Late Nights in New Orleans – Beignets & Cemeteries

So what was I up to in New Orleans when I wasn’t at the Amnesty International AGM or French Quarter Festival

Normal people’s adventures late in the evening in New Orleans would involve lots of alcohol and wilder things that I’d go into on my blog. Only I could manage to have only one small sample of wine and spend my late nights in desolated airports, parks and cemeteries, or with crowds eating pastries. . .

My late night surrealism started in Seattle. I kept getting texts (and one phone call) as I was getting ready to go from American Airlines that my 11:15 pm flight had been delayed, eventually until 1 am.

Only I could be late for a flight that’s scheduled for 1 am. I seriously misjudged how long the new light rail would take to get to SeaTac, and how long to walk from the light rail to the airport and arrived at the American Airlines ticketing counter at about 12:30 to check my bag (which they fortunately still took, though I had to wait for it awhile in New Orleans). I really appreciated that. Especially as SeaTac seemed to be closing down as I got there.

I wasn’t crazy about the extra $25 both ways to check it, on the other hand, especially given that it means the flight was $50 more that wasn’t requested on my subsidy from our local AI cluster. Charging for the first checked bag, or worse, for a carry on, is real dishonesty in pricing, and means I’ll have to research every airline’s fees next time before checking prices on Orbitz, so I know how much to add on to the “low” price.

I slept most of my flight to Dallas, waking up, as usual, in time to hear the stewardess ask “Do you want something to drink?” to someone several rows past mine.

It was dawn, with a huge, blazing, sun rising over the city when we got to Dallas. I had to wait several hours for my next flight, as it would have been too tight a connection to my next flight, and the woman from the airline who called me before I left re-booked me.

Dunkin Donuts for breakfast, with a scalding hot cup of coffee (& plenty of time for it to cool). The main thing I remember about the Dallas airport was that all their gift stores had stuffed toys that rolled over by themselves and laughed hysterically, in a human voice. Eek!

Is it just me, or are these toys totally disturbing (or maybe just totally disturbed)?

I was bumped up to first class for no extra cost with the re-schedule. The main thing I liked was that I got extra orange juice (especially after missing it on my first flight). In flight it was served in a glass (and we had one in a plastic cup before lift off).

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A Louis Armstrong statue to greet us at the New Orleans airport. After arranging for my bag that hadn’t arrived be sent to my hostel, I hopped the bus to downtown.

I wandered around downtown awhile, getting my first 3 day visitor transit passes and trying to find one of my credit card networked ATMs to avoid fees (none were open). The Canal Street area struck me as kind of rough and not so much intimidating as exhausting (actually the same feeling I have in other cities, like San Francisco, in the downtown core area these days), I also noticed there were still a number of buildings still devastated from Katrina, even in the downtown area and in the Garden District where I was staying.


I hopped the St. Charles Streetcar to the hostel, and found myself in a beautiful neighborhood.


I checked into the Marquette and told the proprietor about my bag (which he brought over to the building across the street, and part of the Marquette where I was staying when it arrived). I thought the room was nice as hostels go (and for $17 a night), a bit bigger than most, and with an in room bathroom/shower. I did find the proprietor was serious about his warning of there being little maid service post-Katrina. None in the 5 days I was there, for a room shared by 6 women. . .  Oh, well. . .and it was still pretty nice and only $17 which gave me the chance to stay a few extra nights on my own money.


I was getting pretty hungry by the time I got there, having sustained myself on the morning donut and snacks throughout the day (including one I should have known I shouldn’t eat from the airline, because it had nuts). I headed back up to Charles Street to check out the area restaurants.


I decided to eat at the Trolley Stop Cafe, a 24 hour diner, with traditional diner style food. I ordered a cup of chicken soup and orange juice, as my guts were feeling a little sensitive from all the junk food, and chicken & noodles are a safe bet. Good, if a little salty. There were regulars there, including a security guard filling in his paperwork on break. I wandered about the neighborhood a bit more before heading back to the hostel.


In the morning, I found the Avenue Cafe, and had a delicious croissant and coffee while planning my day. I had, unfortunately, forgotten, or not thought about, croissant with all their delicious, flaky crust made of butter are not such a good idea for me. I ate there all three of my non-conference mornings, and stuck to scones, if I remember right, after that.


I did some daytime wandering, enjoying the beautiful, fancy, mansions on Prytania, but with mixed feelings, as I’m sure they used to rely on slaves.


I came to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and wandered through it a bit. It takes a bit of getting used to, New Orleans cemeteries being so above ground. Sadly, some were vandalized, which I found disturbing.

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Others had fresh flowers.


So, I was in the middle of wandering though a cemetery when my gut problem hit. I really shouldn’t have had that tasty croissant. . .

I remembered the book store I passed, which seemed to be part of a mini-mall, and hoped they had a restroom I could use (and luckily, they did, in their coffee house).


Fortunately, I felt a little better, and wandered some more, over to the area on the other side of St. Charles, heading back to the hostel.


One of New Orleans shotgun style houses.

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This church had a sign for the United Saints 1st Street Recovery Project, and a nice mural with inspiring quotes.


I touched base with my hostel before heading off to the French Quarter Festival and AI Conference, which kept me mostly busy for the next 3 days (and I’ve talked about in my last two posts).

 During the middle of that, though, I was reminded of the down side of charming public transit like the St. Charles Streetcar as I and other AI friends staying at the hostel, along with our women’s dorm roommates, off to party on Bourbon St. waited, and waited, and waited for the streetcar that never came. Finally we all crowded into the cab with a nice, middle age couple (which come to think of it, means they weren’t much older than me) who adopted us all and paid for the cab! Thanks, Mom and Dad! Got to love New Orleans!

We went down Bourbon St. for awhile where the other girls, and some of the AI folks, deciding to join them in exploring. I really am not into the Bourbon St. scene. So, I and a couple other AI friends headed over toward the Hard Rock where the Amnesty event was.

Got to love New Orleans – music in the street on the way there:


Beautiful music, and it was the first time they had jammed together!


As I think I noted in the AI post, I wasn’t crazy about the loud disco music at the private Amnesty party at the Hard Rock, so I wandered out into the French Quarter of New Orleans to explore. . .coffee. . .and . . .pastries. . .

