25 December 2008

San Francisco: Gwaneum One

Christmas 2008 was spent driving Gwaneum One back to Los Angeles. The holiday season that had begun on a warm note in Seoul, and extended to Hong Kong, ends like this - I will remember for the rest of my life.

Before starting my drive south, however, I wrapped up my Bay Area stint by driving Gwaneum One into San Francisco itself for some photo ops. The variable weather, with periodic intense showers, made it a bit tricky to take photos, but on the other hand, the deserted Christmas streets meant that I had ample street parking and no traffic jams to fight.

I've checked out of my Emeryville hotel, and now I'm ready to go. As it turns out, a Ford Festiva parked next to me overnight.

In the late 1980s, three South Korean automakers tried their hand at the US market. Hyundai brought its own design, the Excel, into the US, and sold it at Hyundai's own dealerships. Meanwhile, Kia decided to build a nice Mazda design, the 121, as the Pride, and ship the first batch to the US, to be sold in the US as the Festiva, using Ford dealerships. Daewoo did something similar; it took the Opel Kadett, named it the LeMans, and sold it through Pontiac dealerships. Of course, the Hyundai Excel was the most popular of them all, but it was the Ford Festiva that was the most practical and durable.

Times have changed. Hyundai has progressed so much that I am now driving a Genesis, a car that more than holds its own against the finest names from Japan and Europe. Kia replaced the Festiva with the Aspire, and also set up its own dealer network to sell the likes of the Sephia, before going bankrupt and becoming a Hyundai subsidiary that it is today. Daewoo left the US market, then returned using its own showrooms and models, before going bankrupt as well; now, as a GM subsidiary, it supplies Chevrolet with the Aveo.

The drive into San Francisco over the Bay Bridge was quite treacherous, thanks to strong crosswinds and dark storm clouds. Gwaneum One is lightweight for a car of its size, which is great for handling and fuel economy, but not so great when it comes to crosswinds. But even given that, its crosswind performance is acceptable. The dark clouds not only required me to use the headlights and foglights, but made the instrument panel kick into night mode.

My first photo op for Gwaneum One is Chinatown. I couldn't get the front side of the gate without illegally parking, so I had to park just inside the gate, as seen above. Pretty crummy place for a photo - even more so because everything is closed for Christmas. I had a similar story over at Washington Square Park as well, and I didn't even bother to upload the photo from there.

I proceeded to Coit Tower - the place that Bill O'Reilly wants blown up. I am so glad to be showing up in something other than a BMW.

Just below Coit Tower is Fisherman's Wharf. Here's a good look at Alcatraz, across the bay from the docks.

Normally this place overflows with tourists (and only tourists - no locals ever come here), but this being Christmas morning, it's quiet.

I had to tackle Lombard Street, of course. I crept down using the lowest gear, and got out of the car at the bottom so that I could take this photo. (Yes, I am holding up that VW just behind me.) Good thing that Gwaneum One has proximity keys, which allow me to open/lock the doors and start/stop the engine without ever touching the key, as long as the key is in my purse. It makes all those photo stops much easier.

With the help of the car's excellent navigation system, I am lining up a whole bunch of photo op locations and visiting them in order. San Francisco is the perfect place to acquaint myself with the system, due to my partial knowledge of the geography.

I brought Gwaneum One to the southwest corner of Haight and Ashbury. It's a bit too glitzy to bring a luxury car here, but at least it's a Hyundai - a working-class brand!

Gentrification of the area had recently put in a Gap at the southeast corner, but today, it was gone, to be replaced by something else.

Parked on Fulton Street, on the north side of Alamo Square.

In the distance is the City Hall, where countless gay couples were hitched in 2004 and again earlier this year. I do hope those weddings can continue soon - legally. At least, state attorney general Jerry Brown is arguing that a constitutional amendment, such as Proposition 8, that takes away existing rights from a specific group of people, is itself unconstitutional; I hope the courts will make a good decision on this one.

East side of Alamo Square, looking at the Painted Ladies that pop up on so many postcards.

The Painted Ladies always remind me of watching Full House, featuring the Olsen twins as babies/toddlers. That reminds me - I'm channeling some of Mary-Kate Olsen in my outfit today, as I repeatedly enter and exit Gwaneum One. I wore a black midthigh-length suit jacket with a tan tunic blouse, and rounded out with brand-new black cable knit tights and suede boots. Yes, it is the Mary-Kate "no pants" look, but it worked out quite well for me today.

