By ALEXI VENICE
Before I begin this post, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to dooce® (Heather B. Armstrong) for mentioning Bourbon Chase and Amanda’s Dragonfly on her blog. Link to her blog here. For those of you who haven’t heard of her, dooce® is to blogging what Oprah was to talk shows. She’s awesome, witty and irreverent. I encourage you to check her out.
Okay, back to my post. This summer, I had the pleasure of visiting my favorite city, San Francisco, to attend the Dyke March, eat at Pacific Café Seafood and take in a Giants game. I’m excited to share each experience with you, along with my personal travel tips for small town girls travelling solo to big cities.
A work conference demanded my presence in the city, and my husband couldn’t accompany me, so I went solo. I was comfortable going alone, because I lived in the bay area ages ago. I know my way around—or at least the places I like to visit—and have always found the people friendly. This trip was no exception.
I was thrilled to learn that my conference landed during the weekend of San Francisco Pride marches and celebrations, so I planned to attend the Dyke March on Saturday afternoon.
After I checked into my hotel, I grabbed a taxi over to the Castro District. I was immediately impressed with the crowd of thousands occupying Dolores Park. It was an all-inclusive, spirited celebration of LGBTQ+. Jubilance and pride were in the air, along with the smell of marijuana. The hot, sunny day insisted that people peel off their layers, liberating themselves to enjoy and be seen. I felt not only comfortable, but also welcomed as I mingled among the partiers and dancers.
Here’s a pic of the enormous crowd.
In addition to blankets on the grass and lawn chairs under canopies, there were tents erected behind a squared-off area marked with yellow tape indicating Dykes Only.
That’s a two-person tent, the first of many placed on a slope down to the band shell. I didn’t dare dip under the tape, even though there wasn’t strict enforcement, as many people wandered in and out of this zone. If this tent was too small for your taste, however, there were several other organized activities scheduled—like the Men’s Spanking Party from 1-6 p.m. at the Power Exchange.
Despite the friendly mood of the crowd and the city’s reputation for nonviolent parades, preparations were taking place to prevent a copycat terrorist attack of a car or truck driving into parade-goers. The actual march was scheduled for 5 p.m., and the police were staying in droves to set up barriers. (Yes, that’s a reference to Blazing Saddles.) I was delighted to see a strong and substantial police presence, the officers pleasant and good-natured while standing under the scorching sun in their hot uniforms. This officer even offered to pose for a selfie with me.
She put her arm around me and pulled me in close for the pic, surprising me with her squeeze. Her willingness to engage increased my comfort level of touring solo.
In addition to music and weed floating in the air, there also was the scent of fried onions and peppers adorning plump sausages. Here’s one of the many vendors.
I’ve never seen such big sausages at a Dyke March!
After spending a couple of hours at Delores Park, my stomach screamed out for salmon and sourdough bread, so I hailed a taxi to 34th Street and Geary Boulevard, the location of our favorite restaurant—Pacific Café Seafood. (That’s right, I declined the sausage because I get enough of that at home. I was in San Francisco for fresh fish.)
My husband and I have been going to Pacific Café for 28 years. It’s employee-owned and boasts a quaint and private atmosphere with only 16 tables. You might have to stand in line for a while, but they serve you free white wine while you wait, fostering a chatty mood. Pregaming for salmon is part of the culture of Pacific Café, encouraging patrons to socialize.
Aided by the lubricant of wine, even writing introverts like me can make conversation with total strangers. I struck up a conversation with a couple who have lived in San Francisco since 1971, and have been married for 39 years. They live near the Presidio and have been dining at Pacific Café forever. Extending classic San Franciscan hospitality, they invited me to join them for dinner, and I enthusiastically accepted. They regaled me with entertaining stories about their lives and the history of San Francisco.
They will remain “anonymous” in this post, but I want to shout out my gratitude for terrific conversation over dinner and bottle of pinot noir.
For those of you who have read my books in The San Francisco Mystery Series, you’ll recognize Pacific Café as the location where Jen and Amanda went on their first date in Bourbon Chase. It’s Amanda’s hangout because she lives nearby—in Sea Cliff.
