Return home with a San Francisco layover

After the soaking we had last night and the subsequent late night drying and packing all of our things, the 4am alarm clock across two phones and a watch was the last thing either of us wanted to hear.

We dragged ourselves out of bed, packed the last of our items, loaded our luggage into the car and checked out. When we got to reception, the person I assume was attending the front desk was standing out the front smoking. He asked what room we were in, took the key, and we set off for the airport. On four hours of sleep, it seemed like we would never get to the rental car return and Rhi freaked out thinking I was driving the wrong way into the carpark; they have these nasty spikes that do some serious damage to your car if you do this. This led me to slam the brakes on a little too hard, before continuing on in the right direction.

After dropping the car off, we lugged our four suitcases inside and prayed that they’d all be under weight. Unfortunately, even 2.5 hours before our flight there was quite a lot of people checking in. The moment of truth arrived after about half an hour of weighting, where we found that yet again, the luggage scale we bought read under weight. A quick shuffle of a few items, and our bags were checked.

Luckily for us, we were early so the LONG line through security wasn’t too much of a concern for us but we must’ve been in it for 45 minutes or so, listening to the TSA agent drone on about people with liquids in their bags. As many times as he repeated himself, they were still pulling people aside for having assorted liquids in their bags. I’m just glad we got through the security check before they had to stop checking. Apparently they have a limit on how many people they can individually screen before halting everybody.

Once through security, we grabbed some beverages and head to the gate where we only had about half an hour to wait before boarding for Phoenix, the flight being pretty uneventful. On landing, flight crew initially informed us that the plane was refuelling and would be the same one going onwards to San Francisco, so we could sit tight to avoid having to reboard. A few minutes later, however, the crew informed us that we had to change planes, which meant a brisk walk to a different terminal. This was barely a minor inconvenience, but the airline sought to board us as priority guests - ahead of even the families with children, and first class passengers. Suck it!

The flight to San Francisco was pretty much entirely ascent and immediate descent, landing in some pleasant weather - perfect for exploring the Bay Area after a quick change out of trackies into shorts. I had planned ahead for the later flight and cold Adelaide weather!

I made contact with the chap we were hiring the Model S from and he informed us that he’d meet us in just a few minutes. A few minutes became a little longer, and it turned out he had gone to the wrong area. We jumped into his Tesla, and he explained the features and controls for the vehicle as he drove us to his work where we’d go our separate ways. As we approached his work, I asked what he did for a living and it turned out he was a senior software engineer at YouTube’s San Bruno offices, having previously headed up their kids division, and now in one of their more secretive divisions. Unfortunatley, he wasn’t willing to part with any secrets.

Even after explaining the controls, it took me a couple of goes to figure out exactly how to move the gear stick to get the car to reverse from the park he’d put us in but we were soon on our way. The electric car takes a little getting used to. If you take your foot off the accelerator, for example, it will automatically start braking in order to restore energy to the batteries. Getting the timing of that right so as to avoid using the actual brake to come to a complete stop was something that took a few hours to get just right.

From YouTube’s offices, our first stop was Oracle Arena. This was about 45 minutes drive South - across the San Mateo bridge, and then North to Oakland. We got to the only open gate at the venue and was met by security who immediately placed our accent and pointed us in the direction of the carpark we could get into to take some photos. The Arena was hosting Ed Sheeran, so was the carpark was largely fenced off when we were there and folks were busy around the outside.

From here, we head back across the Bay via the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge to check out Google’s San Francisco offices. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really signed at all and there wasn’t anywhere to park nearby, so we made do with merely looking at the building as we drove past onwards to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Along the way to our next destination, the GPS locked up, which led me to realise that the instrument panel had also locked up. Something that would happen a couple more times during the day, right near our destination and leading us to a little running around in circles. Not wanting to risk getting lost, we pulled in at the St. Francis Yacht Club, parked, and got out for a stroll along the Crissy Field East Beach for some photos of the bridge and Alcatraz in the distance. Sadly, there wasn’t enough time for us to make the trip out there in person.

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island

We jumped back into the car, with a hike down to the Apple Campus next on the agenda. At this point, the software in the car had sorted itself out but now we couldn’t get a cell signal, so we deferred to our phones for navigation. Of course, the GPS was confused where we were in a stationary position and we went right when we should have gone left, then it got totally confused for a bit. We wound our way up a hill and ended up much closer to the Golden Gate Bridge than before, only it was now completely obscured by cloud.

