26 February 2011

A week later: the SF Adventure

They say it may snow in San Francisco. Maybe it already has. Thank the Almighty I missed that!

The rain was quite enough, thank you. Granted, my favorite city is wonderful in any weather, but after getting into my cycling rain gear and hiking several blocks to the bus stop, I decided I was already wet and cold enough. At that moment, huddled in the bus shelter against a chilly wind, the thought of icy rainwater dripping off the back of a rented helmet and running down my neck was just numbing. So I picked myself up and headed back to the hotel.

Walking back down Lombard Street, I saw the doggies through a window. It was a doggie daycare -- and it hit me how much I missed my girlies. Had to stand a couple of minutes and watch the big dogs play. When I broke away, I ducked into the front door and introduced myself. (Didn't want them to think I was a doggie-stalker or anything...) Leaving, I noticed the small dogs had a playroom of their own; while I waited for the traffic light to change, a Yorkie and another little guy hopped up in the front window to watch me. The Yorkie barked, of course. If you ever need a true watchdog...

It was a neat little place -- check them out here.

Back in the room, I watched TV and crocheted a while, then decided to indulge in one of my favorite day-off pastimes: a nap. (Side note: basic cable in San Francisco is definitely nap-inducing. No HGTV that I could find, and no really good movie channels, either.) It was still raining when I woke up, but I only had one more night in the city, so I changed clothes, called for a cab, and headed to Fisherman's Wharf.

Flashback: On my 20th birthday, I had just moved to the Bay Area. Back in those dark ages, you could legally drink at 18, so I'd had plenty of time to get good at it. And I'd always loved good food in good restaurants, although at 20, my definition of "good" was a little looser than it is now.

So July 3, 1974, the First Ex-Husband (then not yet even the father of my firstborn) took me to dinner at #9 Fishermen's Grotto on Fisherman's Wharf. I had red snapper for the first time ever, and I had wine -- and I may have had a Mai Tai or two. Seems like those may have been my favorite back then. And last weekend, after reviewing online menus for several Wharf restaurants, I decided the time was right to see if Fishermen's Grotto was as wonderful as I remembered.

The Grotto hasn't changed, I don't think. In fact, I'm pretty sure they have the same wait staff as they did 36 years ago... I'm quite sure the menu is very close to the same. But this time, they did have a blackened red snapper on the specials menu, and I decided to get that instead of the pan-seared red snapper with lemon-butter sauce. Silly me. Blackened isn't bad, mind you, but it doesn't do anything special for the distinctive texture and flavor of the snapper. Next trip, it's back to basics for me.

The steamed vegetables were a little over-steamed (though the carrots were still right tasty), and although the menu said mashed potatoes, my fish came with the default side of pasta with a light Alfredo-ish sauce. The only Riesling on the wine list was a little far to the sweet side for my taste. Overall, not a bad dinner by any stretch, but being three dozen years older and having seriously redefined "good," my second impression wasn't quite as "WOW" as the first.

Nevertheless, the next table over was occupied shortly after my arrival by a dad traveling alone with two kids -- I'd guess the boy was about 6 and the girl maybe 8 or 9. It did make for an entertaining meal. The boy was intent on having lobster, the girl was having trouble making up her mind, and Dad was tremendously patient with both of them, and not at all condescending. He struck me as a right good fellow who clearly operated on the assumption that his kids were his intellectual equals, just in need of a little guidance to become remarkably civilized humans. As a matter of fact, they were very civilized for as young as they were -- no shouting, arguing, shrieking, or bad manners, which I've observed is getting rare these days.

We conversed briefly, and I learned they were on the way from Boston to Hawaii to visit Granddad, and they'd been delayed in San Francisco. It's a good place for an unexpected layover. Dad had the right idea -- he just reframed it as a surprise side trip, and they made an evening of it. Most of the time, hassles are hassles only if you define them as such. I hope the rest of their vacation went as well!

I walked from the Grotto back up to Ghirrardelli Square, got a cup of hot cocoa, and called a cab back to the hotel. And waited. And walked a little. And waited. I was huddled under the awning of the building next door to the Ghirrardelli Chocolate shop on Beach Street, still waiting, when a young woman walked briskly by. She was wearing jeans and a chunky cardigan, but the sweater was a wrap style and the belt wasn't holding it together very well. She had shopping bags, no umbrella, and she looked a bit cranky. I couldn't blame her -- I had on a heavy jacket, and I did have an umbrella, and I was still chilled a bit. She ducked into a restaurant a couple doors up, and I thought, "Okay." Then a couple minutes later, she came back out and started back the way she came. She still looked cranky.

I'd love to know what that was about.

But right after she paced past me, she turned and came back and asked, "Are you okay?" I was a little startled; yes, I'd walked farther than is good for my knee these days, so I was tired, and it was cold out, but basically I was fine. Maybe it was just that I looked like her mom, only wetter and colder. (I think she was probably around Mitch's or Hillary's age.)

I told her I was just waiting for a cab, and she said, "Is it coming?" Well, yes, I hoped so -- I'd called Yellow Cab, and the dispatcher had said they'd send someone, so surely they'd show up soon. "Well, maybe," she said. Turns out Yellow drivers pick up a lot of strays on weekend nights, and the call-in fares often end up waiting a while. She was about to give me another number to call -- a local cab company -- when she spotted one coming around the corner of Hyde and Beach.

"Wait," she said. "This is how you get a cab on a Friday night in San Francisco." She shifted her shopping bags all to the left, squared her shoulders, and charged between parked cars into the edge of the right driving lane of Beach, and waved a mighty wave. The cab stopped (Metro Cab, I think), and the young woman opened the back door, turned to me, and grinned. "That's how you do it!" she said.