I know what you’re thinking – how Seattle, but, I explored Cafe Du Monde with their beignets and chicory coffee.


I had wanted to check out Cafe Du Monde and beignets ever since I read about them online before my trip. It was way packed during the festival and I thought night time it might be a little less crowded. It was, but only a little less. It was totally packed, but there was a table to sit down at, as they have table service.


I ordered their beignets, which are deep fried tasty treats which come in 3, with tons of powdered sugar poured over them leaving huge pile of sugar on the beignets, under them on the plate, clinging stickily to the table and falling onto your clothes as you eat them. Along with coffee, of course. I wish I could still have the recommended cafe au lait, but stuck to regular. I didn’t really taste the chicory (which I’m sure I would have if I could have had milk in it).

The beignets were pretty good, though a little bad for me with my health problem (fortunately only a little trouble from eating them, and I split my order with an AI friend on my next visit). I loved going there because I was just fascinated by how much the local folks loved them. Totally packed, day and night, all races and classes, and this, the original location is open 24 hours.

In fact, I was shocked to learn it was already around midnight as I paid my bill, and decided to walk back, given the streetcar trouble earlier in the evening (and just had one pass me about 4 blocks from the hostel).


Got to love New Orleans – I was walking by this building, after midnight, and could hear a jazz concert still going on inside.

I caught up on my e-mail in the main part of the hostel before heading to bed and  another 7:30 am breakfast at the conference hotel (with the board candidates).

Finished up the AI conference, then went to the French Quarter Festival until closing Sunday, as I’ve talked about in my previous posts. I wandered up on Magazine Street after going back to the hostel from the festival. Interesting shops including this Alligator Museum:


I also found this memorial to a victim of Hurricane Katrina, now with a thank you to the Saints for winning the Super Bowl.


The next day I had a lot of plans for places I no doubt wouldn’t have made it to anyways, and probably would have ended up with my same mis-adventure of trekking through City Park to Lake Pontchartrain too late in the evening.

After breakfast at the Avenue Cafe, I got a text from Jenny from our Seattle AI group, who had missed her flight. So we decided to meet at the ferry and go over to check out Algiers, across the Mississippi, together.


Aisha from our group decided to meet us, too, but missed the ferry we were on; so Jenny and I waited on a bench at the start of their Jazz Walk and split a po-boy Jenny brought.

I had downloaded a map of Algiers, and had plans to explore much of the town. Turns out my AI friends weren’t so enthused about walking around looking at buildings as I was. After asking some local women advice for a good restaurant to eat at (as Aisha hadn’t eaten yet), we ended up at the Dry Dock Cafe, the one visible from the ferry landing.


We took a table outside and Aisha and Jenny enjoyed some more tasty food, and I had a tasty lemonade (which they have on tap).


After that, we went on the Jazz Walk a little ways. The lamp posts are dedicated to jazz greats.

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Then we took the ferry back.

Aisha had to catch her flight. I went with Jenny and wandered about the French Quarter, including a stop at Cafe Du Monde, and wandering through some art galleries (one of which had complimentary wine that I had just a little of). 

Jenny wanted to head over to the 9th Ward, and her host where she was staying came to drive her there. I had mixed feelings, and really didn’t feel comfortable going unless I was doing something to help, as I felt I’d just be gawking. I don’t know. After seeing how some of the detestation in the rest of the city that’s still visible, maybe I should have seen how bad it is in the 9th, nearly 5 years later.

In many ways, what happened to the people of New Orleans during Katrina, especially in the 9th Ward, horrifies me even more than slavery, because this happened in our time, just 5 years ago. 

Here’s a trailer for Greg Palast’s Big Easy to Big Empty that was made a year after Katrina. I’ll link to the 3 parts on YouTube, or buy or rent a copy. To begin with, all those deaths didn’t have to happen. They ignored the evacuation plan of LSU scientists, hiring a private company of Bush cronies with no plan. The levees were build 1 1/2 feet lower than they should have been. Most devastating, the LSU scientist tells how the Army Corps of Engineers & FEMA knew at 11 am Monday the levee had breached, FEMA flew over and took pictures at 2 am, the White House knew at midnight. No one at the emergency management center in New Orleans knew until it was reported on CNN midday Tuesday; and of course, they had stopped evacuating people as Katrina had passed by. Then they didn’t let the poor people back, even in housing projects not affected by Katrina.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Maybe I should have went to the 9th. . .

I headed over to their beautiful City Park next, though, taking the Canal Streetcar.


It was gorgeous (and I know, they’re still repairing it after Katrina; there was an AI work-party before the conference).

I had an ambitious plan to walk all the way up the huge park, then a little bit further, to Lake Pontchartrain.

I walked, and walked, realizing it was getting later. Checking out the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the home turf was looking unlikely. I marveled that they had no restrooms and served nothing but water, with people using the facilities and getting a drink to take back from surrounding bars (neither of which would be allowed in Seattle, where someone stands by the door as you leave club shows, to make sure no one takes their drink out, because the bar would be in big trouble. . . I’m pretty sure restrooms are required at music venues, too. . .)


I kept heading up the park, and crossed over at one point, so I could find St. Johns Bayou and follow it up. I updated my Facebook page via texting Twitter that I wondered if there were any alligators in it. . .


It was sunset though, which should have been my real warning (and my camera does not do that sunset’s beauty justice). I walked by other people walking, jogging and riding bikes along the bayou; who were all friendly, as I found throughout my visit. Got to love New Orleans.

I kept walking and walking. It got later and later. It was dark when I got past the park and continued, first hitting a desolate stretch of unrepaired highway, which I walked around. I could see, in the dark, there was the lake, although I couldn’t see much of it. I had thought there’d be a restaurant or something. . .  The street lights were out on that stretch of lake, even. It was really eerie. Like being in an abandoned city. Oh, wait. . .


It wasn’t that scary, though. I made my way back, and there were suburban style houses I probably could have knocked on the doors of, if I wanted to. I kind of felt like I got myself into this mess, and would get myself out (and was too cheap for a taxi).

I even found the bus stop to the bus I’d planned on hopping back. It just seemed kind of late for this desolate an area, around 8:30 pm. I found a number to call the bus company on the sign, but it had a voice mail from some other business. Then I checked my Canal Streetcar schedule, found a different number, and the recording said it was only answered during the day time.

