Thursday, February 22, 2007

Across the bay: Sausalito

Sunday, February 9 (Part Two)

Next stop: Sausalito. In the sixties, it was the home of Jack Kerouac and his Beat buddies (though everywhere in San Fran seems to been a pitstop On the Road, if you believe the hype). I think Jack lived on a houseboat here.

Our friendly tour guide points out the houseboats as we pass, a handful of boiled sweets dropped at the edge of the bay. Musk pink, lemon yellow, peppermint blue. Approximately 500 people live on these houseboats. The seven original houseboats, dated 1914 at the earliest, are still docked there, indiscernable amongst the cluster. They sell for ‘hundreds of thousands’ of dollars, though it still costs between $650 and $1300 per month to tie them to the dock. Houseboats are considered personal rather than residential property, so loans attract a 25% interest rate. Our guide chuckles to himself as he tells us that we’re viewing the boats at low tide. As the tide rises, the water levels can rise to flood these floating homes. They do look romantic, though.

I’m sure that the houses in Sausalito sell in the millions. The hills around the bay and rising up behind the main street are covered with crisp white and soft pastel Victorian mansions, framed by a pleasant jumble of trees and shrubbery. Pines, eucalypts, even palm trees. The wharves, like those in the Marina district, are neatly lined with luxury yachts bearing genteel names. The seaside paths and bustling main street are packed with beautiful people enjoying the sunshine. Cyclists, joggers, dog walkers. The tracksuited and pony-tailed exercisers seem most likely to be locals – they pound the pavements with the smug satisfaction that they belong to them. Tourists – like me – walk about gazing in wonderment at the spectacular surrounds, dipping in and out of the souvenir shops, art galleries, ice creameries and cafes along the main street. San Francisco winks from across the water, the cityscape laid out before us in shining silhouette against the sun.

I snap my camera madly, frantically checking my watch. I have just 45 minutes here and once again, I’m paranoid about being left behind. I could easily catch a ferry back across the water, but I’ve just checked my bank balance and my last transfer doesn’t seem to have cleared yet. Funds are short: and tomorrow morning I’m off to San Diego, on a Greyhound I haven’t yet paid for.

Panting, camera swinging wildly, I climb the stairs to the bus just in time for the ride home.
‘Okay, it’s Miss Mel-bourne …’
And we’re off. A man in a black suit and bow-tie crosses the street in front of us, absentmindedly swinging a brass-topped cane. He is wearing a top hat. Our driver uses his appearance to make a joke, something forgettable but kind of funny at the time. He is less amused by the torrent of cyclists whizzing alongside us.
‘The main difference in my time living here is the increased number of bikes,’ he grumbles ominously. ‘I see A LOT of stupid behaviour.’

Through the hills and beyond the town we go, the driver pointing out a former restaurant site, once owned by Sausalito’s most infamous mayor, Sally Stanford - a former Madame who apparently threatened her way into office with the line ‘I’ve been under half the politicians in San Francisco, and if you don’t help me, everyone will know about it’. Or something like that. She was made Vice Mayor of Sausalito for life on her retirement, after many years of government. She ran six times before she was finally elected. It was once quipped that 'the United Nations was founded in Sally' Stanford's whorehouse', because at the first UN meeting in San Francisco (1945), many of the delegates were also her customers. Part of the negotiations took place in the brothel's living room. All very fascinating.

Soon, we’re in the Marin headlands, where the Golden Gate Bridge rises suddenly before us. There is a collective gasp, as there was on the ferry yesterday. It looks different today, in the sunlight, but still equally magnificent. This, the driver triumphantly tells us, is the surprise destination he mentioned earlier. He will park here, on the hill, and give us ten minutes to take photos, or just admire the view. We spill impatiently from the bus, eager to use our time fully.

Blue skies and cotton bud clouds fill the skyline closest to us. As the bridge inches closer to the city, the clouds darken and a filmy haze descends. Ant-like cars and bicycles are visible from where we stand. A handkerchief-sized yacht sails blithely under the bridge. Sunlight crystallises on the water. It is impossible to capture the sight as it looks to the naked eye, but I spend my ten minutes trying. People are camera-swapping again, having their pictures taken with the bridge. I ask a nearby cyclist to oblige, and he happily does, taking three shots to make sure I get a good one. His accent sounds Canadian, and his admiring gaze is that of a visitor’s.

‘That’s my favourite place in the world, that is,’ sighs the driver as we roll away, heading for the bridge itself. ‘And I’ll take any excuse I can to go there.’

Minutes later, we’ve crossed the bridge (one of 65,000 cars per day, we’re told) and reach the toll gate, near the end of our journey. The woman at the booth greets the driver like an old friend.
‘How many times you been over today?’
‘First time today. Only time.’
She jokes with him a moment more before waving him on with a smile.
‘Well,’ he says, leaning into the microphone with a low drawl. ‘The chicks still dig me.’

I give him a nice tip, despite my own low funds and his home in Marin County. Maybe the chicks do dig him.

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