My third solo adventure while in the city was attending a Giants baseball game. I bought a ticket on Stub Hub along the first baseline in the 28th row. Fantastic seat! The atmosphere was magical for an evening game—a light bay breeze washing over the stadium under a vivid crescent moon. In contrast to the hot sunshine at mid-day, the night air inside the ballpark was jeans-and-sweatshirt weather. AT&T Park is a cozy ballpark for a 45,000-seat venue.
It was LGBTQ night, so The San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band performed the Star-Spangled Banner after a dedication ceremony to those who paved the way. Expressions of love were in the air on the kiss cam, everyone cheering with acceptance and happiness.
I sat beside a couple who were season ticket holders, and they eagerly shared trivia with me about the ballpark and their seats.
Since I had an early morning meeting, I left in the top of the 9th (contrary to the axiom that you should never leave a ballgame early), so I could get a taxi back to the hotel. Unfortunately, there were no available taxis outside the stadium, so I fell in with the crowd and walked along third street toward my hotel, which was over a mile away. I wouldn’t have minded walking the entire way, but I was sure the crowd would peel off one-by-one to their cars, leaving me alone.
I blended in with the crowd as we walked for several blocks, passing homeless people who were setting up camp for the night and nongame-goers who were looking at me like I was a tourist—no surprise. Not seeing any available taxis, block-after-block, I decided to duck into a pizza joint and call one.
Fortunately, I had memorized the yellow taxi number (because it’s easy (415) 333-3333). I could barely hear the dispatcher above the traffic noise and the loud music in the pizza place, but I conveyed my location, and she assured me a taxi would arrive in 10-15 minutes.
I know some of you are wondering why I didn’t use my phone app for an Uber. I had deleted it a few months prior when the company was on the news every morning due to its woes. I was uncomfortable with my credit card info staying with them. In addition, I like to be loyal to the taxi and black cab-medallion holders in San Francisco and London, because they’ve been good to me and a few have explained their businesses to me.
As the crowd quickly thinned out, I started to feel a little lonely in the pizza place until two California Highway Patrol Officers entered to eat a late-night meal. It was 10:30 p.m., and I was alone, but I had two officers sitting nearby. Calm restored to my being, and time passed quickly until my yellow taxi arrived.
To sum up, I’m not a big city girl—born and raised in Lisbon, North Dakota—but San Francisco has always made me feel welcome.
Over the years, I’ve accumulated some travel tips for solo adventures. Here they are:
- Dress comfortably and innocuously, so you blend in. Google an event you plan to attend to see how people have dressed for it in the past. Bring similar clothes.
- Make a plan about transportation, so you’re not standing around too long anywhere, looking lost. Walk with purpose and act confidently.
- If you’re about to enter an elevator, or tunnel, or other contained space, but a person or group who is also entering gives you bad vibes, turn and walk away.
- Lock your hotel room door as soon as you enter. Don’t open it if someone knocks (unless you’ve ordered room service). I once had a guy knock on my room door as soon as I got settled. He said he needed to replace the Bible. Suspecting a con, I didn’t open the door, but instead called the front desk. They told me no one was replacing Bibles, and they’d send security to investigate. I looked through the peep hole after I hung up, and he was gone.
- Try not to spend time in a parking garage (or other structure) alone. If you can, tag onto a group of people and walk with them toward your destination.
- If you’re walking back to your hotel after dinner, be aware of your surroundings. Spend the extra $10 to take a taxi if you need to. Pop into a business to consult your iPhone map and get your bearings. Don’t stand on the street corner at night doing this.
- Don’t get drunk. It’s dangerous. You make stupid decisions and you’re extremely vulnerable to all sorts of bad crap.
- Be cool with your cash. Put $1 bills on the outside, not a $50 bill, and wedge it in a tight pocket. I pay with a credit card most of the time, so I can save my receipts, and no one sees how much cash I have.
- Text your loved ones updates and pics of where you are and what you’re doing. Tell them when you plan to settle in for the night, so they keep track of your whereabouts.
- Haul ass and bypass when hassled on the street. Keep your head down and keep walking.
- Take a pic of your room number if you leave for dinner or touring shortly after you arrive. I always forget my room number, and I don’t want to stop at the front desk to admit it.
If you have experiences or tips you’d like to share, please comment below.
If you enjoyed this post, hit the subscribe button, and you’ll receive my next post as soon as it’s posted.