Thursday, July 31, 2008

Return to San Francisco

Over the weekend of the 12th I visited the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I’m thinking of getting a Master’s Degree in Illustration, so I took advantage of their hospitality weekend, and stayed a couple of nights on campus. I love that city. I arrived Thursday afternoon and the first thing I did after riding the BART into the city was to sit down on the steps at the plaza by the Montgomery Street BART Station and just take in the sights and sounds. The weather was beautiful, and it stayed that way all weekend.

I checked in at the housing office, and they gave me my room assignment; the Commodore on Sutter Street. Freshman dorms, but it was surprisingly quiet all weekend. Probably because of summer. I read a book while having dinner at a Thai restaurant. I had been up since 4:00 AM, (2:00 AM Pacific). By the time I got settled and talked to everyone on the phone, I was so tired that I collapsed around7:30. I slept for nearly 12 hours.

Woke up at 7, had breakfast at the Taylor Street Coffee Shop. One of the best in SF. Read the paper, walked around for a bit snapping photos and trying not to look like a tourist. Found a spot at an outdoor café named La Boulange on Market Street. I drew in my sketchbook for a bit. That's a great spot to sit and watch people go by on their morning commute, especially the cyclists. SF is an incredibly bike friendly city.

At 10 I met up with an admissions advisor, and he told me that I have a killer portfolio and I should have no problem getting in. Then I met with a financial aid advisor. Money is the big issue for me, but I was pleasantly reassured after meeting with him. This isn’t going to be impossible. After a lunch of sushi I took a tour of the Schools of Illustration, Interior Design, Fashion, Animation/Visual Effects, and Film. I was very impressed. Lots of great facilities and student work.

Afterwards I had dinner at a small Italian restaurant in the Nob Hill district. Tired again, I went up to my room and read for a while before going to sleep.

Saturday morning I got up and had breakfast at the Pinecrest Diner. I checked out of the Commodore and into my room at the King George Hotel. I dropped the bags in my room and went to Bay City Bike to pick up a bicycle rental. Now that’s the way to go. Much quicker getting around than walking and you don’t have to rely on bus schedules. At first I was a bit nervous about cycling in a big city, but like I said, SF is very bike-friendly. There’s a rhythm to it, and I was able to keep up with vehicle traffic. Some of the hills are BRUTAL. I was hammering up Taylor Street, and even in the granny gear I had to stand up in the cranks. Then I rolled down crooked Lombard Street, because you can’t bike in SF and not do that.

I went to City Lights Books on Columbus Avenue, right next to Jack Kerouac alley. I could’ve spent hours in there. Almost an entire wall on the second floor was devoted to Beat literature. I picked up Roomanitarian by Henry Rollins.

Afterwards I rode down to Brannan Street to check out the Academy of Art Spring Show. I was blown away by the quality of student work. Overwhelmed, really. This is an annual show where industry professionals from companies like Pixar, BMW, Canon, Adobe Systems, Cisco, Mercedes Benz, Lucasfilm, Nickelodeon, Microsoft Games, THQ, ILM, Walt Disney, Sony, EA Games and more are flown in to review portfolios and interview graduating students. I’m definitely going to school here.

After a hamburger lunch at Dottie’s Diner I got back on the bike and pedaled down to the Haight-Ashbury district. It was about what I expected. Gentrified and commercialized, but still carrying the ghosts of hippies. Street musicians and bums nested between clothing stores selling $100 jeans. And Ben & Jerry’s of course. I found a great used clothing store and bought a couple shirts. Then I cut into Golden Gate Park and checked out a drum circle, one of the coolest things I saw on the trip. All types of people playing all types of percussion instruments in tempo. Clean, dirty, old, young, white, Hispanic, everybody just getting into the beat. A young woman in a long skirt danced in the center. This is what it’s all about, I thought.

I rode through the park to Ocean Beach and sat in the sand for a while and looked out over the edge of the world.

The sun was getting low so I made my way back to the hotel. I showered, changed, and went out again to find a place to eat. Not a problem in SF. Another Italian place, this time a calzone and salad. I walked around some more (I left my bike at the hotel) and found a bench at Union Square. I observed a crowd of teenagers sitting in a circle. It didn’t look like they were doing anything illegal (i.e. drinking, drugs, etc) They just seemed to be talking. I thought of how different it must be growing up in a big city like this as opposed to a small town in Iowa. I envied these kids and their environment.

One thing I wouldn’t have envied is the panhandlers. As I was sitting on the bench trying to make some sketches a bum (probably a junkie from the way he was fidgeting) came up to me and asked if I had any spare change so he could get something to eat. I told him no. Twice, because he approached me a second time.

One thing I learned quick is to not give money to panhandlers. You might say, “oh, what’s a few coins?” Ordinarily nothing, but these people are everywhere. Every street corner, every park, every store entrance. The only people I give money to are street musicians because they're at least performing a service. The only negative thing I've experienced so far in San Francisco is all the panhandlers. Anyway, I walked back to the hotel and called it a night.

Sunday morning I slept in a little (9:00) and checked out. I left my bags with the front desk and took my bike out. Breakfast at Taylor Street Coffee Shop again (I love that place), and then I went up to Chinatown. I bought a wall hanging for Rose to replace the one her dog destroyed. Walked around some more and observed a rally protesting the mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners in China. I spent some more time strolling around Chinatown, checking out the goods. Some stores had really interesting things, some had touristy crap.

Then I rode over to the Embarcadero and watched a preteen rock band playing a show at Justin Herman Plaza. Very spirited, that’s all I’m going to say. Alright, they sucked, but I gave them an A for effort. They were collecting donations for their future “tour”. I crossed Embarcadero and watched an awesome percussionist banging on rubber trash cans, pots, pans, and bowls while wearing tambourines on his feet. Made my way north to Pier 39, but didn’t go in there. Fell into that tourist trap last time. My mom called, and I talked to her for a while.

I must not have zipped up the phone pocket in my backpack when I replaced my cell because later I realized that my phone was gone. I retraced my steps and couldn’t find it at all. I borrowed a phone a couple times from people and called the number, but no answer. I was a bit upset at my own stupidity.

I went to a coffee shop later, and would have enjoyed the rest of the afternoon sitting outside and reading (great weather again), but the damn phone was bothering me. I went to return the bicycle to the shop and called the police station from their phone, but the cops told me I had to file a report in person. For the hell of it I tried my number again. This time a guy answered! He told me he had already talked to my mother (oh great). We agreed to meet at the Embarcadero BART station. A very nice man met me there with his two kids. Evidently one of his sons found it next to a bush. I slipped him $20 for his trouble, happy to get my phone back.

All things being as they should again, I hopped a cable car back to Powell Street. I walked around some more, talked on the phone with my sister and watched a quartet of young boys singing out of a third-story window. It was beautiful. There must have been some music school in that building. After some Chinese dinner I returned to the King George Hotel and took the airport shuttle back to SFO for my red-eye flight to Des Moines. I went right into work on Monday, a little more certain of my future.

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