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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Middlerun Does America, Day 1: San Francisco

As I've mentioned on Twitter recently, I'm going backpacking through America for the next six weeks. This is the first time I've been out of Australia.

After getting to the airport and checking in I was told it would take about an hour to get through security. This turned out to be a bit pessimistic and I was through in about 20 minutes. I've joked before about the airport having an "inner sanctum" which only travellers get to see; this turned out to be a giant shopping centre. Being lunch time, I went to get some lunch in the form of a burger, completely forgetting that they were serving lunch on the plane. So I had two lunches. That was nice.

I ended up getting stuck with the worst possible seat on the plane, in the middle of the middle row, and most of the in-flight entertainment sucked, although they did show a movie Midnight in Paris which was pretty good despite needing way more explosions.

After this flight I will never again complain about having to take an eight hour train ride. I finally understand expressions like "cattle class", "I hate flying" and "I will eat my own intestines to be anywhere but here right now". Didn't sleep a wink.

After one billion hours the plane landed at San Francisco airport. Expecting hours of lining up followed by TSA body scans and groping, instead I was subjected to a few minutes of casual questions by a customs guy, most of which seemed more like friendly conversation than interrogation, and then I collected my bag and was released into the wild. Onward to the next challenge.

I made my way to the BART station, double checked my map and figured out I needed to go to Union Square. There were only ticket machines so I walked up to one and was presented with numerous confusing options, none of which said "Union Square". I shoved five dollars into the machine, but that didn't help much. I cancelled it, walked up to an information desk and asked what to do. "Eight dollars ten cents in the machine", came the reply. Wondering how exactly one would figure that out alone, I went back to the machine, put in some money and got a ticket. I went to the turnstile, put in the ticket and it didn't work. I tried the next turnstile, still nothing. I stood like an idiot for a moment before noticing that they were both out of order. So I went to another turnstile, put in the ticket... and the turnstile next to me opened. I hurried through and got on the train.

What I failed to realise when I looked at the map is that there is no station actually called "Union Square". I started to suspect I had missed my stop when I got to Embarcadero. I checked my map and bolted out the door just in time. A few more seconds and I would have ended up on the other side of the bay. I hopped on a train going back the other way and went to Powell St. and walked to my hostel from there.

After checking in, the hostel staff explained how to use the lift, which appears to have been built some time during the seventeenth century. On the way up to my room, I hope that my death isn't the one that gets the lift replaced by something that can take more than three people at a time. So far I've taken the stairs more than I've taken the lift, despite my room being on the 8th floor.

The room is pretty much what I expected. Four bunks. A TV, a fridge and a microwave, and not enough powerpoints within reach to plug them all in at the same time. Smelly little bathroom with no ventilation. I'm not sure if the hostel is near a fire station or what, but a siren seems to go past every five minutes.

After unloading my bags, meeting my roommates and having a shower I ventured out into the city. I wandered aimlessly for an hour or so, then bought a camera and an American SIM card for my phone. I went to a food court at a shopping centre and got a sub and a Pepsi. The sub came in an actual ceramic bowl and an the Pepsi in an actual glass. In a shopping centre food court. You sure as hell don't see that in Australia.

By the time I had lunch it was about 4:30 and it was getting cold so I went back to the hostel to get a jumper. I got on the Internet for a little while and then slept for about 15 hours.

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