Walking the Castro, seeing a show. That’s life in San Francisco.

We started the day with some of that mundane but necessary stuff that happens when you’re on holiday – getting  washing done. We patted ourselves on the back for bringing a laundry bag along on the trip (plastic shopping bags just don’t cut it) , and headed off to Vic’s Cleaners, right on Isadora Duncan Lane. Let’s learn about Isadora Duncan (if you can read it).


We found a nearby deli (Dave’s Deli and Bistro) for breakfast.  Dave’s was another “eat and get the hell out” kind of place. No tables, just a very long u-shaped counter that ran the length of the place. They had (gasp) cappuccino – which was maybe a 5 out of 10 on the iScott Coffee Scale. But it least it wasn’t out of a push button machine. My Apple Pancakes, though, were excellent. (hmm, Apple pancakes…. does that make them iPancakes…)


We walked from there back to Market St to get a streetcar. This walk placed us pretty firmly in the Tenderloin district. Tenderloin is San Francisco’s home for the homeless. Where the hopeless can get hope, and the druggies get drugs, and the unsuspecting probably get done over if they don’t have their wits about them. It was a bright Saturday morning but I still found it pretty confronting. Small huddles of people were injecting in the streets, others scouring the gutter for needles, of which there were a few around.

There are plenty of centres to help the homeless around Tenderloin, there are a number of places (both religious and non-religious) that dole out hundreds and hundreds of meals each night to keep the residents going. Maybe I just don’t get out that much, but the walk made me feel pretty uncomfortable. I was glad to be outta there once we turned a corner and the neighbourhood instantly changed, on Market St. 

This morning’s next plan was to pop up to the Castro for a walking tour of the area. I was wondering if we’d have to walk there – this particular streetcar wasn’t having a good day. It’s electrical arm kept falling out of its place on he overhead wire, so the driver had to get out multiple times to power it up again. Upon rounding a corner there was a big clunk, even the driver thought we’d derailed and got out (yet again) to check. But all was well – eventually, we reached the Castro district, with plenty of time to spare before our walking tour was due to start. 

The meeting point for the start of the tour was under the massive rainbow flag. Here, we met Kathy. Tour guide, Civil rights champion, fearless lesbian, and a knowledgeable, passionate, guide. 


She made some very valid points about the creeping fascism of the current political climate, the incitement of hate, and the ways it can enable the erosion of civil rights. 

She showed us some maps, highlighting that even after marriage equality, there are only 21 states where it’s illegal to fire someone because of their sexuality. In the other 29, it seems “oh, you’re gay? You’re  fired” is perfectly acceptable. I might be oversimplifying it, but that’s the message I took from what we were being told today. And this kind of “you’re fired” thing is what religious organisations are fighting so hard to maintain, and extend, in Australia. Fighting so hard to extend the reach of prejudice just doesn’t seem like something a church should be doing. But here we are. :-/ 

We learnt a lot about Harvey Milk, and the way that, before him, the US queer population we were mostly known as the “invisible culture”, as being visible meant being arrested, or committed, or killed.  

We saw some sections of the AIDS quilt , never realised before that each panel was made the size of a grave. So many died, but their memory persists. 

The tour came to a close in the place where Harvey Milk and his partner ran a little camera shop. It now houses the human rights campaign, and, being a tourist, I bough some nice t-shirts. Cheers, queers! Here’s a few more pics taken along the way.

Next – down to Pier 39 for lunch, an easy streetcar ride away. Well, easy on a good day. When the streetcars are working. Another streetcar had got itself into a bother, requiring two more streetcars to mount a rescue mission. So we had to take a bit of a walk down to 17th and Noe, where we were assured a streetcar would stop to let us on. If only someone had told the driver. Ah well it wasn’t too much further to Market St to find another one. A slightly interesting part of this breakdown was our streetcar ran for a while down a street not normally used by the network. So, ooh, secret streetcar tracks, folks! 🙂 

Pier 39 was crazy busy. Saturday, great weather, no surprise I guess.  But alas, no sea lions. Five years ago there were hundreds of them. Today, only three were hanging around. We did at least manage to see some pelicans. The sea lions were probably scared off by the massive crowd. Before long, so were we – and besides it was time to pick up the washing (which was nicely done, thanks Vic’s Cleaners!) so off we went. 

