Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sleepless in San Francisco

Saturday February 8 (just)

It’s 2.30am and I can’t sleep. This doesn’t bode well for my planned 8am start tomorrow.

It’s very noisy here. There are lots of sirens in the night, some of them stopping directly below my window. Lots of shouting, too, occasionally punctuated by screams - some of it seemingly connected to the sirens. I feel safe here, in my room, but I still can’t relax. I was in the lobby for hours tonight, working on my computer and taking advantage of the free wireless. With the streets outside the hotel becoming even more unsavoury after dark, I have a self-imposed ban on venturing outside (or returning from outside) much after 6pm. So, there’s not much else to do.

My first night here, I disembarked from the Market Street tram in front of the hotel to a series of shouts from one of the men ‘loitering’ outside. ‘Hey baby! Come here!’ As I picked up my step, eyes and mind fixed on the hotel door, he continued, stepping up the menacing tone. ‘You got something I want!’ As I shut the door gratefully behind me, I made a mental note about the after dark rule.

Tonight, in the lobby, I witnessed a French family - mum, dad, two young boys – arrive, look around and leave. The little boys scampered around the lobby, climbing on the ornate lounges and playing tag, chattering in French. Their parents were occupied at the front desk, presumably protesting. They left looking angry, trailing their wheeled luggage behind them. I guess they weren’t comfortable staying in the area, especially with those two little boys. I don’t blame them! I’ve been grateful a few times that I didn’t bring F with me – for that reason.

Once, while I’m browsing routes to San Diego, a homeless man wanders in off Market Street, through the rear entrance, and looks around. I deliberately frown at my screen, and am grateful when he turns back the way he came.

Then, I watch one of the hotel staff get into a fight on the opposite side of the lobby to where I’m working. A French woman comes in, clutching her camera and a handful of brochures. At first, I think she is the same woman who flounced out earlier. One of the staff, a twentysomething now in casual clothes, is sitting chatting with his girlfriend. He storms up to the woman and tells her to get out, NOW, his voice heavy with threat. She protests. He knocks her camera to the floor where the lens cap and batteries skid across the tile. He snatches the papers she is holding and throws them to the floor, too.
‘I don’t care what you do to me!’ she spits, defiantly.
‘I’m calling the cops,’ growls the off-duty staff member. ‘HEY!’ he shouts to the front desk. ‘Our friend is back. Call the cops! Now!’
More scuffling and shouting ensues. I try not to watch, shocked and confused by what is happening. Soon after, I pack up and return to my room.

The lobby doesn’t feel quite so safe anymore. But my room is still a refuge – albeit one where the outside world rages outside my window, and three fire engines come to a screaming halt there at 2.45am.


MikeFitz said...

Sounds just like my first night in San Francisco (which is a wonderful place in daylight). I had my wife and 3 sons (8yrs, 6yrs & 11 months) with me.

We arrived about 7pm, checked into our hotel and noted the 4 (I kid you not) locks and chains on the door. I then went out to forage for food. I saw several establishments that appeared to sell food but none that looked safe enough to step into. Just the stares back as I paused near the door were threatening enough. I returned to the hotel empty-handed. Fortunately, reception could recommend a pizza delivery service.

SF was good for shopping. My wife had had some factory outlets recommended to her. We picked up some great ski gear for the kids. (Very necessary as we were heading into to the Canadian Rockies and we were Queenslanders who had never even seen snow before.)

Keep up the blogging and best wishes for your trip.

audrey said...

I never realised that SF was such a den of iniquity! (is that the right word?...)

I've always wanted to go to SF - apart from the dodginess, are you enjoying it?

More importantly, are you going to make it to NYC?

meva said...

I'm loving your travels from afar, ariel!

cristy said...

I too had many a dodgy experience in SF and it really affected my ability to enjoy the place. I just never really felt safe near either of my hotels after dark (on both occasions that I visited).

Interestingly, I never got that feeling in NYC. I think that is because there is always a really wide variety of people out on the street no matter what the hour...

I hope that you have a great trip and stay safe.

MadameBoffin said...

Wow, you're really in the hood!

Ariel said...

Hmmm ... so it's not just me who has trouble with SF hotels!

Thanks Mike & Meva.

Audrey, I did absolutely love SF and would recommend it to anyone - just pick your hotels carefully and don't let Australian-based Best Flights book you a package deal (it's how i got the Renoir!) Not sure about NYC, now. It doesn't sound like much fun on my own. And my husband is making noises about coming with me for a return journey to San Diego which I LOVED and will post about soon!

Cristy, you've just made me feel like less of a marshmallow, so thanks. And congrats are in order, I hear (or read). Hope you're getting some sleep ...

Boff, I am SO in the hood (or was). I'm down wit' it!

cristy said...

Not quite yet - the congrats I mean - I am still pregnant.

Hopefully the little one will decide to join us out here fairly soon though...

Ariel said...

Oops, sorry - must have misread something along the way. Funny how you tend to speedread everything from fleeting net cafe visits! Will hold the congrats.