Bridges, new paradigms and possibilities

Apparently Mark Twain once remarked that “The coldest Winter I ever had was a Summer in San Francisco.”

It was certainly cold and foggy and moist yesterday morning as we set off to cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge.  Leaving the Lower Haight, we zig zagged across town via the Panhandle and Masonic Street and then down  through the Presidio to reach the approaches to the Golden Gate Bridge, which was completed in 1937.  

It’s an amazing feat of engineering and, looking over the side, one can only wonder at the absolute blackness of spirit which must drive people to climb the red railings and plunge to the chill 90 metre deep waters of the Narrows below.

As the fog toyed with the tips of the towers, we pedalled across the massive bridge with scores of others, and then down the other side to Sausalito, where we sought refuge in a bakery cafe and struck up a conversation with an English couple from Nottingham who were gearing up to make the return trip back up the hill and over the bridge.

We headed along to the ferry wharf and loaded our bikes onboard in the special racks which acknowledge the popularity of cycling across and riding the ferry back.

Our route back to the ferry terminal took us right past Alcatraz, and I was reminded of the family history that I’d been researching where Peter B Whannell, one ancestral tearaway, having set off from Australia with someone else’s wife, and then been run out of a Canadian goldrush settlement, enlisted in the California Infantry in 1861,  at a recruiting station set up on Alcatraz Island, and later transferred to be based at the Presidio.

We disembarked from the ferry and rode our bikes back along the Embarcadero past Fisherman’s Wharf and the milling throngs of tourists.

Our accommodation in San Francisco and Boston has been booked through AirBNB  and we’d enjoyed attending a ‘meetup’ dinner with other ‘AirBNBers’ at a restaurant in the Mission area the night before, so we’d been asked to provide some feedback and decided to visit the AirBNB offices to see what a young ‘tech startup’ looked like.

We weren’t disappointed.  This is a remarkable example of the way that the possibilities within workplaces are changing and many of the usual paradigms about a workplace are being challenged.  As we sat providing feedback to AirBNB representatives, another employee skateboarded by past the large communal kitchen where, at 12.30 each day, everybody comes together to maintain the sense of family.

We passed ‘stand up ‘ desks, and staff working at other spaces with their dog snoozing peacefully at their feet.

This visit was a powerful reminder of the fact that the world of work can now mean very different things for people and that the role we assume is part of what school is all about needs reassessment.

It will be great to include some of the imagery from this visit in my presentation next week at ISTE 2012 in San Diego to emphasise the message that we simply must move from ‘School Planning’ and have authentic conversations with community and everybody around what it might mean if we are to legitimately begin “Planning School”

After a walk through parts of SOMA, (South of Market), we headed back to Lower Haight to relax before a great dinner at Maven, a nice small bar with food about half a block away from our accommodation.

This cheery and upbeat bar was a reminder of what is possible when small bars are supported to develop and create a vibe within a neighbourhood.


We’ve now seen at least seven small bars within 200 metres of our accommodation, with lots of people going about the business of enjoying their night’s entertainment in establishments which suit their needs.





11 thoughts

  1. James says:

    I recall alcatraz as a dark place! Not quite as dark and menancing at Maitland’s Jail but lots bigger.

  2. Roger says:

    We actually made a pre-trip decision not to actually visit. My first sight from a distance was, however, seemingly incredibly familiar from so many movies etc. And, the isolation, the exposure and juxtaposition of such confinement and separation in the face of fogs and cold in the one hand, and a society exploring possibilities on the other. As indicated on the blog post it was also amazing to think of a family ancestors having been there and then stationed at the Presidio in the time of the American Civil War!

  3. Chas Charles-Dunne says:

    P B Whannell is also an ancestor of mine – through his second wife (the woman he ran away with).
    Which part of the Whannells are you tracing? maybe we can exchange notes?


    • Roger says:

      He was one of my mother’s ancestors. I have a childhood memory of a great uncle who bore Brunton as one of his middle names and have some notes and stored clippings from the Melb Age and Sydney press regarding his time in HM Customs, on the Gold Escort in NSW, in Yale, Canada, and then some other references later in India and then UK. Would also be interested to know if you know much about the wife he deserted who, I understand, started school or academy for girls in Melb and was involved in a few other matters.

      • Chas Charles-Dunne says:

        All I know is that she produced 8 children (4 and 4) by him, before their divorce. I am from the other line (Georgiana Selina Henrietta Unknown Surname), with whom he had another 4 children (girls).
        Did Maria Jane (1st wife) ever re-marry, do you know?

        • Roger says:

          I have some notes at home which indicate that she did remarry and moved from Melbourne. I’m fairly sure that it may have been to Kyneton. I’m currently in USA as you know from the blog, but will keep in touch when home and see what we can collectively come up with. Thanks for getting in touch!

      • Dr.D.C. McWhannell says:

        Roger, What happened to my reply concerning Peter Whannell? It appeared briefly but has now vaporised from this site. Perhaps you are willing to contact me directly by E-Mail? Cheers, Donald.

        • Roger says:

          Hi Donald.
          All comments should now appear. As you would be aware from the blog, I’m currently travelling in the USA and may not have clicked the Approve link in the confirmation loop for the blog. Many thanks for the contact and the further information. I will follow up when back in Australia in a week or so.

  4. Chas Charles-Dunne says:

    Thanks, Roger. I look forward to it.

  5. Dr. D.C. McWhannell says:

    Dear Roger, Please “Google”, “The Mystery of Peter Whannell alias Buchanan” on the web, read through my article and then let me have your comments. Peter Brunton Whannell is mentioned and I would welcome any further factual information about Peter B.’s family. Particularly if it might help solve the mystery of Peter Whannell alias Buchanan. Best regards, Donald

    p.s. Chas Charles-Dunne has been trying to contact me and I have recently sent him my E-mail address and await his communications with interest.

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