I decided to walk back. A very. . . long . . .walk. In the dark, with a few cars going by, not any people.  I hadn’t planned on spending my last night in New Orleans walking though an unlit park. I did check my e-mail messages, which included Facebook updates of the wise guy comments my friends made about my question of whether there were alligators in the bayou.

When I finally got back down to civilization, I thought of getting a drink, but the bars I passed were closed. I got back to the cemetery stop for the streetcar in time to catch the next one at 10:56 pm, which was laying over.


Lucky! I’d have to walk a long ways down for the next one.

I thought I was where I should be to get on once the driver was through with their break. . .

What more could go wrong?

The streetcar pulled away, me following, “Wait! Wait!” It kept going, abandoning me amidst all the cemeteries.


I . . . started walking. . .


I could really use a drink about now. This one was closed, too. It was only after 11. . .


Nick Cage’s cameo at the Amnesty International AGM suddenly seemed appropriate. I was in some kind of film noir.  Hope Mausoleum would be the last picture on my camera the detective played by Nick would find. . . Of course there would be the alligator in the bayou Facebook update as a red herring, but I can’t swim, and wouldn’t really jump in to check out if one was there. . .at least, not of my own free will. . .

Then a friendly kid with a dog walked by.

Next, I came across this sign, reminding me real life was scary enough for the citizens of New Orleans.


I made it down to Canal Street & Carrollton to catch the next streetcar. . . which did pick me up, even if the woman driving seemed a little surly. A group of German tourists got on.

I ended up down near the stop for the St. Charles Streetcar for my hostel with a few minutes to spare for the midnight streetcar. I stopped into a 24 hour drug store and ended up buying a pie (not a Hostess, but their local brand). I was fishing out 3 cents more I needed, when the clerk said, wait a second, there was 4 cents on a card the last customer said to give to some one else. Which was a minor thing, but after my adventure, it made my night.

The St. Charles Streetcar driver was friendly, too. A bunch of regulars got on – people who worked for the hotels and restaurants. Then there was the very drunk, and highly amusing, young couple. Ahh, New Orleans!

I was worried about stumbling around in the dark in my hostel room, as I figured I’d have new roommates and they’d be asleep; but found I was now the only one in a room for six. I could turn the lights on!

After having breakfast one last time at The Avenue Cafe, I checked out of the Marquette, stopping first at the Garden District Book Shop to find a book for the flight back. I got a short story collection, New Orleans Noir, which if I read before coming, or before my previous night’s mis-adventures, I might have been a little afraid.

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I remembered one place I had meant to visit and forgotten, The Tomb of the Unknown Slave, and decided to head over to see it in the Treme neighborhood, near downtown, just before I left.


I passed by Louis Armstrong Park, which seemed to be closed for major renovation, and looked very beautiful.

I also passed a hand bill on a phone pole to save New Orleans’ Charity Hospitals. We talked some at our Amnesty International conference about many hospitals not being opened. 

Here’s a video I found featuring Charmaine Neville on saving Charity Hospital.

More information at:


St. Augustine Catholic Church, “the oldest African-American Catholic Parish in the United States” is the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Slave.


 I felt so sad for the person in that grave, and all the other slaves for the suffering they went through. The whole concept of slavery is overwhelming. That’s why there should be more memorials like this, and not just on the grounds of an African-American  church.


Of course, the signs of the more recent horrors following Katrina, were still visible.  This is a neighborhood struggling with dignity to rebuild. Signs from the new HBO series, Treme, were up all over the city.

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Of course, I don’t have cable, so it may be awhile before I see that one.

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A rose in Treme. So beautiful, and so full of hope.

I passed by the Louis Armstrong Park on my way out, and only then did I read the sign and it dawned on me. . .


“Recovery in Progress” – they’re still rebuilding the park, 5 years after Katrina, as well.

As I had gotten off the airport bus in front of the library, once I got back to the main downtown area, I wanted to check where to get the bus back, as I still had time for the run I was going to catch. I found it loaded at the same place, and was loading. So I headed out to the airport early this time.

Po-boys at the New Orleans airport too expensive for this po-girl, so I waited until I got to the Dallas airport to eat. It was sunset, and the sun in Dallas was blazing so bright again. . .

I had a talkative seatmate, who told me all about her adventures in the early days of flying, and that there’s still part of the original airport at SeaTac.

At SeaTac, I found that the walk through the parking garage to the light rail was, indeed, very long and convoluted. I was moving fast trying to get there in time going and didn’t fully realize how far it was. Not the most convenient thing, especially if one of the ideas is to get people out of their cars.

The ride itself is rather long, longer than the old express bus, but far shorter than the local; and definitely more comfortable. Transfer at the International District station, with a short wait for a bus to the U District and I was home, and still savoring my New Orleans music, food & adventures.


Exploring San Francisco and Berkeley

I brought the rain with me to San Francisco when I was there for the Amnesty International conference two weeks ago (see last entry), although fortunately it didn’t stay around long. I emerged from the BART tunnel I took from the Oakland Airport to a warm rain.  I overheard a girl telling a guy, “. . .but I checked the weather before I left home. . .”  Sorry about that, I always seem to pack some from Seattle. . .


First thing I did after checking into the hostel (conveniently across the street from the conference hotel this year, the Hilton) and eating (at my former favorite cheap Tenderloin restaurant, sadly not as good as I remembered, nor as cheap), was to hop a cable car. 


I had bought my 7 day MUNI Visitor Passport (good on buses, cable cars & trolleys) from the booth near the cable car as soon as I got out of the BART tunnel. Still the best deal if you like to ride the cable cars like me (which are otherwise $5 for a one way trip, no transfers), MUNI Passports are currently $11 for one day, $18 for 3 days and $24 for 7 days. Another $3 for a system map is a good idea if you’re also planning on taking the buses.


I passed the strike against the Hyatt I mentioned in my last entry on the conference (where two of the striking workers spoke), going through Chinatown to Fisherman’s Wharf.

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On my second trip of the day via cable car, I had forgotten it wasn’t a good idea to get caught in the long line later in the day on a Friday if you had someplace to be like an Amnesty International conference opening night event. Fortunately, there was a one man band, unfortunately playing for very little in tips, to pass the time in line at the cable car turnaround at the end of the Hyde Street line.

