I left my BART in San Francisco

A couple of weeks ago, Meaghan and I had the opportunity to visit San Francisco. I was speaking at the Women 2.0 conference on behalf of a company for which I have done work in the past. We decided that since I’d have to fly down for the conference that we may as well make a long weekend out of it. While Meaghan had visited before this was my first time there and I was keen to see the sights. We packed an incredible amount of stuff into just a few days and had a great time in the process. The only really stinky part of the trip (literally) was our ride on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) from our initial arrival at the airport to the hotel. It was thirty minutes trapped in a train that smelled like the inside of a used diaper. Ewwww! We decided to take the hotel shuttle on our way home. So much for public transport on that one.

Fortunately the hotel room was great and a long shower helped to scrape away the muck and the memories. We were staying in the Hotel California and couldn’t resist sitting on the bed singing the song together and then bursting out in giggles. I think it was a mixture of relief mixed in with hysteria from an early morning departure at 4am.


Saturday – Walking and Shopping
After checking into the hotel and getting our bearings we decided to get some lunch and then go shopping. We spent most of the afternoon wandering around, looking in shop windows, and taking in the city sights. We gradually made our way out to the Port of San Francisco on the Eastern edge of the city. There we found the UC Davis marching band giving a performance to a huge crowd so we stopped and listened for a while.


Fortunately the weather was beautiful. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and consequently we avoided the rain all day; an occurrence I’m led to understand is quite fortuitous in a San Francisco February. The streets were lined with open air markets, performers, and preparations for the Chinese New Year parade. As fortune would have it the parade route ran only a few blocks from our hotel. It was a great surprise opportunity to take part in unexpected festivities.


Unfortunately, since it was February neither of us planned for sun lotion and I managed to burn the top of my head pretty well. I must have looked like a matchstick walking around with a whiter-than-white body with this crimson dome on top. I hadn’t anticipated that San Francisco in the winter would yield sunburn weather. Aloe time!

Sunday – Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown
On Sunday we decided to hike up to Fisherman’s Wharf at the North end of the city. We had originally planned to take the trolley up the hill and save our legs. However, the fates had other plans and conspired against us. A trolley broke down just two blocks South of our stop, holding up the whole line. We waited for a short time but then decided there was nothing else for it and set off up the hill. Fortunately the weather was fabulous once more and after just a short huff and a puff we crested the rise into Chinatown, where we were planning to spend our afternoon. After the shorter downhill stretch we arrived at Pier 39, where we shopped, saw the sea-lions, and had a fantastic meal at Neptune’s palace overlooking the bay and affording a view of both Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. A good meal, a glass of red wine, and a fine view are an outstanding way to spend a Sunday!


After lunch we researched the trolley routes on Google Maps and found a way back up the hill into Chinatown in order to see the New Year decorations. The streets were packed with all manner of vendors, musicians, and awesome decorations and we spent a couple of hours just taking it all in. We slowly meandered back to our hotel, once again graced by a clear sky and glorious weather. I was much more careful to avoid getting sunburned this time.


Monday – Alcatraz
For Monday we planned a tour of Alcatraz. The weather turned but since we’d be out on the water soon anyway this was the right day for it. The ride out over the bay took only thirty minutes and provided some superb opportunities for pictures as we approached. I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to arrive in a less comfortable fashion half a century ago. The prison buildings make for a foreboding approach.


The audio tour was very worthwhile. Alcatraz has plenty of stories to tell and the tour was executed superbly. We spent a couple of hours being walked through all of the areas of the former penitentiary, hearing from former inmates and prison guards about the escape attempts, living conditions, and unique sub-culture that developed while the prison was in operation. Definitely not a place I’d want to be on anything other than a guided tour. Despite obvious attempts to clean the place, everything still felt dirty and stale. I can’t imagine what it must have smelled like sixty years ago with a couple of hundred inmates confined there.


The D block “isolation” was a very sobering place. The punishment cells were small and blocked out all light. It would quickly drive a person crazy. Not somewhere you’d ever want to be, but I can understand why they were effective at keeping order. I picked up a tin cup (replica prison issue) as a souvenir at the gift shop and we lined up at the dock for our return journey. Alcatraz was an impressive place to see and another item checked off the life list.


Tuesday – Conference Time
The conference went very well. LeAnne and I were pitching to a couple of thousand people in front of a panel of Bay Area venture capitalists who would be judging our presentation. We evidently did a good job since the crowd responded very well and we were answering questions well over our initially allotted time. After the pitch we spoke with the press and conference members for a few more hours, answering all manner of technical and business questions. I got to meet several people whom until now I have only known online including Tara Hunt, an entrepreneur who’s advice has been very valuable over the years.

Stuart Thompson with LeAnne Ozaine Smith                       Stuart Thompson with Tara Hunt
(photos taken by Michael O’Donnell of ZatPhoto.com)


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