Christmas at Union Square…a bit off topic, but…

There are no ‘buts’. However, I don’t take lightly my decision to post photos and words of my visit to Union Square in San Francisco. It’s not as if I’ll be vilified, chastised or dragged into civil court if I post a entry that has nothing to do with mountains. If I want to I could write on any topic under the sun, for example….

A money saving tip:                                                                                                           Instead of spending thousands of dollars for an 80″ high-def TV, just sit closer to your 40″ Sony. If you sit even closer, it’ll be like an Imax theater, but any money you  save on the TV will later be spent on corrective eye surgery.

I promise I won’t take many such liberties with the patience of my readers. Besides I don’t want to try to repeatedly think up a bunch of new subject tags.

My tree - 2010

It is the holiday season, and I know it’s a severe stretch, but I did do a lot of hiking around the downtown environs of San Francisco yesterday. I’ve had the good fortune this past year to experience an abundance of wonderful moments in the mountains of California and share them with you. So although it is a bit off topic, I share photos of my day in SF. Merry Christmas.

December 7, 2011 – San Francisco, CA

I started my day early, driving across the Bay Bridge from Alameda to drop my 4Runner off at The Garage on 10th Street near Harrison to replace the illegal catalytic converter that a Hayward mechanic installed two years ago (a long story worthy of its own blog entry). With my ever present cup of coffee in hand I make the brisk 20 minute walk to Union Square looking cool, dashing and forbidding in my pea coat, Oakleys, stylish facial hair and impassive countenance (still working on the humility). On some stretches south of Market, even at 6’2″ and 195 lbs., I feel like a target especially with a Nikon on one shoulder and a Tumi satchel on the other. Walking down Market Street, once I cross 5th, I feel semi-safe.

My plan is to spend the entire day downtown, absorbing the holiday spirit. Realistically, I don’t plan on buying many gifts. The few I need to buy this year are best purchased online for my 3 little Austin nieces, or at specialty stores not found downtown. I stop first at the Apple Store on Stockton to drool on a laptop or two. My home computer is an iMac that I bought in 2006 which means it’s as obsolete as a Ford Pinto. I continue up Stockton and cross O’farrell to look at the San Francisco SPCA’s dog & cat display in the Macy’s windows. The first view of two kittens playing has the desired effect of melting my heart and causes me to drop $5 in the donation box. I make my way to the next window and see three chihuahua puppies up for adoption. They are part of the same litter and as with all the animals, available for adoption. Each year I tell myself, that if I had a yard for them to play in, I’d adopt a dog immediately. The kitties are cute too, but I’m allergic.

Chihuahua puppie at Macy's

Further up Stockton to Union Square where I buy a chocolate croissant at Cafe Riulli and sit at a table near the ice rink sipping the rest of my coffee, do some work on ‘The Mount Whitney Journals’, fend off a panhandler or two, and watch the sun move behind the Macy’s building.

Sun & Macy's

It’s still early, just past 10 a.m, so there are only a handful of skaters circling the ice. I’m not much of a skater myself. On the ability and grace scale, I’m closer to Adrian from Rocky than Brian Boitano. So even though it’s just $15 (including skate rental) I resist the urge to take a chance on a broken ankle or a separated shoulder. Then I’d really have to find non-hiking topics for a while. Instead I take some photos of the huge, perfectly symmetrical 80-foot faux tree. I find it a challenge to not look like a tourist at moments like this.

From the north side of the square, I jaywalk across Post Street and do my own panhandling at Williams-Sonoma where I score an ounce of free hot cocoa and three grams of peppermint bark. I backtrack to Neiman-Marcus where I head downstairs to the men’s department to use their bathroom. As a shopper with a notoriously small bladder, it’s imperative to know the locations of the best public restrooms. NM is my favorite (roomy & upscale). Also notable: Ralph Lauren store at Crocker Galleria (upscale) and the Nike Store (what it lacks in style, it makes up for in convenience). Sorry no photos available.

Creature of habit that I am, I visit Gump’s to look at their ornaments and Christmas decorations. Even though they aren’t my favorite type of ornaments, I see a camera ornament that catches my eye. The über-fussy salesperson rings me up and manages to look stressed and exasperated even though no one else is in line. Wrapping it and putting it in a box takes 20 minutes, so by the time I walk out of the store, I’m craving more coffee. I decide on a Blue Bottle Coffee run. I walk down Maiden Lane to Stockton, then to Geary and left on Powell towards Market. As I walk along the cable car line, I see the sun shining through a smoked glass awning.

The wait for coffee at the Mint Plaza Blue Bottle is mercifully short. I buy a drip coffee and rich chocolate cookie, find a seat out on the plaza and sip my coffee while I make some calls and send a few texts. Afterwards, I walk east along Market trying to decide whether to look for niece-related items at the Disney Store or go to Grant’s to smoke a cigar, finish my coffee and write more about Mt. Whitney. I opt for self-indulgence.

At 1:30, I stumble out of Grant’s over-caffeinated and smelling of cigar smoke, realizing that since waking up I’ve only had coffee, pastries and cookies, and peppermint bark crumbs. For about 10 seconds I consider just grabbing a hot dog and soda from a sidewalk vendor, but decide instead to revive an old tradition. I go to Kuleto’s on Powell where I used to go each Christmas for about 6 years in the 90’s. 12 years of working in Italian restaurants caused me to overdose on Italian food, and it’s taken me about that long to recover. I sit at a table in the dining room and eat a fantastic meal of duck breast, braised cabbage, black pepper polenta and roasted fingerling potatoes.

After lunch, I call my mechanic and receive word that my truck is ready. I take BART to Civic Center and walk the rest of the way. On the corner of 10th and Howard, the late afternoon sun is beaming off the rooftop crosses and cupolas of St. Joseph’s, a fenced and shuttered Catholic church. I’ve never been inside, but it looks like it was a beautiful place once upon a time. Now it looks sad and forlorn.

St. Joseph's Church

I return downtown to meet a friend for dinner. It’s almost 5:00 when I walk out of the O’farrell Garage with still an hour to kill before meeting her. I walk back to the square to see the tree and decorations by the light of dusk.


Union Square

A quick epilogue: Walking to dinner at 7 p.m, my friend wanted to see the puppies and kittens in the window. I saw that there was only one chihuahua left of the three I saw in the morning. The SPCA volunteer told me that one had been adopted and that another was meeting with a prospective owner that very moment.

Last Chihuahua Standing


About victorvolta

I am a freelance photographer/writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. I grew up in the very suburban city of Santa Clara. Education: San Jose State University (class of '84) BA degree in Journalism with concentrations in Photojournalism and English. Favorite Foods: Ribeye steaks and Stan's Doughnuts (separate plates, usually). Favorite Drinks: Strong gourmet coffee and Trader Joe's Blood Orange Italian Soda (separate cups).
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2 Responses to Christmas at Union Square…a bit off topic, but…

  1. ewa says:

    Quite a hike in a hilly SF. So how many miles was that? And talk about wildlife, cats, dogs… 🙂
    I have a better money saving tip. Ditch the TV. We’ve been living without one for 3 .5 years and don’t miss it one little bit.
    Great pics, as usual.

    • victorvolta says:

      Ewa, as always thanks for the support and comments. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I wasn’t even on the hilly parts of San Francisco & the cats & dogs were actually just kittens and puppies. I did get yelled at by a deranged guy who cussed me for not getting out of his way on 5th Street…I almost spilled some coffee, so that was the extent of my danger. Hope you had a great birthday, by the way!

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