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Tellin’ Stories – Terry George – San Francisco

It costs a lot to get it on the cheap

I’ve just returned from a 2 day hop across the pond to San Francisco, as I got it cheap from a friend who’s cabin crew. I’m always open to offers so took him up on this opportunity for a freebie, with a promise of being upgraded subject to availability on the flight.

When I arrived at the airport I was wearing my jeans but he told me he could only look to get me an upgrade to first class if I was wearing trousers. I’ve got a wardrobe full of suits at home but had to get some retail therapy at the airport and spent £600 to look the part.

Before boarding I was told that there weren’t any seats left in first class, then another message before the flight to say business and economy classes were also full. ‘Don’t worry though’ he told me ‘I can get you on a jump seat used by the crew.’

So I had to spend the next 11 hours suited and booted on a jump seat next to the toilets at the back of the plane- that’ll teach me to try and blag a freebie!

I didn’t arrive in San Francisco quite as fresh as a daisy, and I wasn’t in the mood for putting ‘flowers in my hair’ as the lyrics of the song go.

On my whistle-stop tour of course I went to photograph the Golden Gate Bridge, which was in the mist most of the time. I hung around so long for it to clear people thought I was soliciting. The bridge signs made me smile – ‘If you’re going to jump don’t. Phone this number instead.’

A friend of mine from LA came up to be my guide and show me around. I like the architecture and the slower pace of life than New York, it has a lot of character. The geography was different to how I’d imagined it, I thought you’d come over the bridge and into the city but it isn’t like that at all.

The numbers of homeless people shocked me, but some of them had a sense of humour – like the guy holding a sign saying ‘Give me some cash or I’ll vote for Romney’. Then a woman with a cat in a trolley begging who I later saw on her mobile phone. My favourite was the guy with the sign which read ‘too ugly to prostitute’

We took a trolley ride through the streets thankfully as they are so hilly, but the trolley only covers a small area of the city. Of course we didn’t miss out the famous Fisherman’s Wharf where there are sea lions on Pier 39, which were a bit stinky. (I’ve no idea what the difference is between seals and sea lions though!).

I got my first taste of a U.S. prison too, but fortunately only as a visitor, at Alcatraz. It was very realistic, the sound effects made you feel like the inmates were still sharing a cell with the infamous Al Capone or the Birdman of Alcatraz.

At night we went out on the gay scene in the Castro district but it felt so 80’s, from the music, the way everyone was dressed and the décor, it was really old fashioned. Drinks were reasonably priced though.

The weather wasn’t great and to quote Mark Twain ‘The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco’. I can identify with that, it was freezing at night.

I always judge a place on whether I’d go back though, and would love to visit San Francisco again, but next time for longer than 2 days. I’d like to thank my American friend Marc Schaffel for showing me around, I wouldn’t have seen so much on my whistle-stop tour without him.

I managed to get a proper seat on the return flight but in the Premium Cabin – it wasn’t quite as exclusive as I’d hoped but better than a jump seat.  I felt like the airline were tempting you to pay for business class as they gave you a better seat but it didn’t recline. They should have had an ad on the back of the seat in front saying ‘I bet you wish you were in club class?’

Thankfully the journey from London to Leeds was the most comfortable of all. I travelled First Class with East Coast Trains.