San Francisco – The Pier, The Prison And The Parenting!

Photo of San Francisco – The Pier, The Prison And The Parenting! 1/8 by Smriti - Travelling Boots
My Airbnb Room
Photo of San Francisco – The Pier, The Prison And The Parenting! 2/8 by Smriti - Travelling Boots
The Golden Gate
Photo of San Francisco – The Pier, The Prison And The Parenting! 3/8 by Smriti - Travelling Boots
The Triathlon
Photo of San Francisco – The Pier, The Prison And The Parenting! 4/8 by Smriti - Travelling Boots
On my long walk
Photo of San Francisco – The Pier, The Prison And The Parenting! 5/8 by Smriti - Travelling Boots
Taking a break
Photo of San Francisco – The Pier, The Prison And The Parenting! 6/8 by Smriti - Travelling Boots
Photo of San Francisco – The Pier, The Prison And The Parenting! 7/8 by Smriti - Travelling Boots
Photo of San Francisco – The Pier, The Prison And The Parenting! 8/8 by Smriti - Travelling Boots
The Ghost tree

There were only two reasons why San Francisco ever featured in my itinerary, an old friend had told me once many many years ago that I must see how beautiful it could be and being a music lover I had heard the song, “If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair” by Scott McKenzie. And if you have heard this song I'm sure you are smiling, it's just a simple, soft song giving the warmest feel of the city.

I slept through my flights to San Francisco and was going to be staying with a single mother and her daughter in SF. I had badgered Mary with multiple queries about Alcatraz and she had been very patient and honest with all her advice and descriptions. So I was expecting a professional lady to greet me on arrival. As I left the airport my shuttle was waiting; a good way to travel to and from most airports in USA is to use the shuttle services, they are pre booked a day in advance preferably and are very economical and safe.

I had the cutest welcome by her daughter. She was probably 11 or 12 years old, had curly hair till her shoulders which were kept free and untamed and wore a pink tee with blue pyjamas and had the most warm, honest, gleeful smile. Her father was there too. A pretty grumpy man with hurry and disapproval on his face screaming out loud. But the daughter's absolute cuteness made it easy to ignore him as she showed me the facilities and things in the kitchen and even asked me if I needed coffee and the man just sat there looking at his watch and repetitively reminding her he was late, till she very assertively asked him to back off saying "I have a guest to take care of Dad, please wait" and smiled back at me confidently. 

I told her she could go and I'd take care of myself and watched her hop away while she kept talking about things to take care of... Mary was a very interesting woman and her house was eclectic in style with art pieces kept randomly all over. These pieces were not conventionally beautiful but raw and drew attention. Her walls were full of paintings of people and faces, now I won't call them masterpieces but there was definitely an intriguing story behind them, and I wanted to know. Mary came in later that evening and we caught up and she was the most strong and vulnerable woman I had ever met. In her pictures she looked lovely with her red hair but when I had met her she had chopped her hair very very short.

Coco Chanel said "A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life" and Mary had recently been divorced after what seemed to be a traumatic marriage. Please know this; I am not a sexist nor am I a feminist, I just believe in people but perhaps am guilty of understanding women more easily than men and hence can project their stories better. She was clearly struggling in her life but had an air of pride protecting her carefully. Through our conversations she told me that after her divorce she had struggled with expression and then found paint and everything became easy step by step and she was still on her path of total recovery. Her life lay in her daughter and most of the paintings were of her in various moods and colours. Both of them would interact as almost adults and I must admit it was a bit strange to hear such a little girl voice out her 'opinions'. Mary kept asking for justification for them and the baby would think for a while and then substantiate each of her reactions or opinions with logic.

I think I was too tired that night to process what was happening. I woke up well rested the next morning and decided to walk. San Francisco has the most wonderful weather and roads are just perfect for long walks. Directions were easy... "Walk straight down the Fillmore St.", and I would reach the Marina. It was a mile long walk and it was 8 am. I had managed to get some coffee and a croissant and I must confess the air was so fresh that my body felt lighter and in-spite of the rod in my leg the mile long walk didn't make me break a sweat. 

