tape from california 6: towers, noveltio



The walls of the interior base of Coit Tower are covered with Depression-era murals created by two dozen artists as part of a government-funded program during 1933 and 1934. The project proved controversial due to the influence of Diego Rivera in injecting political commentary into the scenes. Mixed into the celebrations of the city's culture and industries were contemporary headlines and a library featuring not-so-hidden tomes by Karl Marx.

An elevator was the only means to go up to the observation area. The operator dashed off a summary of the building's history at 125 mph, but slowed down his diction to ask for tips to be placed in a plastic bracket.


A sampling of views from the top. This was my opportunity to glimpse sites like Alcatraz that I wouldn't have the chance to see up close during my stay.

Lombard Zig Zag

Another landmark taken from a hazy distance: the multiple switchbacks of Lombard Street. I had done enough hill climbing for one day.

I had bought a calling card in Chinatown that promised oodles of air time for only $5, which seemed too good to true considering that I would have been charged a minimum of $25 for a single call from a long-distance provider offering "cheap long distance" (I love the American phone system...). Called Amy from Chinatown, no problems. Called Mom after coming back down from Coit Tower, seemed my time had been depleted more than I expected, but I chalked it up to an error. Tried to call Sarah the next day, discovered there was "insufficient funds on the card" after heading the card company's mambo music. It was then I read the fine print about various connection charges that ate up most of the time on the card.

Lessons learned: you can never win with American telephones, and that bringing a laptop equipped with a chat problem is a wise move.

Musee Mechanique
Jolly Jack (1)

In the midst of the tourist haunts of Fisherman's Wharf, one attraction sucked me in: the Musee Mechanique. I kept exchanging one dollar bills for quarters to test the large collection of vintage mechanical novelties and arcade games, even if it meant putting up with a creepy laughing sailor or two.

Opium Den Sprint

Left: the dangers of turn-of-the-century drug dens played out for a quarter, complete with skeletons in the closet. Right: I'm certain that I played this game in arcades as a kid. It brought back memories of playing or watching an endless stream of video games before hitting the lanes at the Four Seasons Bowl in Amherstburg.

Play Ball (1)

Many quarters found a new home in the Rock-Ola World Series, a 1937 game utilizing active and recently retired baseball all-stars from the period. The object was to try and "hit" the pinball with a lever/"bat" into slots in the outfield, without fall into holes under the infielders. Fun to play despite my ineptness at it—the only hits I managed came when native San Franciscan Lefty O'Doul stepped up to the plate.

Ebisu - Waiting for the Sushi to Come

A lonely pile of pickled ginger and a mound of wasabi paste waiting for raw seafood to pay a visit. They wouldn't be alone for long as I waited for my dinner to arrive at Ebisu in the Sunset neighbourhood.

Ebisu - Deluxe Sushi - Sushi Portion

Part of the Deluxe Sushi meal—this platter included tuna, clam, freshwater eel, yellowtail tuna, scallop, salmon, salmon roe and sea urchin nigiri. Not pictured is the King California maki roll, which featured real king crab. The selection was fresh and flavourful.

Ebisu - Sushi Counter

I seemed to be the only person at the counter who didn't know the staff. Two women next to me who were recovering chatted awayn with Tommy the sushi chef, happy to be back dining at Ebisu after the restaurant had closed for renovations. A steady stream of customers came up to the bar and gave a friendly "welcome back" to those working away on rolls. I expected a Cheers-like "Norm!" moment at any time. The cosy, friendly atmosphere was a comforting way to wind down before heading back across the bay.

Full set of pictures. All photos taken May 20, 2009 - JB


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