TRAVEL Danny does San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge suspension bridge spans the Golden Gate, the opening of the San Francisco Bay into the Pacific Ocean.

Danny does San Francisco (without flowers in his hair)

Danny Does
Daniel Carey

THE doors of the commuter train were closing when an African-American man made a last-ditch dive, forced them back open, and tumbled aboard. Like me, he was going to San Francisco. Like me, he wasn’t wearing flowers in his hair, despite the explicit instruction to that effect in the 1967 song named after the city.
The man’s dramatic entrance attracted the attention of other passengers, but he quickly recovered his composure. “You gotta do what you gotta do, right?” he said with a shrug, adding – to general amusement: “I don’t even know what motherf***in’ train this is, I just knew I had to get on it!”
He was just the latest in a long line of people who have felt the impulse to head for the city by the bay. Over the past century and a half, San Francisco has inspired gold prospectors, hippies, tech-heads ... and prisoners who looked longingly upon it from the nearby prison island of Alcatraz.
Fifty years ago next June, three men spent a year planning the getaway that inspired the Clint Eastwood movie ‘Escape From Alcatraz’. They used spoons to enlarge the small vents in their cells, and planted dummy heads made of soap, cement and paint under their blankets. The trio did get off the island, but were never seen again. Did they fail to make it ashore, or decamp to South America? Opinions differ. Officially, they’re still wanted men.
San Fran was the highlight of my American tour to date. The city has a unique charm– sloping hills, an ancient cable car, a colourful waterfront and the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge, which my host drove over as I snapped pictures galore. Staying with friends and away from the hostel/hotel grind, I finally got to spend time with – gasp! – real Americans.
And so, during a very varied week, I sampled many fine local brews and ate chocolate bacon (which does exactly what it says on the tin). I also saw Stanford University get hammered 87-0 in a rugby match (perhaps the one thing those Nobel laureates are no good at).
In the Beat Museum, I spotted a book called ‘Jesus Was A Beatnik’, and in the Cartoon Art Museum, I learned that Bugs Bunny discovered America. I gave money to a busker dressed in a Halloween animal costume, and I saw a band playing a gig in a clothes shop.
I spent a morning wandering in a national park and an evening listening to country music in a cowboy bar, where my attire – a jumper and a long coat – prompted a friend to muse: “You have no idea how European you look right now!” I wonder what they’ll make of me in Texas?

Daniel Carey, a Mayo News reporter, has taken a year out to travel the world. His addiction to the keyboard remains, however, and this column will carry his reports from life on the outside.