Soon enough; there it was, the Marina; with couples and men and women of all ages walking their dogs, some jogging, some on cycles, some hand in hand and many stalls put up at the Marina Greens. I sure was a bit overwhelmed with so much activity at this hour only to realise in a moment that that day it was the 'Escape from Alcatraz- Triathlon' and there was a sea of fitness enthusiasts and families cheering all over... It was perfect for me to steal some energy from.. So I cheered ... No one in particular and everyone in general and just that got my blood pumping. 

I walked further down and suddenly... Just like that... It was right there... The iconic Golden Gate Bridge.. It truly was looking like a marvel... and like a scene out of Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes with a cloud stuck on them. I saw it and hoped as the day progressed that the clouds would clear out .. Well the whole sky did clear out but those clouds stayed stuck on the top of the bridge. I walked all around the Yacht Harbor while a couple of young sweaty athletes or joggers offered to take pictures of me. Of-course I was flattered.. And they would then carry on wishing me a lovely day ahead.

Now what I did not realise was that I had already walked over a mile and had reached the joggers area; so when I asked people for directions to Pier 33 for my Alcatraz tour they pointed me towards the walking trails. I felt very proud of myself when on returning back to India, I went online and checked that in a matter of hours, I had another walked 4.5 kms that day! You know nowadays we all are needy for information and we think too much, I on the other hand don't like too much information and am a pretty one step at a time person.. 

It's like ever since they have put up the timers at the traffic signals, I find myself staring at them hoping it turns green and the wait now seems longer than it did before. Earlier we would talk and look at each other but now most people just sit there staring at the timer.. counting down. So when the people said that way... I kept walking that way... never asked how far...when I would get tired I sat down and when the pain kicked in... I sat a little longer... The walk was so full of picture perfect scenes and other walkers and joggers of all ages that it was easy for me to draw energy from them. 

With the sea on my left and a beautiful Fort Mason Green on my right I just kept walking and let my mind wander. And within moments I was completely lost in thought and my mind took me back to the conversation I had heard the previous night. Mary and her daughter had a wonderful relationship. And I was full of awe and a familiar feeling towards mothers in general. Most of us find it easy to connect with our mothers and just love them.

No matter how many poems people write or how much we try to describe their awesomeness... we simply can't. We all women could be astronauts, doctors, ambitious corporate, competitive sharks, or anything but when it comes to having our babies, we bend backward to keep the umbilical cord connected. I'll talk about only the women I've seen... They were always under pressure... mostly created by themselves... as if this was all they were born for and this was their life mission and if they were not successful as the world's best mother nothing they did in other aspects of their lives would be of any value. 

And honestly, I aspire to be one too.. I pray that I turn out to be half as amazing a mother as my mother is. But then suddenly... a shocking pattern hit me.. that men weren't as keen on becoming the world's best dad... No No wait... Allow me to explain.. As I've grown up and seen all I have, I personally feel that ego gets the better of fathers and mothers can drop even their self respect to keep families together... I don't know about other countries.. I know this happens in Indian families... Our mothers are the only reason that most of us put up with our fathers and the reasons for some of them always being so easily irritable and 'scolding us' kinds is normally cause we wouldn't agree with them or think differently. While women focus on families; the men have always been focused on earning money and our 'Society' is OK with that. The most successful woman is considered a failure if her kids don't turn out to be stars.. however when it comes to men.. as long as they can run the house with money they are good.

I was troubled... How and why was this? When did this become ok? Didn't we all need a wholesome family? My dad is no villain but I can go weeks without talking to him but need to connect with my mother almost regularly and she makes most of the efforts... and continues to call me to check on me no matter how many times I have hung up saying "I'm busy, I'll call you back" and never did. Why didn't we encourage our men to be as involved with their kids? Why did moms cover up their husbands behaviours when they didn't agree with them and let them walk away as they explained to us "You know your dad na.. It's ok". Why were dads not taught to communicate better? Why weren't we teaching our boys to be good husbands and fathers like we train our girls to be good wives and mothers? Many questions kept sprouting with many memories and each thought kept simplifying matters and relationships for me and I knew what I needed to change. Or atleast try.....When people ask me why do I travel alone; this is what I tell them. When we travel with someone then we focus our time and energies on them and hold conversations with them, which is beautiful. But when I travel alone, I talk to people... I hear them... I think about them.. I learn from them... They make me think about things I simply can't find the time to in my day to day life and nuances while I battle grocery lists and home chores and traffic and work.

