My unrequited love affair with San Francisco

Maybe it’s a result of my perception of San Francisco. It’s certainly not from spending a good amount of time there. I’ve only been there a few times and most of that time has been spent at Pier 39! What ever the reason may be, I’m at the very least infatuated with the city by the bay. My love affair with San Francisco is an unrequited, unconsummated relationship. And I want to move our relationship forward, take it to the next level so to speak.

Let’s face it, unless I come into some sort of financial windfall, I won’t be living there anytime soon. My time with San Francisco will have to be on a part time basis. We live 90 miles from the city proper. Most of those miles traverse nasty, busy commuter traffic-laden freeways that always seem to be under construction and in need of maintenance. Heck, the bay bridge itself, Highway 80 west, has been under a major renovation for several years. But the bridge is only the last few miles leading into the city. Despite the travel shortcomings, we plan to try to spend more time there – more time other than on the embarcadero.

The other day, we drove to San Francisco (on a Saturday) and it was a tourist madhouse. I thought it might be fun going when there are a lot of people there. After all, people watching is fun too. But when there are so many people that you only can see the ones right in front of you, it’s not so fun. Throw in the huge Saturday farmers market near Pier 3 and what seemed like an over abundance of joggers and bike riders and the SF experience wasn’t what I had led myself to believe. Plus, parking..OMG! We got there early so it wasn’t hard finding a parking spot in one of the parking garages that line the embarcadero. But we’re talking $8.00 an hour. We were there about three hours, ie, $24.00. The fisherman’s wharf lot (smaller and more convenient to the crab cocktail sidewalk merchants) charges $9.00 an hour.
Our conclusion upon leaving? We will drive to the Dublin BART station (about 55 miles), park the car, and take BART to Pier 1 on the embarcadero. From there, a cable car turn around is only a few steps away. Then we will visit some of the areas we’ve only talked about: Union Square, Chinatown, etc. In the long

run the cost will be about the same as the outrageous parking near the wharf. And, we’ll make our next trip during the week in the Fall, after the tourists have migrated back from whence they came.

Still, we did have a nice time. The weather was overcast and breezy when we got there at

10 am, but cleared up an hour or so later – it was a nice day in San Francisco. We ate lunch at the Pier Market Restaurant. It too was very busy with a 30 minute wait. But wait? Loretta and I love sitting at the bar…and there was plenty of room there. Let the families and large tourist groups stand around in hopes of getting

a table by the window – we’re ready to eat now! And we did. Waited on by a friendly, enthusiastic bartender name Scottie, we had a nice lunch. Loretta ordered a bread bowl of chowder with Caesar salad. Me a bowl of chowder, which, by the way, was excellent and blazing hot. We both got a draught of Stella Artois, enjoyed the Boudin sourdough bread on the side, and had a super lunch. The Pier Market is a great restaurant with fast, friendly service (even when it is busy) and clean rest rooms.

At fisherman’s wharf, you can order shrimp or crab cocktails, dungeness crab, crab salad, crab stuffed lobster, etc, etc, etc. It’s fun to watch the sidewalk “hawkers” trying to get tourists to spend their Euros at their establishments. Fun as in seeinghow mechanical and contrived they are – some holding huge live lobsters, others waving live dungeness crabs in girl’s faces so they squeal. Others just standing there waving their restaurant’s menus around and pointing at the specials boards. We strolled around back of these establishments to see one of the small marinas and got a glimpse of the tail end of their places. One probably shouldn’t do this if one plans to eat at one of these places. The seedier side of the restaurant business – but a good photo opp!

The south side of the embarcadero is where most of the shops are. And that is also where the “hawkers” from these places harass you to spend money in their stores. So now you’re not only dodging rude tourists trying to negotiate their ways down the sidewalk, if you walk too close to the entrance to the stores, well…you get the picture. Anyway, to make a long story short…you must visit the embarcadero at least once…then, spend the majority of your time in San Francisco other than there.

By the way, the lines for the harbor cruises and for the cable cars were, to say the least, incredibly long. At Pier 39, the line to the lady’s room was at least 100 deep. Funny, the men’s room almost never has any wait. The nature of the difference between men and women I guess. Does it really need to take that much longer for women to pee than for men, or…do women have smaller bladders? I’ve never quite figured that out. I digress.

