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Presidio

Started: 2018-02-04 15:19:20

Submitted: 2018-02-04 18:33:23

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator explores the Presidio with his family after Christmas

Thursday, 28th December 2017

On the Thursday after Christmas, for the final day playing tourist with my family in San Francisco, our tour group dwindled to five (my mother, Bethany, Willy, Calvin, and me); Kiesa went to work; Sasa stayed home with Julian; and my father stayed home to check his e-mail. (Having six people in the group the day before felt a bit unwieldy; having five people seemed easier to manage.)

We listened to the first act of Hamilton as we drove north up 19th Avenue through the Sunset, through Golden Gate Park, onto Park Presidio Boulevard through the Richmond, and merged onto US 101 northbound just long enough to take the first exit to the Golden Gate Bridge visitor's center. The parking lot at the top of the bridge was closed to passenger vehicles to manage the tourist load, and the next parking lot was full, so I parked near Fort Point and we walked up the bluffs, past the decaying ruins of various generations of coastal defense batteries, to the bridge overlook itself.

I've been here numerous times over the last two years, so I didn't feel compelled to photograph the experience, just look out at the majestic bridge spanning the Golden Gate. The day was bright and clear, unseasonably warm and sunny for the end of December, and the tourists were out in force.

We looked around the combined gift shop and visitor's center, where displays of historical significance were surrounded by books and trinkets, and Calvin convinced me to buy a thermos with the bridge printed on it, though he couldn't articulate why he might actually use such a thing, and was unwilling to concede the obvious fact that the Golden Gate Bridge was in fact the world's most beautiful bridge. (He insists on telling me that that obvious fact is an "opinion", and also enjoys taunting me by suggesting that the Bay Bridge is in fact more beautiful than the Golden Gate Bridge. He's getting too smart for my own good.)

We drove to the new Park Service visitor's center in the Presidio, at the end of the parade ground that formed the central axis of the old Army fort. The visitor's center had a neat 3d relief map of the Presidio, highlighting things to do in the area, along with some interpretive displays of various aspects of the area. The fort was closed and turned over to the Park Service in 1994, and the Park Service, along with the non-profit Presidio Trust, are still trying to figure out what to do with it. Some pieces are easy: the coastal fortifications, and some of the more interesting pieces of the fort, can be reinforced and interpreted. The Park Service has restored the coastal wetland that was briefly an airfield (and still bears the name Crissy Field). Some of the base was housing, much of which is now available as rental housing. Many of the historic buildings on the fort have been leased out as office space; the Officer's Club in particular has a restaurant.

The Presidio clearly has vast potential, as an urban park to rival Golden Gate Park, but as of yet it's not clear how that potential might be realized (and without better transit connections it's hard to imagine that I might be able to take advantage of it -- it's not easy to get to the rest of the city from the Presidio, but the Presidio Trust does run a free shuttle).

We drove a couple of blocks to the Letterman Digital Arts Center, founded by George Lucas (possibly with the money he made after selling Lucasfilm to Disney), occupying a small office park on the edge of the Presidio. The most salient point, though, was the life-sized sculpture of Jedi Master Yoda in the middle of a fountain in a courtyard next to the lobby. (The lobby itself was closed for the holidays, but squinting through the windows I could see more Star Wars memorabilia inside, including what my guidebooks told me was an original Darth Vader costume.)

Yoda fountain at the Letterman Digital Arts Center
Yoda fountain at the Letterman Digital Arts Center

Calvin was thrilled to see the statue (filling out our Very Star Wars Christmas), and I had to admit it was pretty neat.

Yoda fountain at the Letterman Digital Arts Center
Yoda fountain at the Letterman Digital Arts Center

We drove to lunch at my favorite taqueria in the Richmond, Gordo's, a hole-in-the-wall on a small commercial strip with great burritos. (I tend to visit the taqueria after leading a tourist expedition to the Golden Gate Bridge.)

Our final tourist stop of the day was Battery Chamberlin and Baker Beach, located next to each other overlooking ocean on the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge. The beach-front battery originally fielded disappearing guns, and one of the guns remains (or has been restored), which the Park Service operates in occasional demonstrations.

Bethany takes a conference call on Battery Chamberlin
Bethany takes a conference call on Battery Chamberlin

Bethany took a conference call sitting on the reinforced concrete lip of the gun battery, surrounded by iceplant, below the cypress trees towering above the beach.

Willy took a walk to the north of the beach and discovered that part of Baker Beach has been converted into a 'clothing optional' beach. (Technically public nudity in San Francisco is allowed only at a permitted event, but residents who want a place to let it all hang out apparently have an informal agreement with the cops to look the other way at Baker Beach.)

Willy photographs Calvin on Baker Beach
Willy photographs Calvin on Baker Beach

Calvin played in the sand (after a warning not to actually touch the water, given dire warnings of rip currents at any ocean-facing beach in San Francisco) and Willy pulled out his medium-format Rolleiflex camera to photograph him. So, of course, I had to photograph them both.

Nana photographs Willy photographing Calvin on Baker Beach
Nana photographs Willy photographing Calvin on Baker Beach

And when my mother stepped in to photograph both of them, I had to photograph all three.

(Fortunately for all our sanity, Bethany did not feel compelled to join the festival of meta-photography.)

Aunt Bethany and Calvin on Baker Beach
Aunt Bethany and Calvin on Baker Beach

We headed back home after the beach, to enjoy a quiet afternoon after our adventures as tourists. In the evening we went to pizza at nearby Stonestown Mall, then Bethany went to the airport to catch her red-eye flight back to New York, closing our family Christmas in San Francisco.

Manual transmission is to automatic as Linux is to Windows.
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