“So it started with the immigration information bore…”

Well, I guess I should start at the beginning, then. We arrived in San Fran after a fairly uneventful flight, that was notable only for the ridiculous security hoops we had to jump through to get on it–the woman in front of us in the security line at Heathrow, for example, was carrying two bags: “Oh you can’t go through with two bags, madam,” said the security lady, before instructing her that she could only take them on if she put the smaller of the two bags inside the other one. That was fine, apparently. Then when we got to our gate Sal and I opted to hang back while everyone else queued up to get on, so by the time we got to go through they seemed to have pretty much given up actually searching people, and they were just asking everyone if they had any “matches, lighters, or liquids”. “Oh. I’ve got some matches,” said the man in front of us. “Oh no, those are safety matches”, said Mr Security. “You’re fine”. It’s nice to know the whole thing isn’t just a pointless charade, then.

The last couple of times we’ve arrived in the States it’s been through a New York airport, and it’s taken us no less than a hour to get through immigration. But San Fran was a breeze. Hardly any waiting at all, and before we knew it there were our bags rolling off the belt and we were off to the train station… where a train pulled in in front of us just as we arrived on the platform. Everything was working out perfectly, and clearly nothing could possibly go wrong.

Now, San Fran’s a big place, but I’d printed out some maps, and I figured that if we jumped off the train at Civic Center we could walk up to our hotel. It didn’t look that far, after all… Perhaps the alarm bells should have started ringing as we headed up the escalator to the sound of “would an officer of the SFPD please come to the main ticket hall… SFPD to the main ticket hall…”, but we set off anyway in the direction of our hotel through what turned out to be one of the more colourful parts of the city, with the kind of streets you might bring a film crew to to illustrate your documentary about the rich/poor divide in America. With each block our hotel seemed further away then ever, as we passed pan-handlers, druggies, and, towards the end, a strange old woman who tried to sell us some trinkets.

As if to reinforce the point, when we finally arrived at the hotel, one of the first things that the awfully cheery man at reception did was produce a map:

“Now here’s the area we don’t we you going in,” he said, drawing hatch marks over the Tenderloin, which we’d just crossed.
“Er, yeah, we just walked through that,” I said. “Interesting part of town.”
“Well,” his equally smiley co-worker pitched in “it doesn’t get much worse than that…”

Perhaps not the best first impression, but we’d arrived. It might have been a typically San Franciscan dismal, grey, foggy day outside, but we were here, at last.