Bonus!  I ended up on the running board on the way back!  Always a fun way to ride.  Unfortunately, I ended up riding backwards because the running board was packed, which gives me extreme vertigo.  In the words of U2: “Hello! Hello! This is no place for vertigo. o. . o. . .” I terrified both myself and the young guy next to me I kept reassuring I was alright.

Made it to the conference opener at Glide Memorial Church in one piece (see previous entry for details), and, of course, rode the cable car one more time that evening. 

Laura Me Johnny Foleys

Photo by JoJo Tran

After the long day at the conference Saturday, I went out to eat at Johnny Foley’s with Laura and JoJo from our Seattle Amnesty International group. The food was excellent and filling (which made up for it being a little expensive for my budget).

After dinner, I hopped the cable car again, this time with Laura and JoJo.  We stopped at the Musee Mechanique, which unfortunately was just closing, but we did get to put a couple quarters in Laughing Sal (video above from my 2006 trip).  We also wandered down to Pier 39, where we could hear and see in the moonlight the sea lions in all their noisy splendor.

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Sunday after the conference, I walked over to Japantown to see the Peace Pagoda. After that, I stopped at Taqueria el Sol back near the hostel for a delicious lunch, then the Irish Castle Shop, where I found a cool Irish t-shirt on sale for $10.

Me at Berkeley Campus 2

UC Berkeley Gate: Photo by JoJo Tran

After that, I met up with JoJo, and we headed to Berkeley via BART to see our friend Michelle, a former AI Group 4 member who just started school at Berkeley on a scholarship this fall.  It took us a long time to drag Michelle away from her studies, so JoJo and I explored downtown Berkeley, the campus and Telegraph Ave. and took a lot of photos.


UC Berkeley library

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Rasputin Music on Telegraph Ave.

We finally connected up with Michelle on Telegraph Ave., and went to Cafe Mattina, a restaurant JoJo had spotted that turned out to be a good deal for starving students (and tourists). Michelle and I had wine for $3, while JoJo had a huge salad with a slab of homemade bread for $3.50.

JoJo's Salad

Photo by JoJo Tran

We talked for a long time about human rights, college and life.  The cost of living in Berkeley has become totally ridiculous, and adds to the stress of student life.  Michele found a fairly affordable apartment, but told tales of students splitting rooms (dorm style, not housemates like I had in Eugene) and still paying $1500 each a month! Eek. Of course, now California just raised their college fees by 32% and students are occupying buildings on both the Berkeley and Santa Cruz campuses (with the NY Times showing photos of cops in riot gear surrounding one of the Berkeley buildings I just walked by a couple weeks ago).

JoJo got some more of that good homemade bread from the Cafe Mattina and shared it with me on the way back to the BART tunnel. We also stopped for $1 ice cream for JoJo in downtown Berkeley (which I sadly can have no more, but enjoyed vicariously).


Monday morning I took the cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf again and wandered through the Maritime Park, checking out the ships and machinery.

Then I went back to Pier 39 to see the sea lions in the day light.  Wow! They had a population explosion since I was last there two years ago, as you can see from the video above.


Hopping the cable car back, I was thinking of getting off in North Beach to go to a cafe, but stayed on, only to hop off near the Cable Car Museum while it was stopped there awhile, going to the Gallery Cafe across the street first.


In addition to all the old cable cars and equipment (and video from the 1800s on a continuous loop), the Cable Car Museum is also the gear house, which runs the whole cable car system (shown above).


Then I took the cable car to Sacramento Street and hopped a bus to the neighborhood near China Beach.  I walked by a lot of ritzy houses and followed the signs to the public beach.  I dipped my feet into the ocean.  Ahh!  It’s cold and rainy in Seattle tonight, but it was warm and pleasant at the beach in SF a couple weeks ago. 


After that, I walked by some of the fancy houses again until I reached the Lands End Trail in Lincoln Park.  It’s a beautiful walk, and one of those places you can get away from the city while you’re still in the city.

I walked way down to Mile Point Beach off the trail, which as you can see above, is a much rockier beach than China Beach, and had a good surf going.


I hiked all the way to the Sutro Baths and went down to explore them. Only the ducks bathing in them these days.


I hopped a bus going down Geary Street back to downtown. 

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I was hungry when I got back, and I thought I’d take advantage of staying at the hostel and cook.  While I was thinking of going to the Whole Foods in SOMA, I thought I’d check out the shops at the Ferry Building first.  I found a pre-seasoned chicken breast cut for $2 and also got myself a roll at the bakery to take back and fix in the hostel kitchen.

After checking out and locking my things in a locker, I went over to the Amnesty International office with JoJo on Tuesday morning and picked up batches of AI literature for our local group back in Seattle.  I went back and left those in the locker, traveling light as I hopped the cable car again. 


I took the Mason Street line to it’s Taylor Street turnaround, then headed back to North Beach (Little Italy).  I didn’t walk up Coit Tower this trip, but proceeded down Columbus Ave.  I had coffee and a cookie at Caffe Roma, where local neighbors were hanging out, some using the free wi-fi.

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I wandered up Green Street because it looked interesting walking by a number of restaurants and the 101 Music store above and discovered Grant Ave. in North Beach which I had missed on my previous trips (being more familiar with it’s Chinatown stretch).


I walked by more businesses, including another record store and an Irish pub, and proceeded on toward Chinatown.


I walked by the famous City Lights Book Store and walked through their alley checking out the murals on City Lights and a building on the other side of the alley as I cut through to Chinatown.

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I was getting hungry, so I started checking out the menus as I walked by, stopping to browse at a shop and coming out with a small dragon statue on my way. 


The cartoon above the New Woey Loy Goey Restaurant menu amused me and brought me back, saying I know there’s good food at this restaurant because Chinese people were eating there.  Right on both counts.  I believe I was the only one not of Chinese ancestry in the restaurant, where noon hour conversations in Chinese were going on around me.  I sat at the lunch counter where the menu behind it was all in Chinese except the prices (but, yes, I ordered off an English menu, and knew what I was getting).


I stopped at a fruit stand for desert, then headed off toward the cable car line for what I knew would be my last ride.