Soon we were on track to head down to Cupertino and the Apple Campus - a casual 45 minute drive. Unfortunately, it was also 4pm and there was a lot of stop and start as we made our way South through Golden Gate Park and throught what I can only imagine are some of the more expensive areas of the region. The drive down the Junipero Serra Freeway was pretty smooth and free flowing and gave me a good opportunity to enjoy driving a car I don’t foresee owning in the near future.

As we neared Palo Alto, Google Maps indicated a patch of five or so miles of road that were thick with traffic. We got there and, sure enough, we had to slow down but there was no obvious reason why. No exits and no broken down cars or accidents, just slow traffic which slowed our journey a little. As We reached the Apple Campus, the car’s instrument panel and navigation locked up a second time but by the time I realised, I had already driven past the entrance to the Apple Campus and we were forced to make a u-turn and come back. Getting out of the car, it seemed that the temperature had jumped a little and we were in the mid-30s. Wasn’t stopping me from getting my photos, however.

Next, we head ten minutes down the road to check out Apple Park - the site of Apple’s new spaceship campus and visitor centre. What was not clear from Google Maps was that the visitor centre was still largely under construction and the campus itself was hidden from ground level by the garden built up around its perimeter.

Apple Vistor Centre

Apple Vistor Centre

Our next stop was to be the Googleplex - Google’s main offices in Mountain View, but not before a quick stop at the Computer History Museum to supercharge the car. Can you believe there was a lineup to charge? 30 minutes of charging bought us about 180 miles of driving, so not to be sneezed at, but certainly a little longer than your average stop at the servo. Sadly the Computer History Museum was closed when we got there, but Starbucks was across the street and provided us some refreshing iced tea while we waited.

A quick five-minute drive and we were at the Googleplex, where I parked in what I later discovered was an employee-only parking area but given it was after 5pm at this point, I didn’t think anybody would mind. I took a few snaps and were off to our next and last destination - Facebook!

We started to feel the strain of big-city peak hour traffic again, it was slow going but manageable. We found ourselves backed up behind a huge line of traffic but luckily they all wanted to turn right, so as soon as there was enough room to squeeze by we passed about 100 vehicles and got right to the front of the left-turn lane and into the carepark of the offices of Facebook and Instagram, the latter of which was not obviously signed.

From Facebook, we took the Bayshore Freeway back up to meet the car’s owner at YouTube San Bruno, who would then get us to the airport with about three hours to clear security and await boarding.

YouTube's San Bruno offices

YouTube's San Bruno offices

Given we were on a flight that departed after 11pm, once we found our gate we grabbed food - Rhi a salad and me a pretty exceptional burger for an airport. As boarding time neared, and after almost two hours of waiting, I reached into my bag to extract my iPad and headphones for the flight, only to find I had misplaced my iPad. Incredibly annoyed with myself, and resigned to having to use the inflight entertainment system for the 14 return journey we boarded the plane.

I don’t know what I was worrying about, really, as I was asleep before we taxied out of the gate and woke up 9 hours later. I spent the last couple of hours into Sydney watching inflight entertainment; thankfully I had tracked down a Bose store in Florida who happily replaced the airline adaptor for my headphones that broke on the flight over.

Delicious airport burger

Delicious airport burger

Landing in Sydney, we were met with delay after delay. We had about 1.5 hours to get off the plane, grab our bags, clear customs, transfer to domestic, and board our return flight. Unfortunately, I think Sydney had more planes arrive at once than they could manage. We waited half an hour at the baggage claim, watching the same few bags endlessly make their rounds. From there, we were another half an hour in the declaration line - better safe than sorry with all that bacon jerky. FYI, 1kg is the limit, but they let me take my extra 200g and cautioned me not to do this again.

By the time we reached the domestic transfers, we had 15 minutes till boarding and the line was way, way, way out the door. I approached the staff and they said that we weren’t going to make it and that we’d simply be rebooked. Luckily, the next flight was only 1.5 hours later, which left us enough time to get through the line and transfer to the boarding lounge about 30 minutes before boarding.

At this point of the trip, the 2 hour journey to Adelaide breezed. We landed and were greeted by Rhi’s dad who was our ride home, collected our bags and after complaining about the cold the second the doors opened - pleading with Rhi to let us turn around and buy a ticket back to somewhere warm - we head home via Coffee by the Beans so I could grab some coffee to keep me awake the rest of the day. The first, and really only coffee, I’d had in about three weeks.

It’s good to be home. It’s not good to be cold.

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