We took a spur of the moment trip to San Francisco last weekend. Initially, we were planning on going up to Cultus Lake in Canada, because they have an amazing waterpark, but then the weather turned. So then we started looking the other direction, thinking maybe Crater Lake instead?
Sure, It lacks water slides, but it’s better than sitting at home during a windstorm …
Then my husband was like, hey, San Francisco is only a little further away from Crater Lake. If we’re driving that far, why not power on through and drive all the way down?
We googled the average cost of a hotel in San Francisco and it was about $82; sweet! Totally within our budget. With some strategic budgeting, a night or two of camping, and the occasional dip into the savings account, we could do the whole touristy family trip thing. And then I saw that there were tickets for an Alcatraz tour available on Sunday, and the reviews indicated those were normally sold out weeks in advance!
I was like, uh, but you only have 4 days off. We can’t drive to San Francisco in a day. And John was like, it’s an 11 hour drive, I can totally do that. So of course I was like, challenge accepted. The next thing you know, we arranged pet care and the three of us are packed in the car with a bunch of camping gear and headed off to San Francisco.
So we as we neared San Francisco, we passed through a little town called Chico, and I was like holy shit, my friend lives in this town. I thought this town was further south, near the Mexican border.
Yes, I know. You may laugh. My geography sucks balls. I was raised going to US public schools, wtf do you expect? I didn’t even know Georgia was a country until I was 22! I also didn’t realize they’d passed a Civil Rights Act in 1866 until I was in my 20s. Like I said, our public school system leaves a lot to be desired. It’s kind of necessary to send kids in the USA to college just so they can get a basic fucking understanding of the world around them … and even then it can be a crapshoot.
Anyway, I digress. So I realize, obviously, as we’re driving though Chico that my friend is probably somewhere nearby, and I text him. He texts back: He’s in San Francisco picking up his girlfriend, who just flew in from England! Whoa! Serendipity!
So we ended up driving straight into town (under the Golden Gate Bridge, natch!) and going and meeting up with them at a little eatery up by the Castro district, which was awesome. She screamed so loud, it was amazing, and we spent like 2 hours catching up, which was also exhausting because John had been driving for 11 hours and she’d just flown over on a twice-delayed flight from England.
There was this rando douchey guy at the table next to us who interrupted and talked to us for like 20 minutes, and that was really irritating and rude. I gotta say … dude, rule of thumb: If you see a happy reunion between friends, and they’re all are talking about how exhausted they are, and one of them has a foreign accent — do not insert yourself into their conversation. You are not welcome. You are not quirky or interesting or fun. You’re a random weirdo who is ruining the reunion. Thanks weirdo, go away now.
Downside? Meeting up with them meant that we skipped right past all the campsites. It didn’t really matter, because as it turned out, we probably wouldn’t have gotten a site anyway, since we arrived in San Francisco at 7:30 pm, and our harebrained trip just happened to coincide (we later learned) with three other events happening that weekend:
- Nascar race
- Triathalon of some sort
- Bunch of people flying into SF airport for Burning Man the following week (they stayed that night and drove out the next day or so).
The long and short of it was, you couldn’t find a campsite or hotel/ motel for under $100 for hell or high water in that town that weekend. We even upped our lodging budget to $160, but nope. Every place we spoke to, every hotel we called, was out of rooms for the night.
Well, that’s not entirely true … we did eventually find a potential room. It was about 2 a.m., and my friend suggested a website called booking.com, which said they wouldn’t charge any fees for reserving a room, even if we didn’t show up.
That was a lie. Well … not technically. The website didn’t charge us any fees … but they ask for your credit card info to hold the room, which is standard practice for booking sites, so that part wasn’t the problem. The problem was that place that we reserved a room with informed us of their cancellation terms in the confirmation email we received for reserving the room, which is pretty underhanded; and their cancellation terms basically said we would be charged for the room whether or not we stayed in it.
So booking.com recommended a room at a place called the Royal Inn, on Eddy Ave, which wanted to charge us $90 to check in at 2 a.m. and leave by 10 a.m. Pretty steep for less than 24 hours, but it was literally the only room available by that point. So we drive past it — we actually think we missed the address, because it’s hard to see — and my husband parks about a block down, behind a police car. I get out of the car and walk down the block, scoping it out to see if we passed it.
Okay, I hate, hate judging a place based on how it looks. And I’m not a fan of the “broken windows” theory of policing. But this place, you guys. This place. The street was littered with broken glass and used needles. The people on the street all reeked of extremely strong alcohol. There was a bored, vacant-eyed woman giving a hand job to a man in a puffy jacket (which was weird that he was wearing a jacket because it was like 60+ degrees out) next to what turned out to be the hotel we were supposed to stay in.
It was like every stereotype or awful trope that you would see in a crime drama about a bad neighborhood. I legit couldn’t believe it. It was so sad, and yeah, it completely sucks that people live that life and I feel a lot of pain and sorrow for their circumstances and all that …
Then the Royal Inn itself … it was just, holy shit. I mean, wow. It seriously belongs on some sort of special edition of CSI or something, it was so shady. The reason we missed it is because the name was emblazoned in plain white lettering on a maroon awning over the door, so you couldn’t really see it — it’s like facing the sky at a slight angle.
On the door itself, there was a hand-lettered sign saying, “Push bell,” taped to the door, along with a black arrow. I pushed the bell, and it let out a long, sour buzz. The door swung ominously open, and the woman giving the bored hj turned her head slightly to glare at me. I stepped inside the plain white stairwell.
It wasn’t a lobby. It was a stairwell. It was painted a dingy, sad white. The sort of white that comes from paint being used to cover up filth, instead of filth being scrubbed away. A flight of stairs zig-zagged upwarded in front of me. Far above me, at the first landing, I could see another hand-lettered sign with another arrow, taped to the wall: OFFICE –>
It was so bad.
I was not going to walk my kid down that block. I was not going to bring my family into this shit-hole and pay them $90 to infect us with lice and bedbugs and ye gods knows what else. No. I just wasn’t. I refuse.
I was not about to take my son out of the car and walk him through that at 2 o’clock in the fucking morning on a family vacation. There is no point. No purpose.
I am all about confronting our privileges and being aware and all that, but jesus fucking christ wept. When I got to the hotel and saw that vacant-eyed lady of the night giving her mechanical handjob, I just noped the fuck out of there.
I got cat called on the way back to the car. That was weird. I do not get cat called, as a rule. I’d always figured it’s because I’m overweight, or maternal, or unattractive, or have short hair, or walk with a purpose. Now I think it’s just the place I live, because I got cat called whenever my boys strayed from my side in San Francisco.
Anyway, we drove out and found a beach. Kiddo and I slept in the car, and my husband took his sleeping bag and curled up behind a sand dune on the beach. The waves sang him to sleep and the wind soothed the heat from his skin.
And that was our first night in San Francisco.