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San Francisco (Day 14): Drifting North-East

23 March 2014 1 comment

9 December. Index.

The next morning, Dr. Shapiro gave me a lift to the BART station. From there, I made my way to the Mission District for breakfast and my morning coffee.

The shop, Grand Coffee, was a small place, but really bright and colorful.

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For coffee, I had a crazily juicy-tasting cup-and-a-half of Guatemalan coffee. The beans were from Four Barrel (a rather famous San Francisco roaster), and the coffee was brewed by French press. I loved it. Overall, too, I think this was my favorite coffee shop of the trip.

After coffee, I set off in the general direction of the other Anchor brewery. (In all fairness San Francisco’s Anchor Steam Beer beats our Anchor.) The most important thing that happened along the way, though, was coming across a bookbindery along the way. Someone working inside noticed me peering through the door, invited me in, and gave me a quick look around the place.

sanfran_bookbindery

Talking with my guide, I also heard that the proprietor (on the phone in the office at the time) was also a Singaporean. I also got a bunch of tips for places to go in San Francisco, customized for the type of bloody hipster who would be diverted by a bookbindery.

sf_bookbindery_sign

After the bookbindery it was a short walk to the Anchor brewery, where a short enquiry revealed that there wasn’t really anything to tour. I’d not really expected there to be, but I’d intended to travel in that general direction anyway. After the tips I got, though, my plans were slightly different, so I backtracked and made my way in the direction of Valencia Street.

The change in plans gave rise to another en-route possibility, which was a visit to the Blue Bottle Coffee branch located on the premises of a glass factory. I had an espresso here, which was solidly done, but I guess I’m generally more of a brewed coffee person.

After this coffee stop, I picked up a burger somewhere for lunch, then continued on my way to Valencia Street.

When I arrived I could see why my friend at the bookbindery had made the recommendation. I went into two bookshops, the first of which was an all-Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Mystery shop. There I was strongly tempted to pick up a beautiful edition of Lovecraft’s Necromonicon. I ended up picking up a bunch of postcards instead. The second shop was also fun:

sanfran_dogeared

The shop where I stopped to talk the longest, though, was a pirate shop. The reason I stopped to talk for a while, though, was because they were running writing workshops on the premises for the schoolchildren from the area. This was a kind of community engagement, writing-related thing that some of my friends back home at the USP had been looking at doing (and which they eventually did).

At some point after the bookshops and before the pirate shop, I stopped in the public playground/park in the middle of Valencia Street for lunch. It was quite a nice spot, and it was also bright and sunny early-winter afternoon, so some of the kids were out too.

Following my visit to Valencia street, I’d intended to continue my northward drift towards Fisherman’s Wharf for dinner. I had an en-route stop in mind, and to get there I was going to have to head back to the BART station on Mission. As I went down the escalators to the train, though, I found myself wondering where that amazing singing voice I heard was coming from. I soon discovered who it was, and I stopped for a good 20 minutes or so to listen to this man playing:

sanfran_panhandler

I put some money into the case after the first song, and eventually put in some more after the fifth song I ended up staying to hear. It wasn’t a whole lot of cash, but as I was putting it in the singer thanked me for listening and passed me a copy of his CD, which was titled ‘Panhandler’. (If I recall correctly, the name on the cover was Samuel Norman Long, and I only doubt my memory in this because I can’t find any trace of him online anymore by that name, whereas I remember searching him up some time in December and finding a few videos of him playing at the 24th/Mission BART station entrance. This is a video of him, though.)

After that rather magical stop, I continued on my way to the stop I had in mind, this being City Lights Booksellers, which had also been recommended to me in the morning. The bookshop had a history as a gathering place for the Beat writers, and number of literary figures. It was located on this alley, that name of which inspired a momentary pang:

sanfran_kerouac

While I have a bunch of pictures from City Lights, it isn’t as present in my memory, perhaps from a combination of fatigue and having had other things on my mind.

After City Lights, I finally made my way to the Wharf, arriving just in time for sunset. I stayed out on the jetties for a while. I was getting hungry, though, and it was getting close to time for me to make my way back to the BART station and the Shapiros’, so I got myself a dinner of English-style fish & chips and fish tacos.

After dinner, I made my way back to Colma station, where Dr. Mrs. Shapiro picked me up. I rounded off the night with some Anchor Steam with Mr. Shapiro.

sanfran_anchorsteam

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Chicago (Day 2): Pilgrimages

1 December 2013 2 comments

Wednesday, 27 November. Index.

Such was my disorientation that I woke up thinking this was Friday, and made the trip to the liquor store for the Black Friday release of this year’s Bourbon County Brand Stout in vain. Thankfully, it wasn’t far out.