I met up with JoJo and gave him my MUNI pass as he was staying longer than me (and the MUNI pass doesn’t work on BART anyways). Then I went back to pick up my luggage from the locker and headed back to the BART station on Powell to the Oakland Airport and my flight home.

Amnesty International in DC – Igniting Hope (& Keeping Cool)

I survived Washington, D.C.!  I just don’t seem to travel well these days, and had a rough start for my first day and a half of last weekend’s Amnesty International Annual General Meeting

First, my flight was a little late, and it took longer getting into DC from Dulles then I thought it would.  Then I proceeded to get lost wandering around National (OK, I know it’s called Reagan now), thinking it would be an easy walk from the airport subway stop to the nearby conference hotel, the Hyatt Regency Crystal City (and later found it was the seemingly further Crystal City stop that was the walkable one.

So, I managed to miss not only the Town Hall Meeting and Welcoming Plenary (with Amnesty International Secretary General, Irene Khan as the featured speaker), but even the Welcoming Reception.  I did meet my Amnesty friends from Seattle and we had food and drinks.  It was warm, and my friends were happy to be away from chilly Seattle.  I don’t know, it just seemed smoggy to me, and I found I had forgotten just how badly I do with the heat.

Unfortunately, my hostel room was hot, and even though it brought to mind my experience at the Portland one on Hawthorne, following the Pearl Jam concert last summer; I was tired and just went to sleep.  In the morning, following a too early shower (hoping to make the 7:30 am breakfast with Irene Khan at the conference hotel) thought at first I had food poisoning (well, Julia did find a fly at the bottom of her beer where we ate) and went back to lie down a while longer.  Aaron was eating a hearty $2 breakfast downstairs when I made it down there, though.  So, shortly after, it dawned on me, that it was the heat again. 

I made it for the last half hour of the session on the China Olympics (fortunately, both Aaron and Larry were already there).  I liked the banners we can borrow advocating human rights in China.  In addition to our annual participation in the Tiananmen Square Massacre commemoration, we are thinking of doing an Olympics walk-a-thon around Green Lake locally.  What is kind of tricky about Amnesty’s position, is that, as usual, we can’t take part in boycotts (and that is not something we’re calling for, although other allies are).

Our focus plenary started with a film about one of Amnesty International’s freed former Prisoner of Conscience, General Gallardo from Mexico, and an intern from AI who was working tirelessly on his case and met him after he was freed.  Then Fatou Bensouda, Deputy Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, spoke.  This year’s Ginetta Sagan Award was then presented to Betty Makoni who founded the Girl Child Network in Zimbabwe to train girls to succeed in school and survive, or, hopefully, resist sexual abuse and rape.  We then heard via satellite, from former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, followed by Emi Maclean from the Center for Constitutional Rights on what’s happening at Guantanamo and efforts to close it.

I unfortunately was still feeling ill from the heat and skipped the local groups’ lunch, just sitting in a chair in the common area and drinking a lot of water. 

I made it to the second workshop session, most of it anyways (fortunately sitting near the door).  It was on waging “lawfare” in the war on terror (which is what the government has accused the lawyers fighting for human rights in the so called “war on terror” of doing).  Panelists included Lieutenant Commander William C. Kuebler from the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, counsel for Guantanamo prisoners; Ben Wizner, from the ACLU and Margaret Satterthwaite, Director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice.

I was still feeling ill from the heat, so I went back to my hostel to lie down awhile (and found the window was open and, mercifully, a cool breeze was blowing in).  After a few hours, when it cooled down, I went off, hoping to make the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights before it closed.  Alas, my guidebook was wrong and it had already closed at 7 pm, not 9.

I headed down towards the Capitol.  Along the way I passed the Newseum and looked at the display of newspapers outside (one for each state).  I also checked out what appeared to be a country/gospel concert in the park near the Capitol, which I could hear all the way down the street.  Next I headed toward the White House.  When I finally found a place to view the front of the White House (from quite a distance these days); we had thunder and lightening, which seemed appropriate given the bunch in there (non-Amnesty comment).  Did I say I was missing the rain?  Actually, I was with the heat (I’m sure the only one in our group who was happy to see it).  The Pearl Jam version of The Who’s Love Reign O’er Me came to mind with Eddie wailing the lyrics, as I headed back to the hostel through rainy DC streets.

Next morning, I took it easy, much as I would have liked to have gone to the 7:30 Board Candidates Breakfast Forum, I really didn’t have the energy to get by on that little sleep and made the $2 breakfast downstairs in the hostel instead.  I made it in time for the Resolutions Voting Plenary (which actually finished in time, even a little early, in spite of there even being an emergency resolution).  I had time to hit the group sales room, and bought a hat before lobby day training started.  Since I was new to this, I went to one of the Lobbying 101 break out sessions.  Then back to the ballroom where the session ended with more inspiration from Ginetta Sagan Award winner Betty Makoni and AIUSA Director Larry Cox.

One final chance to catch some of the sights of DC that evening, so I toured the monuments by dark.  Starting with the Washington Monument by twilight.  Next was the WWII Memorial at one end of the Reflecting Pool (unfortunately, too late at night to really see the pool).  I wandered a long way in the dark after that, hoping to find the Vietnam Memorial, which I realized once I got near the Lincoln Memorial and saw buses of high school students heading over to it, was off the path I had taken.  I decided to go to see Lincoln first (who was very impressive).

Heading back to the Vietnam Memorial, I came across the statue of the three war weary soldiers first.  I couldn’t help thinking when I saw another group of high school students gathered around it on the way back, that they were about the age of those who were sent off to Vietnam (and some still, to Iraq, yet another senseless war, though at least there’s no longer a draft).  It was too dark to see the actual memorial, although I finally thought to photograph the roses and other items left, and could see parts of the monument in the flash.  So many roses.  A song about the senselessness of the fighting in Northern Ireland came to mind – There Were Roses by Tommy Sands (I have the version from the album of the same name by Mick Maloney, Robbie O’Connell, Jimmy Keane and Liz Carroll on record and cd – available for download on E-Music):

There were roses, roses
There were roses
And the tears of the people
Ran together

While the situation is different, the part about the orders isn’t:

I don’t know where the moral is or where this song should end,
But I wondered just how many wars are fought between good friends.
And those who give the orders are not the ones to die.
It’s Bell and O’Malley and the likes of you and I.