Hate seeing that silver BMW across the street. On the other hand, in front of Gwaneum One is a Subaru (not pictured) that has lots of pro-LGBT bumper stickers. Many people would call it "fagalicious." Subaru is blatantly pro-LGBT and therefore very popular among San Franciscans.

And for that matter, San Francisco straights are even more passionate than their gay neighbors about gay rights. I love this, especially since this is something that the homophobic Third World immigrants back in Los Angeles don't realize. Back in Los Angeles, straights NEVER speak out on gay issues, period, unless it's to oppress gays.

Time to shine. Parked on Castro Street, in America's gayest neighborhood, smack in front of the Castro Theatre.

Looking down on Castro Street lined with rainbow flags.

I must, once again, make it clear that Gwaneum One and I visited Castro not to bring the spirit of the homophobic Korean-American Christian extremists from Los Angeles - the very ones who rammed Proposition 8 through - but rather, to bring the spirit of Kwan Yin, as well as those of the good people of South Korea and Hong Kong.

Twin Peaks is straight above Castro, so that's where I drove up next. The twisting hillside roads provided an opportunity to test the handling of Gwaneum One. I'll say it again and again: Gwaneum One is nowhere as seductive as a BMW, but very firmly planted and capable of matching every move.

I'm on top of Twin Peaks, looking toward downtown.

Another angle, looking toward Fisherman's Wharf and Alcatraz.

I decided that this was enough. But I didn't want to go straight home; I decided to head north on Golden Gate Bridge for a few more photo ops.

I'm at the parking area right before the bridge - the last stop in San Francisco.

To the right is a Kia Rondo. With the Kia acquisition, Hyundai is positioning its main brand as the car brand, and Kia as the truck brand. Kia's utility vehicles, including the Carens (the Rondo is the third-generation Carens renamed for the US market), have been improved, while some so-so cars have been dropped. Hyundai, on the other hand, has lost some of its light trucks that are redundant with Kia models. And even for that matter, the Hyundai Entourage minivan, a clone of Kia's Sedona, is a North America-only model, built for the US and Canadian Hyundai dealers; in the rest of the world, only Kia gets a minivan.

I have crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and entered Marin County. Here's a look back at the bridge.

And a look back into San Francisco. I'll be back again soon. San Francisco's freewheeling, tolerant spirit is something I'll forever cherish, and I am very disappointed that Los Angeles and its backward immigrant communities, working with the reactionaries of Orange County, have been steamrolling San Francisco over.

My drive ended in Concord, in Contra Costa County, 30 miles northeast of San Francisco. Of course, Concord was my home for 18 months, so I know the area well. Three years ago, I was glad to come here in a BMW, rather than the junk Ford that I had driven here during my residence. Now, I'm even more glad to be back - in something even nicer; it's even more special because between the Korean-Americans and the South Korean political establishment, I would've never considered a Hyundai during my Concord residence.

Behind Gwaneum One is the city's main square, Todos Santos Plaza. The two-story building to the right houses Concord's LGBT community center; behind it are some large buildings belonging to Bank of America.

I took surface streets toward Walnut Creek afterwards, looking for a lunch stop, even though most places were closed for Christmas. There used to be a Lyon's diner in Pleasant Hill (Lyon's is not present in SoCal, so I eat there whenever I visit NorCal), but that one's now gone. I came up empty, and ended up starting the drive south immediately.

I made my lunch/refueling stop at the village of Santa Nella located in Gustine, just a few miles north of CA-152 on I-5, and about 80 minutes from Walnut Creek. Otherwise, I kept driving nonstop. Gwaneum One's extremely quiet and comfortable, and I loved driving it. Even with the lunch stop, the high prevailing speeds - well over 90 MPH in some stretches - meant that I made my drive from Walnut Creek to eastern Los Angeles County in a mere 5 1/2 hours.

Now, Gwaneum One has almost 1,200 miles on the odometer. 900 of them were racked up in the past three days. Hyundai only specifies a 600-mile break-in period, so I did more than enough driving for break-in. Not many specifics, other than varying the vehicle speed (pretty much standard) and keeping the engine speed between 2000 and 4000 RPMs as much as possible. And all this driving is not costing me much either; I did about 24.5 MPG for the whole trip, despite the high speeds, and Gwaneum One neither requires nor recommends premium gasoline, so I only need to put in regular unleaded, which now costs $1.65/gallon (Costco) to $1.80/gallon (retail), about 10 cents more than last week but still only a fraction of last summer's prices.

I look forward to a few more drives to other places, before having to get back to full-time work after New Year's Day. I will visit Vegas after all - though it'll be a non-gambling trip.