Leo and I then headed to Wrigley Field to take a look, but there wasn’t really very much to see. Instead, we got back on the CTA and took the train right up to Linden. the night before we’d talked about seeing the Baha’i House of Worship – this was a recommendation from my companions in Chrissie’s car.

It was quite cold that morning, and we were right by the lake. It was also quite windy, and we spent quite a lot of our time outside in the temple grounds. I’d hear that this was one of only seven Baha’i Houses of Worship in the world, probably from one of the people who recommended the visit (my memory fails me here). The building was beautiful – much of the main structure’s exterior was covered with ornately designed panels of cast concrete. The concrete was of a specially developed variety, which involved blending Portland cement with quartz aggregate (both clear and white types) to give the structure its distinctive white color.

Baha'i Temple

After the visit to the Baha’i House of Worship, we embarked on what was (at least for me) another kind of pilgrimage, to the original branch of Intelligentsia Coffee on Broadway Avenue. This was preceded by a hearty lunch at the Chipotle nearby – my intention had been to eat my way out of the morning’s cold. The coffee story is in the next paragraph, but be warned: the paragraph is earnestly hipster. Cringe.

Many years ago, I had a cup of amazing Kenyan coffee at a Starbucks on River Valley Road – and while the name ‘Starbucks’ might be less than coffee-snob-worthy at the moment, to this day I believe that the coffee at that branch was actually better. Part of my belief is based on having gotten to know the supervisor of that branch, whom I met in later years at other places with good coffee (when I left for Carleton he was with another coffee joint in Singapore). One of the experiences I had at Valley Point was watching a video he showed me about the Chemex, after I asked about possible equipment for brewing coffee. (At the time, the Chemex wasn’t locally available, so I eventually got my faithful Aeropress.) While searching through a few videos, I remember him glancing through one that he eventually dismissed (he ‘didn’t like the pour’), but he approved of the second one. This was the Intelligentsia demo of the Chemex. I was in the army when my coffee mentor-of-sorts moved on from Starbucks to an indie coffee joint, and when I bumped into him again in the summer of 2012 at his new place (I was on the way back from a recce for FOP at East Coast Park), he mentioned how it was natural that I’d go from drinking brewed coffee at Valley Point from way back when to visiting that indie coffee joint. So, perhaps you can see how Intelligentsia on Broadway was a point of pilgrimage. Leo mentioned that I looked like I was in heaven the whole time – a heaven of languages for him, and a heaven of coffee for me.

Illumination

After coffee, it was time for me to move my stuff from the hostel to the apartment where I’ve been staying (Airbnb), so Leo and I parted ways for a while. While settling in to my new place, though, I got a message from Facebook from Yancheng, who had a heads-up about a beer event in the city – a craft beer retailer had gotten an preview sample of this year’s Bourbon County stouts (what I woke up for earlier in the day), and the bottles were going to be that day’s daily tasting. This was the impetus for my third pilgrimage of the day, to the Beer Temple on Elston Avenue. Chris, the proprietor of said establishment, releases some great videos, some of which Yancheng had sent my way before. This story has a happy ending – I did manage to sample all of this year’s releases (I love the coffee stout!), and I even got a photo with Chris:

Image

I am still waiting to obtain some of that amazing coffee stout. I will essay again in the morning.

Chicago (Day 1): Arrival

1 December 2013 1 comment

Tuesday, 26 November. Index.

First there was an 8-hour car-ride – major props to Chrissie, who was driving; I was lucky and slept 3 hours, and happily DJ-ed another two-or-so hours.

Next, I checked in, and sorted out my phone issues with AT&T. The hostel was really nice, way beyond expectations, and I had a good time meeting people in the common area. In fact, my dinner recommendation for the first night (and first foray out of the hostel) came from a fellow traveler from Kaohsiung. We walked out for deep-dish from Lou Malnati’s, and visited a kinda hipster bookstore while waiting for food. I struggled to explain the meaning of ‘hipster’ in Chinese, but after I geeked out over a few books (including a particular instance of why one book was underrated compared to another one by the same author) he said he thought he understood. I found that Leo was really into languages – he seems to be fluent in Spanish, he knows Japanese, and seems to know some German, in addition to English and Chinese – and I was glad when we found the section with language books.

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It was back to the hostel for dinner (my first meal of the day, because I woke up late, not having actually slept) after the food was ready – Lou Malnati’s deep-dish pizza, with some Full Sail winter ale that I had on me from Northfield. I met even more people in the common room while having dinner, including Sangho, who was making delicious peanut pancakes for his Kaplan language class:

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And that was all for the day.

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