Now we have all the chicken-hawks, draft dodgers in their own, respectable way, from the “W” Bush administration sending off another group of young men and women to kill and die.

Across on the other side of the Lincoln Memorial is the Korean War Memorial, a ghostly battalion of troops (especially at night, although my camera could not do them justice).  Very moving and disturbing, especially as one reminded me of a Veteran for Peace friend who served in Vietnam

After that, I headed off around the tidal basin, to what I thought would be my last memorial of the evening, the Jefferson Monument.  I walked around the circle until I came to: FDR in a wheelchair?!  I found the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, a series of alcoves and waterfalls and quotes, and statues – of a man listening to a fireside chat on the radio, a soup line, FDR with his little dog, and Eleanor as the first American delegate to the UN.  All about the Great Depression and WWII, what times he led this country though; and what times my parents (both gone now) lived through.  It gives me hope if we made it through all of that, we can make it through our current, scary era.  Of course, a President who’s a real leader would be helpful. . .

Finally, it there was the Jefferson Monument, with Jefferson, larger than life, and quotes.  The one about slavery seemed a little ironic, though, as he never freed all his own slaves. 

Then, I went back to the hostel and ironed my dress, to get ready for the next day, which was lobby day.

We were told if it rained on lobby day we would meet at the Amnesty International DC office, so Aaron, Larry and I hopped the subway and got there – early, it turned out, they were just setting up. Julia met us there.  We had breakfast and more instruction. A group photo was taken in the round, to be stitched together (the non-rainy day plan was the Capitol steps).

It turned out there weren’t enough buses planned for people who had 10:30 appointments (it being after 10 by the time we got back out – and having just been warned to never be late) and those of us from Seattle and Olympia were trying to figure out how to hail a cab in time.  Larry Cox actually stopped by, concerned about what was going on.  They decided to let us ride in the aisle of the bus (it being a short trip anyways, time being the real issue, not distance).

We got off the bus and Leanne, our Washington State Legislative Coordinator from Olympia, showed us the way to Jim McDermott’s office before going off on her own visit to Representative Baird’s.  We met with Anne Grady, one of McDermott’s Senior Assistants; who asked us a lot of questions about the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA)we were asking for him to support and co-sponsor (once it got to the house).  We also asked him to sign on to a “Dear Colleague” letter calling on Mexican authorities to take action against police officers who raped Barbara Italia Mendez and others who were arrested for taking part in a demonstration in support of street children.   We got news last week that Rep. McDermott has signed the “Dear Colleague” letter; and today that IVAWA has been introduced in the house, within 48 hours of the lobby day visits.

We met up again with Leanne to debrief after our meetings and then went back down in front of McDermott’s office to take a Seattle delegation group photo. 

After that, we went back out into the rain to deliver IVAWA petitions I had gathered at an Ani DiFranco concert I tabled for AI just before the conference.  After a side trip up the steps of the Supreme Court, we stopped by Senator Cantwell’s office first, then headed over to Senator Murray’s.  We didn’t have an appointment with their staff, as visits to their office weren’t on the official AI agenda (turns out we were targeting specific, mostly Republican, Senators to co-sponsor the bill for the greatest chance of bi-partisan support); but their staffs were friendly and let us leave information on IVAWA along with the petitions.

As we had a member of Representative Reichert’s district who signed up, but couldn’t make it to lobby day; Leanne was going and asked us if we wanted to go along.  Aaron, Julia and I decided to go with her.  It especially seemed like worth trying, given the violence against women issues, as he was the one who caught the Green River Killer and is has worked to help on domestic violence issues at a local and national level.  We met with Lindsay Manson, from his legislative staff, who seemed receptive and also asked us a lot of questions (though not quite the grilling we got in McDermott’s office; maybe the difference between meeting with Senior staff and a younger staff member).

We then ate at the house cafeteria, before heading back to the Amnesty International office by cab (and got an Eritrean cab driver, probably one his few fares who actually knew where his country was; sadly because, as he mentioned, they persecute journalists and in fact, I had just had a petition out at Ani’s concert for one of them).  We debriefed and everyone talked about their experience.  One interesting fact from one delegation was that there was a “shadow” letter for Barbara Italia Mendez from some of the Republican’s.  Just my private speculation, not AI’s, but it can’t hurt to have the Mexican authorities hear concerns from both US parties, even if they can’t all agree to sign on to one letter.

I was worried about getting to my flight in time, having read online something about luggage not being checked for Southwest Airlines at Dulles Airport if you weren’t there 45 minutes before the flight (or at least, that’s what I thought it said); which would have meant losing most of my toiletries (I never used to check my luggage until the liquids rules).

I headed out into a downpour, back to the DC hostel, to the lockers for my luggage (and snuck back upstairs to change, not wanting to travel in a dress).  I thought I was making good time and headed off to where I thought the 5A to Dulles stopped downtown, not realizing I had mixed up NW and SW and found myself lost, with little time left.  I went to the subways to try to find the stop for a train to the Rosslyn station where I could transfer.  Got totally lost with the first instructions and asked again in the next station I ended up in.  I wasn’t going to make it within the 45 minutes, by the looks of it (although, at least I did have time at the transfer point to track down a cup of coffee; actually, a Starbucks, which I never go to in Seattle).

I was, in fact, late, with my luggage at Dulles.  It turns out, though, only that they couldn’t guarantee it would get there when I did, and I might have to go back to Sea-Tac Airport the next day to pick it up.  I got to my flight and it didn’t look like they were boarding yet; but turned out they had already boarded. 

After getting in to Midway Airport in Chicago, I found I had a call from a member of the Eastside (King County) AI group about tabling with me, if we got to do the Los Lobos concert on that Wednesday, which was still, well, up in the air (having only just gotten permission to table their shows, it was kind of last minute for getting permission from the venue).  Fortunately, I got through (as it would be after 11 pm by the time I would be able to call again).  Fortunately as well, maybe, our flight was delayed, and I actually got to eat.    I got into Seattle around 11:30 (and found my luggage had arrived as well), took a getting scarier all the time late night run of the 174 into downtown (I will be relieve when we get light rail out to the airport), and the bus home (nodding off every stop as I got closer).  Fortunately, I had the next day off as well (although the Los Lobos concert wasn’t to finalize until the next day, just hours before the show).

