Happy Trails #3 – Hipsters and Hobos

If you’re going to San Francisco,
be sure to wear some flowers in your hair,
If you’re going to San Francisco,
you’re going to meet some gentle people there. – The Mamas & The Papas

We did meet ‘gentle people in San Francisco’, a hippy street artist is a prime example. There’s a distinct hipster feel through the city, especially in the gentrified Nob Hill. Yet, don’t ket this ‘gentle people’ fool you, tram drivers or Baseball crowds have clearly never heard the song.

Baseball is an event which the whole city rallies behind, with buses sporting ‘Go Giants!’ days in advance of the match. The crowd however is a entity all of its own. Unlike our serious, stoic audiences which recently graced Wimbledon, these crowds fidget between bleachers and concession stands. And man, can they hurl abuse! Poor No. 9 of New York Mets, got ‘You Suck!’ for the best part of 4 hours! It makes our ‘Go Andy’ look practically useless as a psychological tactic!

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San Fran is a city of contrasts; steep hills and flats, hippies and hobos, peace and violence. I found it strangely ironic that the hippie capital of the world was also home to the America’s most notorious high security federal prison, Alcatraz.

As one catches the ferry for the 20 minute ride from Pier 33 to the Rock, it’s quite difficult to imagine the terror which awaited prisoners amongst the throngs of tourists. Yet, when one steps on land to see the gulls and crows circling like vultures around the ruins of the cell house, it’s easier to understand why prisoners were desperate to escape. In fact only 14 attempts to escape the Rock were made and only one is considered successful. The Anglin brothers, dug a hole through their cell, climbed the inner pipes and swam to Angel island using rain Macs as floatations devices. Several weeks after their escape, the warden received a postcard from Mexico.

Alcatraz was the prison to teach felons how to be good prisoners, good behaviour meant transfer back to the general justice system. Reduced to numbers, regulation 5 sets the tone from the beginning ‘You have a right to expect food, clothing, shelter and medical attention. Everything else is a privilege.’ The success of Alcatraz was the ability to torment it’s occupants with the facade of freedom all but one mile away in San Fran, but not quite in reach.

It’s a bizarre experience to disembark the ferry so easily after Alcatraz and stroll through commercial Fisherman’s Wharf, which has evolved into a Disney-esque tourist honey trap. San Fran is the greenest city in the state, it’s hipster citizens are affluent enough to shop at Trader Joes, (A grocery store with prices which even appalled my brother!), yet the city is plagued with a homeless epidemic. Like I said, a city of contrasts.

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