We thought we’d brave the temple of all things healthy and virtuous for dinner – that’s right, The Cheesecake Factory. Positioned on the top floor of Macy’s Union Square, I was hoping it might be a bit hidden and out of way and people might not realise it’s there … yeah, as if! The wait for a table was about 30 mins so we hung around.  Surprisingly, around 30 minutes later, our table was ready.  For dinner, I win a prize.  A prize for achieving the impossible.  I walked out of Cheesecake Factory still being able to move, and not feeling fit to burst.  Yay me! 🙂  They have a frankly ridiculous menu of 250 or so non-cheesecake items, plus another 30-odd cheesecakes. See for yourself. It’s crazy.  https://www.thecheesecakefactory.com/menu/desserts/cheesecakes/   I think we were lucky that we didn’t have time for dessert, as just for a change we had a show to go watch.  Tonight:  Soft Power, at the Curran theatre.

I had no idea what to expect, I knew nothing about the show, Perry had found it and thought it would be worth a look.  And of course, he was very right.  At a high level it’s a kind of reversal of The King and I.  It kinda posits the question “What would happen if Hilary Clinton was romanced by a Chinese guy” – though there’s a bit more to it than that.  It starts as a play, exploring and dissecting cultural differences between China and the US, without necessarily passing much in the way of judgement.  It did however get much in the way of laughs – it was very well played.  From the get-go it was clear this was a serious production, with serious acting talent.  Some of them have been in broadway shows, and one (Conrad Ricamora) had a part on TV in “How to get away with Murder”.  Before long it shifts gears and lurches into a musical – through a transition that to me somewhat missed the mark.  It was a bit too convenient, a bit too like a narrator glossing over a scene that may have been difficult to stage and enact, so it was reduced to a monologue on an empty stage.  It was a bit “then, like, some really unexpected stuff happened and that was an excuse to go into fantasyland where everything’s a musical! Yay!”.  So if you’re reading (because of course I’m such a renowned theatre reviewer lol) patch that bit up before you take it to broadway, OK?

Alyse Alan Louis, who played Hilary Clinton, was absolutely brilliant.  Surely she’s destined to be a bigger star.  She can act, she can really dance, and boy, can she sing!  Add to that a perfect sense of comic timing and you have someone who really deserves to go far.  Her introductory number as Hilary really stole the show – the applause just kept going and going, to the point where I think the whole cast started to feel a bit awkward.  It was the highlight of the show for me.  There’s also an excellent number successfully skewering the US ‘electoral college’ voting system.  As they said in the show itself – “this makes no sense to anyone else outside out country”, and yep they’re still pretty much right about that.  Of course, we all know the outcome of that election. Even in musical fantasy land, Hilary was not the winner.  That’s sad. But her reaction, hilarious.  

By the end of Act 1 it really had me wondering – at this point the show had taken  very pro-China stance.  IN the current Australian political climate there’s all they talk of China trying to impost their will on the national discussion, so to speak.  Could this be a similar ting to what the show was doing – was this a direct and clear amp of China exercising its soft power? I guess its a testament to the strength of the show that it leaves you feeling like that at intermission.

In Act 2, we get to the white house – though we don’t get to the president. He remains curiously off-limits in this show.  You could view this as being a bit timid, or potentially a smart move because lets face it everybody else is directly criticising the president at the moment.  But the vice president and his cronies get a good bashing, with the song “A good guy with a gun” – which I’m sure had a good many members of the audience feeling a little uneasy.  But here in left-leaning San Francisco, it was very well received.  

Act 2 also quickly dispels the China soft power motif – with (spoilers!!) Hilary and the Chinese producers relationship failing because he didn’t support democracy.  Hilary’s Democracy torch song was another powerhouse performance, again very impressive.  Before long we lurch out of the musical word and back to the real world of the play.  Again, this was done in a way that was just, well, weird.  You know when something’s comedic but it wasn’t meant to be?  It really robbed the moment of its power.  But by the end of the show, America had clearly won, of course, and the Democracy song was reborn, rebuilt, powered up polished and embellished by the full cast, to make it ridiculously clear just whose side we are on.  However It’s parting thought certainly rings true for many in modern America: “Democracy will break your heart” 

So overall a great show.  I don’t know if it has legs, if it will go far, it may be too topical and too ‘now’ to have a long life ahead of it. But I do hope it’s seen by many more people.  They may just learn something.

Tomorrow, sadly, is our last full day in San Francisco.  Already!

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