Seattle Delegation:


For more photos, see my DC photo album, or the subset of the AGM (without all the tourist photos).

More information on our local group, Amnesty International Group 4 at:

If your in Seattle, consider stopping by one of our events or meetings. 

If you live somewhere else or are a student, you can check out online if there’s a group near you in the US or around the world.


San Francisco Trip

OK, I’ve blogged the Amnesty International conference, now for the rest of my San Francisco visit. 

I flew in (way too early) with Aaron and JoJo from our Seattle Amnesty International group.  Hopped BART (with the AirBART connection) from the Oakland Airport (rates are always cheaper flying through Oakland).  Aaron went off in search of wi-fi and the place he was staying.  JoJo and I had reservations at the hostel downtown, but had to wait to check in, so stashed our luggage in a locker next door and headed off to eat at the Shalimar Restaurant, an Indian-Pakistani restaurant with delicious food and affordable prices (and mostly an Indian and Pakistani clientele).  We liked the food, and kept coming back!

Then we got our passports.  No, not the ones you fly with, but the ones that get you around on the San Francisco MUNI transit system, including buses, trolleys and cable cars.  The latter being especially important, as (1) both JoJo and I love riding the cable cars and (2) they are too expensive without a passport – $5 one way, no transfers! Yikes!  Gouge the tourists!

JoJo and I hopped a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf.  We ended up on the end of the Hyde Street line, near the Aquatic Park and Ghiradelli Square (alas, I can’t eat chocolate anymore, except I can get away with an occasional chocolate chip cookie, although I did stop at a Ghiradelli store at one point to get some for my co-workers back in Seattle).  JoJo wanted to see what was further up the hill, which turned out to be Fort Mason, the former Army base.  We wandered around the park and took some pictures of the statues, and talked about going further and hopping a bus back, but we didn’t have a transit map yet.

So, we decided to see what was down at the wharfs below, which turned out to be Fort Mason Center, a collection of non-profits using the space, many of them art related (although, I especially loved that the Ploughshares Fund was one of the organizations there, rather appropriately).  Especially fun and enlightening to wander through was the SF MOMA Artists Gallery (lots of pictures of that).

After that, it was getting time to go check in to our hostel rooms, so after looking at the long cable car line, we asked if they had a MUNI system map at the booth and I bought one.  One thing I neglected to thoroughly search for before I left was coffee houses in the areas we would be visiting, and after wandering around trying to find an alternative to Starbucks with no luck (which, now that I can’t drink the fancy drinks, having trouble with milk and milk substitutes, I’m stuck with their bitter regular coffee, so it’s not only an anti-corporate thing) decided to find a bus to hop back.  We ran into Aaron while waiting, then JoJo and I hopped an already packed bus and discovered the adventure of a SF rush hour.  People kept pounding on the bus and berating the driver, even though the bus was totally packed, with people even riding up front of the line most bus companies don’t allow.

After checking in at the hostel, we did find time to take our two cable car commute (transferring to the California Street line) to the conference hotel, the Holiday Inn on Van Ness, and check in for the conference, running into Aaron again, who walked went with us to the Justice Without Borders movie (see last entry for details of this and the rest of the conference).

JoJo and I walked back to the hostel that night through the Tenderloin, where we had been earlier that day (ironically, photographing the police station, among other things).  It was really jumping (and I was really jumpy).  It’s a bit beyond our Pioneer Square area in Seattle, even.  There were about 3 fights ready to break out on every block.  The parking lot across from the hostel, and outside my window was also jumping, sometimes menacing, others laughter, I’m not sure if people just like the echo or what, but to the wee hours of the morning.

After the conference the next evening (and lunch at a nearby Indian-Pakistani restaurant, dinner at a Morrocan one, both with fellow Amnestistas), JoJo and I were heading back to the hostel by cable car and ended up with another group of AI folks in search of a drink, in a trip that took us through Chinatown (very pretty at night) and North Beach (which I always love) to a brew pub (wine for me, beer, and for that matter, soda, due to the bubbles also on my can’t drink list).

Sunday, the conference was out at noon; and JoJo and I had until Tuesday evening at that point (staying a couple extra nights on the hostel on our own dime, well, a bit more than that, but affordable).  Our first expedition was down Market Street, past Lotta’s Fountain to the Ferry Building.  Behind the Ferry Building was a statue of Ghandi, and great views of the Bay Bridge

It was the wrong time of day for photographing something on the eastside of the city, however (although we did), so we were going to go across town and catch the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset.  Right!

We hopped a 1 across town, and waited awhile (after just missing one) for our transfer to the, 29, I seem to recall, to the Golden Gate.  As we waited, we watched sunset on the weather vanes of the nice neighborhood we were in.  Night was really closing in by the time we got there.  JoJo got one usable photo of the bridge, I see online.  You can’t really see it in mine, including the great one of me that JoJo took with my camera, smiling with a pitch black background.  There’s a bridge behind me, honest!

Thinking of nothing better to do, we ended up getting off at the cable car line on the way back and going to Fisherman’s Wharf again, deciding to walk across the touristy kitsch to catch the other line on the way back.  We found a lot to look at though, although the wharf going to the ships being closed at night (and in the early morning when we returned, another one we never got around to).

Wandering through JoJo spotted a museum sign, and the word free, and we entered another dimension, or at least time.  We found the Musee Mecanique, an old time arcade, with Laughing Sal at the entrance, an entirely scary, maniacal, mechanical, laughing clown (and I’m someone who doesn’t usually find clowns scary).  I’ve got photos and video of this one (the little girl’s response is priceless).

Of course, I did not get out of the arcade for free, but it was a lot of fun for a few quarters.  There was that kind of creepy, carnival feel to many of the antique attractions.  Old time music boxes and player pianos as well (have video of a couple of those as well, all shorts from my digital camera).

After that, we wandered on up to Pier 39.  Still a few stores open, but most of them and the carousel closed down for the night.  Outside we found followed the barking sound and watched, amazed at the large gathering of seals in the moonlight.  Alas, too dark for a picture (at least without a much better camera), we decided to return in the morning.  I couldn’t help thinking we should have had Aaron and his two beagles with us (and, indeed, a dog on the pier did join in the barking).