Mary had set a perfect example of good upbringing to me. When she came to know that there had been a heated moment between her daughter and her ex-husband, she patiently asked her if she was rude and the little girl thought for a moment and said "No, I don't think I was rude", and I agree she wasn't. She then asked her why did she say what she did to which the girl again thought and responded with complete calm "I was embarrassed", Mary asked why and she further explained looking at me hesitatingly "Mom, we had a guest at home and I needed to tell her about the house and he was being rude and kept interrupting me so I had to ask him to stop" and Mary didn't disagree. I liked that... I liked that very much.. She reinforced to her gorgeous daughter that she should never keep quiet if anyone made her uncomfortable about anything.. She should always voice out her disagreement with grace. WOW!! 

Such a simple incident could have so much impact on us... It had so much impact on me... their simple conversation had made me think about so much.. And made the long walk so easy.And when I saw the time I was still far and I had 10 minutes left for my booking at the Alcatraz, I rushed my tired feet as hard as I could and reached just in time. As I serpented my way through to the big boat which was going to take me to the notorious Alcatraz, the island stood right in-front of me in complete isolation in the never ending sea with a promise of so many stories to be told. I recommend good walking shoes for Alcatraz, if you want to see all the parts and are curious to know of all the stories of the worst criminals and the escape attempts. 

What took me by surprise was that San Francisco looked glorious from the prison and I couldn't help but think... that for the criminals it must have been such a sore sight.. I mean.. the good life was right infront of them at all times.. almost within their reach except for no way to escape and a freezing sea between them and the straight lanes and lives of the good people. They even had a section for dogs who were trained to attack when told. Inside the prison walls and the individual prisons.. the likes of me.. 'tourists' were getting their pictures clicked behind bars with smiles... but when I asked someone to take a picture of me.. I couldn't help myself and feel ... 

ummmm .. BAD and BUCK... so I made the 'Criminal faces' and soon enough like a fad.. everyone was clicking pics behind bars with the appropriate expressions... hahahah... On my arrival back to land; my friend was already waiting to pick me up with his wonderful wife and son. Tushar is an IT professional and had lived here for over a decade. And even though we hadn't met in over 15 years.... Was kind enough to take me around and later even insist I stay over in his posh home with the cream carpets and a pool in the backyard. I did have a rough plan for that day but was meeting him after so long that I didn't feel comfortable making demands so I let him plan my day. 

It's good to let go and throw away the oars sometimes, I say. He drove me all around SF and showed me the much famed and beautiful crooked road... which was such a pretty sight with the flowers all along it and then took me for a long drive, over the Golden Gate Bridge to the 17 mile road. Again, I was meeting him after about 15 years, and he was a friend of my brother in law and we had met at my sister's wedding and yet he and his wife; also an IT professional went out of their way with their son who wasn't too well to show me the city. Now the 17 mile drive, I don't know if this place features in any lists of To-Sees but I sure loved it... Twas long and winding and had mountains on one side and sea on the other.. We drove through trees and multiple picturesque spots and then came across a spot where the trees had the weirdest shapes... One was called the Ghost Tree and I swear it did look like a ghost.

When they had asked me what I wanted to eat I had requested Sambar rice, I was craving home cooked simple meals. But, we got home very late that night. The next morning; she had made it for me. I sat in the sunny backyard to soak up the sun and ate over two servings of rice before they dropped me to the airport and we exchanged promises to be in touch.

San Francisco had been absolutely wonderful with amazing weather and so many gorgeous places to see... But I was going to the airport with thoughts of Mary and smiling about the kindness of Tushar and his family. And reminding myself of the lessons I had learnt and praying I would remember them when I became a mother.

This trip was originally published on Travelling Boots.