Thursday, June 30, 2005

Seattle v. San Francisco

Family road trips--especially our family road trips--create inside jokes that will last a life time. I have visions of future Thanksgiving dinners with Lucas and his wife and children and Kaley and her husband and children sitting around the dining room table while we tell the family stories. I picture Kaley's husband and Lucas's wife with odd and bored looks on their faces because the humor will not be fresh enough for them to even begin to understand. For example, all I have to do is mention "Elk Crossing" to my kids and the response will be uncontrolled laughter followed by comment after comment about elk sunning themselves on the Oregon beaches or surfing. See, you'd have to have been in my car.

As a result of stepped up security, students can no longer obtain their study visas to France via the mail. They must appear in person and the nearest French consulate for us is in San Francisco. We loaded up our smallest car (because of gas prices) with most everything we owned except, of course, Dave's cell phone, my cell phone, and the camera and off we went. The entire visa process took 20 minutes but that is because I went over the long list of necessary items with my son several times. We have lived in France and they can be picky; one "i" not dotted properly and they send you out the door which happened to a UC-Berkeley student while we were there. Naturally, all he needed to do was take a 20 minute Bart ride to get his missing photocopy of his student ID...but for us!!??. Needless to say, I was a little sweaty and nervous during the 20 minutes at the French Consulate in San Francisco.

I did not come back with pictures but I did come back with some unscientific observations comparing two great West Coast cities. To be honest, we loved San Francisco and as my son put it, the city is like Seattle on steroids; it just has more of everything we have:

1. Size
Seattle: Our city is more intimate. A visit downtown always results in meeting someone you know. Downtown is just puny compared to SF.
SF: The downtown area was huge with many more upscale stores and big buildings--much more cosmopolitan. People were friendly and polite but not uncomfortably friendly--it was good.

2. Breads and Bakeries
Seattle: We copied San Francisco's sourdough and chowder in a bread bowl. I believe we have two bakeries worth visiting.
SF: Bakeries were on every street corner and we feasted on Pain au Chocolats and scrumptious cinnamon rolls daily as well as chowder in a bowl for lunch. But, SF copied our Starbuck's on every corner.

3. Street People
Seattle: We have our share and I am not denying this is a problem.
SF: Yep, SF has more. I do believe we saw every variety of mental illness on the streets of SF. Seriously, I felt like crying a couple of times.

4. French Restaurants
Seattle: We maybe have two worth a dining experience. (This is unscientific but I believe Seattle has more Asian influenced restaurants in the non- Asian parts of town than SF does.)
SF: I do believe there were Bistros everywhere and we took advantage of a couple of them and were rewarded with wonderful food. We even had quenelles that were better than those we had eaten in Lyon.

5. Public Transportation
Seattle: OK, this one pisses me off. We have busses that get stuck in traffic and the Sounder train that runs toward downtown once in the morning and returns once in the evening with two stops in Everett and Edmonds. And our monorail goes two blocks.
SF: Wow! Bart is terrific and easy and wonderful.

6. Weirdness
Seattle: We do have our nude bike ride parade in Fremont but this is once a year.
SF: Weird things happened around every corner. For example, my husband and I were just walking along enjoying the sights when a turquoise car veered around a corner and the entire body came up off the wheels and tipped to the side like it was falling off the frame. I exclaimed loudly, "Whoa! What is that about??" A business man dressed in an expensive suit heard me and replied, "This is San Francisco and we have weird things here!" To which my husband answered, "Yes, you do. We are from Seattle and we have never seen such a thing." Off the man went laughing with cell phone attached to his ear.

7. Waterfront
Seattle: Seattle's Pike Place market beats out SF. It is original, raucous, smelly and old and I love it. We actually shop there for seafood and produce.
SF: The ferry building is pretty and clean and it has Scharfenburger chocolate. SF has a lot more steaming crab stands which we had to avoid since Kaley is allergic. But I love those sea lions on Pier 39 and could watch them for hours.

8. Universities
Seattle: UW's campus is prettier than UC-Berkeley. When the clouds clear, there is a gorgeous framed view of Mount Rainier with a huge fountain in the foreground.
SF: UC-Berkeley has more Nobel laureates and it is harder to get into. When the clouds clear, there is a gorgeous view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Campanile Tower.

9. Tours
Seattle: We have a trolley that runs along the waterfront and it is kind of lame. But we do have our "Ride the Duck" Tours on an old WW2 amphibious vehicle. I noticed SF copied us on this one. A similar tour passed us by on the street and I yelled a little too loudly, "They copied us!" The driver heard me. Oh well.
SF: The cable cars are totally cool and they actually take you where you want to go. They can cause family issues when everytime the bell clangs, the Mom sings a little too loudly "Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat!"

10. Fishing
Seattle: We have to go to Alaska to get the really big salmon.
SF: According to the SF Chronicle, the salmon fishing was great and yielding some big fish to my husband's complete astonishment. Nah, our fishing just has to be better. After all, the orcas think so. SF does not have our orcas. (And, our Seattle Times and Seattle PI are way better than the Chronicle).

San Francisco caused me to have a little city envy, I'll admit. But, when the Emerald City appeared as we drove north on I-5, I realized that for people born and raised in Montana who actually like to wear Gore-Tex and have access to wilderness with bears and cougars within 45 minutes of our front door, Seattle wins.