We started the next day at Fisherman’s Wharf again.  All the seals were still there, as noisy as ever.  Lounging on the piers (or boat launches?), occasionally sitting up and bellowing, fighting each other, sometimes even diving in the water.  They’ve found paradise (I’ve heard the fishermen are not so enthused)! 

Inside the courtyard for Pier 39, they started the carousel for the day as well (a double decker), and we wandered through the shops, including an Irish one that sold hats made in China (where all the hats at the hat store were made as well, saving me from spending money on yet another one).

Then we hopped the trolley (those are the ones with the overhead cables, the cable cars run on a system underground) to find the Filbert Steps to Coit Tower.  Fortunately, JoJo stopped a lot to take photos, given how steep it was and how much more out of shape I am, so we took it at a leisurely pace.  A lot of pretty flowers and trees on the way up.  I saw a few of the famed Parrots of Telegraph Hill while waiting for JoJo after the steps.

I took a lot of photos of the WPA murals inside the tower (having a low light setting on my camera), and we decided to pay the $4.50 to go to the top (the only admission paid during our visit, we did a lot for free).  Took a lot of photos there as well.  Then on the way out, we had the flock of parrots fly in.  I don’t have a good enough camera to do them justice, but did get a few, at a distance, before they noisily flew off to somewhere else.

Then we walked down to North Beach, the Italian neighborhood, and the beautiful Saints Peter and Paul Church.  While in North Beach, I suggested we go to our favorite pastry shop from our trip two years ago (again for an Amnesty conference) – Stella’s.   Aaron joined us two years ago for breakfast, complaining of no wi-fi, and we tried pieces of different, delicious, pastries.  Unfortunately, there was less I could eat this year, so I tried the cookies and was amazed at both how good they were and how affordable (and was able to buy coffee as well).

After that, we walked back downtown, and caught the BART (unfortunately, not covered by the bus pass) to the Mission District, and especially Balmy Alley, with all those beautiful and meaningful murals.  We took a lot of photos there as well, in fact I ran out of room on my camera.  JoJo loaned me a 256 media card, but I filled that up just before we got to Mission Dolores.

First, though, we ate at the Taqueria Vallarta near Balmy Alley.  I had a delicious $1.50 taco, which JoJo started with as well, then sampling a tamale and burrito.  I had one of the juice drinks (frescas?) as well.  Good, and uncarbonated.

We decided to walk through the Mission District to Mission Dolores, but found a lot more murals along the way to stop and take pictures of, including the San Francisco Women’s Building, which I managed to take some photos of, thanks to my low light setting (and my further lightening with my photo editing software when I got home).

You guessed it, once again, it was too dark, this time for Mission Dolores, even though I deleted a few photos from the disc JoJo lent me to try to take one. 

That night, after I bought a back up, 1 gig disc; we decided to go out to an Irish pubJohnny Foley’s, near the hostel, was, unfortunately, packed, and I didn’t feel like standing (no music had started yet, although there was later when we walked by).  So, we went back to the hostel and I checked online and found the address to The Irish Bank, not far from the Chinatown gate, it’s set on an alley with an outdoor courtyard we sat at (on a nice, warm, evening; although the night before it did pour rain on us). 

On the way there, JoJo took pictures of me trying to help a group of English ladies (“from the countryside”, they explained to JoJo, in their accents that reminded me too much of an old Monty Python skit; then again, they’re probably still talking about how funny JoJo and  I were) find their hotel and where to catch the cable car once they were settled. 

JoJo did one better on the way back, helping a couple young ladies with a lilt find the Irish Bank, delighted that they asked, and showing them the way through photos on his camera!  They must be still talking about us, too.

Final morning on Tuesday, so we put our extra bags back in a locker and headed back to see Mission Dolores in the light.  JoJo wanted to go in as well (I felt cautious), and talked to the priest, who was from the Phillipines (having asked about JoJo’s ancestry first, and where we were from). He said we were welcome to look around and take pictures, and pointed the way of the courtyard and the old Mission

So after a little more time in the Mission District, we headed back downtown, and decided to eat at the Shalimar one more time.  It was only 11:30 and it turned out they didn’t open until noon, so we wandered around, including into an art gallery and another Irish shop, this one more authentic, with clothing made in Ireland.  I bought a bookmark with my mother’s maiden name on it (finding I come from marauders on that side as well, I’m Scandinavian on the other side, so maybe Vikings).  Then there’s me!  Oh, well, I guess I don’t want to do any marauding anyways.

After lunch we have a mission before we go.  To make it to the Golden Gate Bridge in the daylight and take some close up pictures (it is in some shots from Fisherman’s Wharf, fortunately. . .) .  So we hop the bus on the transfer and as we take the turn toward the bridge, a thick fog descends.  You can’t see the bridge at all.  So, I previously having whined about wanting to make it to the beach, suggest we try for China Beach, which looked like it would be below the fog line (nearby Baker Beach being socked in), and was close to the more frequent #1 we needed to get us back downtown in time to catch BART to the airport.

We walk through this beautiful neighborhood, finally hearing the ocean and looking down over the fence.  Then we head toward the road down, only to realize it’s gated, and discover the beach is closed, still, for cleaning the oil spill (we saw part of it near Fisherman’s Wharf the first day).  We took photos through the fence of the beach and the people in white cleaning it up.

I wanted to stop for one more cup of coffee before we headed back, and to use the restroom.  I found the restaurant I saw from the bus, Angelina’s Cafe and Deli.  Alas, they don’t have restrooms (and I don’t think another cup of coffee a good idea until I use one), so I was ready to head back, until some one told us we could use the one in the laundermat next door, which we both did (perfect for our perfect wash out of a last trip).  I ordered coffee and a cookie.  JoJo went across the street and got us some healthy bananas at the market, and then tells me it’s already 4!  So I have to gulp it down and run for the bus.  A bus again packed, even though near the start of it’s route (2 passed us by going and we still ended up on a packed one, all were following one after another).

So, transfer to the cable car for one more ride downtown, picked up our luggage, went down to BART (JoJo took yet another great shot of a musician who looked a little like Carlos Santana playing under an iPod advertisement at the BART station.  Back in Seattle, JoJo’s still taking photos of me and everyone else, tired and waiting for the bus!

Links: my photos , JoJo’s photos, my videos