Candlestick Park.  I walked with the crowd out of the station, not sure exactly where I was going.  I had been in San Fran as a baby and had zero memories.

SoMa, or South of Market district didn't look very good.  It wasn't the worst area but it looked very worn.  I wanted to see a few things like Ghiardelli, Chinatown, the Transamerica tower, a Crumpler store, and an Apple Store, plus possibly ride a cable car, and get seafood.  Little did I know...well, I have the more interesting (but not really good) luck.

Flatiron Bldg., as in Manhattan

It seemed that all I was doing was walking.  I had my camera bag with me, and I assembled the dSLR with the heavier "normal" lens, so I wouldn't have to carry it otherwise.  In hindsight, I should have planned light, and used the lighter, older equipment to ease my burden.

The cable car that led me astray
I did find a cable car full of passengers, most likely tourists because I doubt people from San Fran bother with being pushed and shoved when they're not on BART.  Now, about that time, I was close to Union Square, but did I realize that? Nooooooo.  A right turn probably would have put me near a Ghiardelli Store, an Apple Store, and the Crumpler store.  Oops.

So, I walked, and walked, and walked.  At some point, I needed to stop for various reasons and saw "Little Henry's" which looked like a coffee shop from the 1950s.  There was a Chinese TV station on the TV, and I was seated and given a menu.  I was surprised to see that it was an Italian restaurant.  I took a look at the menu, and mentioned that I forgot the specials, and there was a piece of paper taped to the wall a bit further up that I just didn't see.  I guess I'd been walking far too long to see what was in front of me.  The linguine with clams sounded just right, as it's normally a favorite.

They brought my iced tea, a small basket of bread, and a skimpy (errr, artfully-placed) salad.  I'd ready on Yelp about the overwhelming portions, so I was finding the reviews to be difficult to believe.  While I was waiting, I messaged my buddy in San Jose, asking where I was, but he'd never been to that section, and had no clue.  In a very short time, the food arrived and there was quite a lot, especially for a special of the day.  Thinking about it, I should have asked for chopsticks, but did not.  It's rather difficult to eat pasta with a fork, except maybe for ravioli.  It was good, but it didn't have a lot of taste.  The pieces of clam weren't very big, though it was more than sufficient.

Every time I looked over to see what was on the TV, the server came over with the iced tea and water to fill my glasses.  When I was getting to the end of my food, I asked her about Stockton Street because I wanted to find Chinatown.  She suddenly didn't understand English, and my Zhong Wen isn't sufficient.  After I used the restroom, another woman, apparently the owner, was able to point me in the correct direction--back the way I came!  She suggested a bus number, but I didn't want to wait.  In hindsight, I should have just taken a tour bus and enjoyed the ridiculous banter--and the ride.  I saw plenty of double-decker tour buses, plus the MUNI buses that transport the city.
Stockton Street tunnel, to Chinatown
I didn't have much luck with Maps applications on my phone.  It seems to me that I tried Apple's Maps, Google's Maps, and Waze eventually.  Waze showed me the streets ahead, so that was helpful.  Once I found Stockton Street, I got a good photo of the tunnel, and ventured into Chinatown.  Surprisingly, it wasn't much different than other Chinatowns in other cities.  Eventually, I found a park with some culture center, and lots of people just sitting.  My feet hurt, and because I was thirsty, I found a small shop selling Aloe drinks, which are usually Korean, not Chinese, but the owner was Chinese.  We had a good conversation, and I went back to the park to sit for a while.

Somewhere along the line, I ended up at the entrance to the Transamerica tower and got a few good photos of it from a very tight angle.  It is very tall and could be seen easily from Chinatown, which is at a higher elevation of the city.

Transamerica Pyramid, from Chinatown

I walked to the Embarcadero, once again passing Union Square without seeing it.  I was told to visit Pier 39 on the loading dock (Embarcadero), and it was of course, at the far end.  Sadly, I did not research MUNI, the city transportation, and had no idea how things worked.  I suspect I could have got a pass on the way, or possible, even in the Caltrain station.

Embarcadero Ferry Station, from Sue Bierman Park
 Pier 39 was as close to a New Jersey boardwalk, as I'd ever seen on the west coast.  It lacked the rides of Santa Monica pier but it had the restaurants and shops and other attractions.  As it was a must-see, I was looking for more but it was interesting to see all of the tourists and how they reacted to their situations.

Pier 39, on the Embarcadero

As I hobbled back to the Caltrain station, I really though about how beautiful everything was.  They were doing some America's Cup preliminary bits and some of the boats were on the water, and it was loud and obnoxious.  Then, I had to pass AT&T Park, and they apparently had a game starting in a couple of hours, as people were making lines.

Using Caltrain to return to San Jose was not as easy.  The had little paper schedules on the walls, and there seemed to be a person in front of each of them.  I finally asked if my pass would work.  I ended up on a Baby Bullet, and it probably reduced the travel time by 30 minutes by not stopping everywhere along the line.

I was never so glad to find my way back to a motel.  I took some ibuprofen and went to lie down.  After a couple of hours sleep, I wanted something to eat.  There was a McDonald's next to the motel, but gaaaah, why eat at a place I didn't like just for convenience?  I looked at Yelp again, and didn't find much there, but the airport, which I didn't know was close.

I ended up driving around the old neighborhood, as I'd seen several places.  I suddenly saw Tacos Autlense and went there, instead of a safer choice like Carl's Jr. or Jack in the Box.  I really didn't know what to expect but I ordered steak tacos, sat down, and when they came to me, I couldn't help but to smile.

When I started eating them, I thought that my adoptive mum must have learned to make tacos from the same person who started the business.  It was like being at home with fresh, fried corn tortillas, just warm, and the meat and lettuce and onions and tomatoes--OMG--it was the best.  It was also a great way to end that day.

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