Regarding the ubiquitous Pier 39 sea lions? Well, not so ubiquitous it seems as they once were. Evidently they go elsewhere to do their “business”, ie, breed, relax, vacation, etc. There were a couple dozen festooned on the farthest pontoons, plus a couple off on their own near the railing. We’ve been there when battles for an open spot on the floating piers went on constantly. Not this time. One thing that was quite noticeable near the viewing area: The Attack of the Sea Gulls! I had never seen them so aggressive, dive bombing unsuspecting tourists dumb enough to be holding articles of food near the railing, ie corn dogs, waffle cones, and the like. The pigeons out in the plaza were just as pushy and much more numerous. I watched one snatch the remnants of an ice cream cone right out of a child’s hand. The parents laughed. The child cried out in terror! That’s entertainment at Pier 39.

The old Golden Gate was mostly obscured by fog up until the time we left. The bay was nice and sunny with lots of sailboats out for a Saturday soiree on the choppy water.

Yes, it is all quite touristy but a must visit for those who live in

and around the valley. The weather? It’s always a nice respite from the oppressive heat, dust, and lack of humidity around Modesto. Bring a sweatshirt and prepare to remove it as soon as the fog clears. Oh, and bring money…you’ll need a decent amount to get through the day. Nothing is cheap!

Check out more photos from our day on the embarcadero at my website here.

My photo blog…number 12 or so?

Let’s face it.  Besides at times having the attention span of a dyslexic flea, I just get bored easily.  I get bored of my jobs over the years, cars, homes, some friends, certainly girlfriends when I was young, dumb, and…well, you know the rest.  I’m not proud of this characteristic, it’s just the way I was made!

The same loss of interest, boredom, lack of attention span can be applied to my long list of photo blogs/websites I have started, then abandoned, over the years.  First let me explain the “why” of having a photo website.  I am, for lack of a better explanation, a (frustrated) starving photographer.  Frustrated simply because I am never satisfied with my work.  Starving because I have not reached a point where I can make a respectable living from applying my passion for photography in the commercial world.  So, I need to have an online showcase (as it were) to, well, showcase my work…an online portfolio.  Hence I have struggled over the years with starting and stopping several photography sites, all of which of the free ilk, ie, generic templates, limited graphics, lack of creativity, boring!  I have never had one built from scratch, mainly for lack of funds since it can pricey getting custom web work done.  Refer back to the “starving artist” fact.

I’ve looked at (and coveted) hundreds of photo websites, a handful of them appealed to me as something similar to what I would imagine mine looking like.  Simple.  Elegant.  Streamlined.  Easy to navigate.  And absolutely never, nein, zip, zero on the music!  There is nothing more annoying than opening a photo site, or any website for that matter, and have some obnoxious song come blaring out at you, usually at high volume.  I laugh at myself scrambling to find the icon to turn off the music…or simply just using the back button to opt out completely.  Also, embedding too much animation is just as distracting has having to listen to Taco’s 80’s version of Puttin’ on the Ritz slathered on an over-abundance of a Ken Burns effect slideshow from Hrundi and Kumar’s wedding.  Just show me the photos…I don’t care what the couple’s favorite song is!

This brings me back to my photo website…number 13 or so in the last ten years.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s by no means my ultimate website.  Yes, I am still not satisfied, but it’s better than most of my past falls from grace.  It’s pretty straight forward,  Clean.  Simple. And has the option to sell my prints.  And, to anyone who is interested, gives folks the opportunity to see a wide variety of photos I have taken over the years.

A photographer’s body of work, or portfolio if you will, is always changing, evolving with the addition of new photo projects.  Although I prefer working alone on fine art or landscape pieces, I will venture out from time to time for portrait sessions.  However never, ever a wedding again.  I’ve said it before, it’s just not gonna happen.  I tried that for a few years and discovered, at least for me, each wedding removes approximately one year from your life span.  I remember speaking to a wedding photographer at my friend’s daughter’s wedding a few years ago.  He looked particularly old to be doing this sort of thing, 80-ish, when in fact he was 45!  This may be an embellished exaggeration but not far from the truth.  Weddings tear you up, chew you up, and spit you out from the beginning to the end.  I will leave this end of the photography business to youngsters or to seasoned olders who charge an arm and a leg and leave most of the grunt work to their assistants.

Again, my photo site (not a total freebie by the way, I pay for the Pro version) is far from finished and will evolve from time to time.  Perhaps someday I will jump into the custom website spring (an option offered by smugmug) and pay to have it tweaked and spiffed up a bit.  For now, Skip Hansen Photography’s online portfolio will reside here.

