I've posted in other places about this day, but I've been recalling it with great fondness recently, dreaming of the day I return.
One of my favourite places in the world. The youth hostel at Fort Mason
. The common room has free wifi, a fire in winter, an incredibly well stocked swap shelf, lots of comfortable chairs, a generous supply of power outlets for laptops and chargers, and just such a warm vibe. It's the heart of the hostel.
I waited there for DL to surface from sleep in her women's dorm. We'd just spent a fantastic weekend in Kansas City with other BookCrossers, a long and interesting roadtrip with crrcookie down Route 66, stopping at some amazing places, and now here we were in San Francisco. DL's last day in the States, and me not far behind.
At the last possible moment for breakfast, she showed. Her sunny smile and sparkling eyes set the tone for the day. Breakfast in Franco's cafe is a freebie, hot drink, juice, cereal and a waffle or bagel. We sat by the window, glimpses out through woodland to the Bay. The hostel is set in an old Army building, and there are gun emplacements here and there on the headland, now empty, rustic curiosities.
I would have loved to linger, but we had a date. Outside, a few metres away to the path running along the edge of San Francisco Bay. Here we paused to take in the view. At our feet, the historic wharves where the soldiers and marines boarded their transports for the Pacific War. They sailed out in their grey Liberty ships down the Bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge. From Fort Mason, it stretches across the western horizon, blaze-red towers in the morning sun leading the eye to the rounded hills of Marin. The dome of the Palace of Fine Arts rises intriguingly over the rooftops. Islands and inlets, Alcatraz and the Bay Bridge as you look around to the sun rising out of the east. And a glimpse of the downtown towers, Fishermans' Wharf and Telegraph Hill as we strolled down the path.
A curving beach, the cable car terminus, Ghirardelli Square. We hired bikes at one of the many outlets, cycling happily back along the path we'd just walked.
Did I mention the clear blue sky and the golden sun? The air cool and the water twinkling, busy with ferries and container ships. Walkers and cyclists shared our path. We paused at the top to take in the view again, and then down through parkland and grass, a totem sculpture, bay-windowed houses, the arched front of the Marina Safeway.
Marina's yachts on one side, the sunny apartments on the other, Californian open-tops cruising on the boulevard. We pulled aside to circle the lagoon and walk under the colonnades of the Palace of Fine Arts, spinning our gaze under the grand dome and just drinking in the place, its classic decorations, its perfect proportions, its outlook over water and park.
Back out to the bayside. We paused here and there for photographs, the bridge growing ever closer and more impressive, until finally we were winding up a gentle gradient, dinky little married quarter houses of the Presidio, a superb outlook over the Golden Gate, and then the bridge itself.
It's a long way over the bridge, but we broke it up at the pylons, and a few photo points along the way. A container ship steamed below, the cables came down to join us for a few minutes and then soared away away up again.
An outlook carpark with restrooms and statues, benches for weary riders, more stunning views along the bridge, back to San Francisco and the broad vista of the Bay. We took it in and we took photographs.
Then down, down the road to Sausalito with never a turn of the pedal, just soaring along in the breeze, swooping and curving along into this pleasant little village.
We had a while before our ferry, so it was lunch in a pasta joint. The daily special washed down with a bottle of Anchor Steam. Wheeled our bikes aboard the boat, sat on the stern in the sun, and watched as Sausalito dwindled, Alcatraz loomed, and the wharves and hills passed by.
I have taken rides on the grand harbours of the world. Sydney, Hong Kong, New York. Through the rainforest of the Franklin in Tasmania, along the Suez Canal and the Seine. None of them matched this ride for golden splendour and the perfect contentment of a morning well spent.
We raced our bikes back along the Embarcadero, handed them in and sweated back up the hill to retrieve our bags and meet our guide for the afternoon.
Shendoah! Passionate and intense, she lives her life sharp and focused. She took us to Mel's Diner on Lombard, a scene straight out of American Graffiti. Burgers and chips and rootbeer floats. A few final photographs and we were gone, San Francisco International Airport ahead. I hugged DL goodbye, and got back in beside Shen for the ride down to San Jose.
She handed me a jersey. Teal blue with "Sharks" across the front. Shen's husband had graciously agreed to let go his season seat for the night, and we watched the Sharks defeat Los Angeles in The Tank, an echo chamber for the frenzied screams of fans in ecstasy and despair. And final triumph in penalty overtime. My first ice hockey game, and I'd never seen a sport so intense and active. They changed the players over ever few minutes to slug down Gatorade and plug into power sockets before whizzing them back out on the ice to bounce around as fast as the lightning puck.
Back to Shen's home and a fold out bed, into which I gratefully sank into deep slumber. In the morning, a light breakfast with Shen's husband, movie-star handsome, and her two children, as sharp and active as their parents. Walk the dog down to the daughter's school, and then I heaved my bags into Shen's van and we headed off to Scramblez for a second breakfast.
It was the best breakfast of my life. Every slurp of orange juice, every bite of golden toast and light omelette , every last morsel of fruit and sip of steaming latte. Perfect.
I told the waitress so and she hauled me off to repeat myself to the manager, who beamed with pride. And rightly so. The purpose of the universe is to make me happy, and I was as happy as anyone could possibly be.
Shen drove me past hi-tech headquarters, back past the airport, into the steep hills and quirky buildings of San Francisco, and then I hugged her goodbye as well, checked in, and I was back in the hostel common room, dreaming of the perfect day and night I'd just had.
That was last year. In a few weeks my wife and I will be boarding a jet at Canberra Airport, heading around the world for three nights in San Francisco. So long as the weather holds, I'm hoping for another wonderful day or two.
In the meantime, I lean on the roof of my cab in the airport cabyard, watching the wingtip lights dwindling into the velvet sky, my thoughts and hopes and dreams rising with them.