The story of San Francisco isn’t written in the history books of academia. Its character, history, color, and mystery are instead recorded in novels, spoken words, and songs.
It is in this colorful city of steep hills, cable cars, and clouds of mist where Sophie decided to visit next, taking her handcrafted LUC8K Weekender canvas bag, leather tote, and her lucky reversible leather belt.
San Francisco is a city whose history consists of booze, drugs, and brothels. It’s where gay Americans first congregated openly en masse. It was always a place with counterculture instincts and a strong creative bent. Of course, today’s biggest influence is from 20-something-year-olds who turn the world around (for better or worse) with disruptive innovation.
It also has one of the worst homeless problems in the country. The price of real estate has exploded thanks to the young wealthy disrupters. It has reached a point where people with mental illnesses and teachers and other professionals find the cost of living too great to find adequate housing. The Tenderloin district is where the problem is historically the worst, but almost no part of the city isn’t affected. The Civic Center, where many of the city’s largest government and cultural institutions are located, is also a large-scale gathering ground for the homeless. Throughout Sophie’s travels in the city, she couldn’t help but notice how prevalent the problem is.
Sophie knew exactly where she wanted to stay. Far from the glitz and glamour of the city’s core, she ventured to its western edge at the Seal Rock Inn. The unassuming motel and restaurant looked right at home in a Brady Bunch episode. However, it gained iconic status as the place where “Gonzo” journalist, Hunter S. Thompson, finished his book, “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.”
Dawn is coming up in San Francisco now: 6:09 AM. I can hear the rumble of early morning buses under my window at the Seal Rock Inn . . . out here at the far end of Geary Street: This is the end of the line, for buses and everything else, the western edge of America. I can see the dark, jagged hump of ‘Seal Rock’ looming out of the ocean in the grey morning light from my desk.
Sophie booked the same room that Thompson used to finish his book, a third-floor corner suite that is modestly furnished with a fireplace. She unpacks her handcrafted Weekender bag while looking at the windswept ocean. On any particular day, the weather in San Francisco is cold and damp so it’s practical to bring warm clothes when the weather suddenly changes, which Sophie keeps in her exclusive leather Tote before going outside.
Before going into the city, Sophie knew there was a lot to see just outside the hotel. She took a walk to Sutro Height’s Park at the ocean’s edge. She explored the ruins of the Sutro Baths House, which was claimed to be the world’s largest indoor swimming pool when it opened in 1896. A fire in the 1960s destroyed what was left of a vacant structure. The ruins reminded Sophie of some of the ruins in ancient Rome.
She then ventured to the Camera Obscura, an unusually shaped building. Inside the darkened room, a flat round disc shows a reverse image of the sea and landscape outside. It’s weird, wonderful, and the technology predates the photographic camera.
It was windy, and she was hungry. Instead of going to the fancy Cliff House restaurant where the tourists go, she walked to a comfortable little restaurant called Louis. She had a bowl of seafood chowder and fish and chips while taking in the ocean view and listening to sea lions barking away.
Sophie took the 38R bus just outside the Seal Rock Inn to venture into the heart of the city with her LUC8K handmade leather Tote by her side. Her first stop was Japantown, where she photographed the Japanese Peace Pagoda, a five-tiered circular structure in the neighborhood center that serves as a gathering place. She then ventured into the malls’ little shops, where she bought a clear Japanese umbrella that comes down over the head (just in case). She tucked it into her luxury handbag.
She then walked along the hills of the city, passing through Chinatown and into the North Beach neighborhood to the City Lights bookstore. Much of the city’s recent history of the written word and its beat generation era is centered in this large, serious bookstore. It was founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin. Both the store and the publishers became widely known following the obscenity trial of Ferlinghetti for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s influential collection “Howl and Other Poems” in 1956. The independent bookstore specializes in world literature, the arts, and progressive politics. Sustainability is all-important to Sophie, so she bought several books on the subject and tucked them into her leather handbag.
From there, it was a short walk to one of the most unusual and least-known attractions in the city: The Parrots of Telegraph Hill. No one knows how Telegraph Hill’s feral parrots came to be, but there are now about 100 parrots perched in trees and flying overhead. Sophie is astonished at this site that wild parrots are living their lives in the middle of a U.S. city.
As night falls, the martini signs light up at the bars, and the city comes to life. Music blares from the bars, and the streets are crowded with young people who are riding high on the new bubble. Meanwhile, the homeless people are begging at full force.
It’s a toxic mix of hope and despair.