At the Zoo

“Someone told me…it’s all happening at the zoo.  I do believe it, I do believe it’s true.” – Simon & Garfunkel

The first few words from that iconic 1966 Simon & Garfunkel song, At the Zoo.  After a short visit to the Sacramento Zoo lately, I’m not at all that sure “it’s true” any longer.

First off, let me say this.  We have been contemplating a day at the zoo for quite some time, it finally happened the other day.  Our days off coincided, the weather had cooled down, and we jumped in the Cooper and made the 75 mile trek north up Highway 5 towards Sacramento.  At least we committed and got out of the house for a few hours.  Done deal.

Besides just having the opportunity to get out for a while, I was looking forward to using a new camera and getting some shots at the zoo.  After all, it is the ZOO – a ready-made photo opp, right?  Not necessarily.  More on that in a moment.

To be perfectly honest at this point, I must admit that I am tainted, spoiled rotten from years of going to the only zoo I knew:  the San Diego Zoo.  An unfair comparison perhaps?  Perhaps.  And, admittedly, my attitude toward zoos in general may have changed over time.  What?  Yes!  I’m not sure zoos are the right thing to do to wild animals!  Especially less than stellar zoos, like, well, the Sacramento Zoo.  Now, before I get accused of being a panda-hugging bleeding heart liberal, let me explain and give credit where credit is due.  The Sacramento Zoo is a relatively well-maintained, clean attraction.  They seem to do a pretty good job of sequestering their wild animals in their tiny, little enclosures.  The cages were, for the most part, well kept.  Again, please try not to compare me to Jeff Goldblum’s character (Ian Malcomb) in Jurassic Park…I’m not anywhere near that fanatical but I do subscribe somewhat to the “chaos theory”.  More on that at a later date.  Bear with me, as there will be at least one other reference to Jurassic Park a bit later!

Compared to a nice little zoo like the Sacramento Zoo, one could cite many heinous examples of animal cruelty in the news.  Makeshift, privately-owned wild animal compounds need to be more tightly regulated or outlawed completely in my opinion.  There have been some crazy stories coming out in the past few years.  For instance, “family pet” chimpanzees tearing neighbor’s faces off!

Zoos have been around for hundreds of years.  And in these modern times they are well regulated and taken care of.  I didn’t see any examples of less than proper housing at the Sacramento Zoo.  But here’s my point in the form of a question, to which, by the way, I don’t have an answer:  Should wild animals be caged?  On the positive side, these animals are well-fed, safe from predators, and reside under the watchful eyes of veterinarians.  When a tiger has a toothache, it goes to the dentist.  When a giraffe as an abscess on it’s hoof, the doc takes care of it.  When a lemur appears tired and slow, it’s given vitamin enriched food.  Get the picture?

There was a young, male lion walking around its enclosure.  An area maybe 60 feet square by the way.  He was near the back wall as I watched him lick the water dripping from a hose bib.  I’m certain there was a water supply for him back in the cage area, but this action just seemed so undignified for a lion.

As we moved down the row of African animal enclosures, here was the Hyena compound.

…and the Snow Leopard compound.

Both no-shows this day along with the orangutans and several others.  I neglected to get photos of their empty cages.  One grandfather type explained to his grandkids when they questioned, “Where is it?”  To which the grandfather replied, “See that cave looking thing way back up there?  It’s sleeping in the cave.  See?”  “No, I don’t!”  Another line from Jurassic Park, “Ah…at some point, Dr. Hammond, we will see dinosaurs, right?”

We did see some forlorn looking chimps out for a stroll in their cage.  Does this guy look happy to you?

Loretta and I chuckled out loud when a young boy commented about one of the chimps, “Look at his butt!”  I must admit, the south end of a northbound chimpanzee leaves a lot to be desired in the eyes of a child.  Sorry, no photos were taken of the chimps butt!

One of the high points of the Sacramento Zoo in my opinion is the relatively new Tall Wonder exhibit where can get an up close and personal look at one of my favorite animals:  the giraffe.  They were out and about and very majestic looking in their new habitat.

Giraffes are exquisite creatures and seeing them was worth the price of admission.

Alas, back to a comparison of “greater” zoos…no elephants, no rhinos, no gazelles, no hippos, no gorillas, no cheetahs, no aquatic animals, no birds of prey, no bird or other animal shows, no rain forest animals, and no meerkats…just to name a few.

I did manage to get a few shots…

So, I would recommend taking your kids to the zoo.  Try to teach them a little about conservation and extinction, etc.  I’m not sure I have the answer to the zoo or no zoo question.  I just know that it’s not always “happening at the zoo”…not every zoo anyway.