I was tremendously grateful. I would have gladly shared the cab with her, but she said she was only two blocks from home. Whoever she was, she gets serious karma points from me. A completedl San Franciscan encounter.

Incidentally, the Marina Inn is only a $5-$6 cab ride from Fisherman's Wharf. I paid the Yellow Cab driver about $6.50, the other driver about $4.95. That's not including tip, but it's definitely an affordable ride -- another good reason not to bother paying for parking.

Even after a warm bath, I wasn't able to sleep Friday night. Reorganized my luggage for the flight home, put in a wake-up call as a back-up to the alarm, tried reading a boring book, tried watching TV, tried crocheting and reading some more... I was just too wound up. I dozed off and on for a couple hours total between about 2:30 and 7 a.m.

What a trip, though. What a city. I wish I could have bottled a little of that positive, adventurous energy to bring home; I could probably make it last until the next trip, if I was careful with it.

18 February 2011

Thursday was exhausting...

After driving all day Wednesday in high winds and heavy rain, we discussed the options and decided Sean would drop me at the San Francisco airport car rental facility and go the rest of the way himself. It's a relatively short hop from there to Redding, interstate all the way, and his buddy was meeting him there to drive the truck into the mountains -- since he has experience driving a truck in the mountains in hairy weather conditions, and Sean definitely does not! And I didn't want to attempt it in a rental car.

So instead, I checked in with Enterprise and got a cute little black Nissan Versa for the rest of the day. My only grumble is that the major rental companies (Enterprise just happens to be my favorite) is that they don't have hourly or half-day rates. I just wanted to drive back to San Jose, cruise around my old neighborhood, and come back. My downtown hotel didn't have parking, and the closest garage is about 4 blocks away. And street parking in the big city is something else I didn't want to do in a rental car.

But customer service was -- as usual -- great, and the car was nice. I've been wanting to drive one for a while, and I liked it. Handled very well, even in the weather, and had a surprising amount of interior space. Looked to me like there was probably room for long-leggedy boys in the back seat, even!

Thanks to the new phone, I have GPS now, so the old house wasn't hard to find. Not sure I could have done it without the lady in the phone, though; I don't think our old exit actually exists anymore. We used to come in from the west, driving down another north-south avenue to Santa Teresa Blvd. Yesterday, GPS Lady directed me to Bernal Road, which took me in from the east -- and there are about three more streets now on that side of the subdivision than there were 35 years ago.

Otherwise, the neighborhood hadn't changed much at all. Still small stucco houses, middle-class and well maintained. The development hadn't gone up the hill in the back, and after driving around for a while, I found out why. It's now part of a huge park and wildlife preservation area.

In downtown San Jose, I quickly found my way to the Museum of Art, which currently has an exhibit of Robert Mapplethorpe's portraits. It was late -- half an hour from closing by then -- so I didn't have time to sit and ponder on my favorites. Still, they were beautiful and inspiring. So many of them were taken with a Polaroid camera -- it's unbelievable what the man was able to do with one of those gadgets. Everyone has seen his portraits of Patti Smith by now, lovely images that show a softness Patti isn't exactly known for -- a Patti her best friends see, and probably not many other people. The ones of Madeline Kahn, Debbie Harry, and Isabella Rossellini are gorgeous, many of the others were striking in other ways -- but the one that touched me most deeply was the self-portrait from a few months before his death. Mapplethorpe was by then very sick from HIV, and he looked much older than he was. But he was still beautiful. And his eyes, staring out of his pale face against the dark backdrop, were direct and intense and unafraid.

After that, there was only a quick search for a gas station (with one adventurous excursion through was turned out to be a very deep puddle!) and then back to the airport to drop off the car. I headed for the Air Train dragging my suitcase (thank God someone thought of putting wheels on them!) and toting my purse, briefcase, and crochet bag, and quickly regretted not spending the four bucks on a luggage cart. Then, just as I collapsed on a bench to catch my breath -- there sat a cart, abandoned at the foot of the escalator! I snagged it, and the rest of the hike was much easier.

Quickly caught a shuttle into the city. If you have to pick a shuttle service in San Francisco, I recommend Advanced. The driver loaded my bags for me and the other passengers, took us on a very efficient route to our various hotels, and actually made a trip back from several miles up the road to bring me a bag I'd left behind his seat! The call to his dispatcher hadn't caught up to him yet, but as soon as he saw it, he knew where he'd dropped the passenger who'd left it, and he turned around and came back.

The Marina Inn, at the corner of Octavia and Lombard Streets, is charming. Definitely a "bed and breakfast" atmosphere, so if you're looking for upscale modern, go with whatever chain you like. But the location is good -- just a few blocks from Fisherman's Wharf, and with some interesting little restaurants in easy walking distance -- and the desk staff are very helpful and personable.

I had dinner at Silver Clouds, up the street a few blocks. The owners are Thai, and they do have some Thai dishes on the menu -- mostly specials. The shellfish tom yum looks really good, and I may have to go back and get some. :-) But last night, I was worn out, and I wanted protein. And the bulk of the menu is good old American protein! I went for liver and onions, which came with a nice little salad, wonderfully crusty, warm bread, and steamed vegetables and a baked potato.

Back in the room, I conked out pretty quickly, and I think I slept for about 10 hours, then dozed for a couple more. And now it's noon, and I'm off for my San Francisco adventure!

(Yes, I'll post those pictures! But not right now... Things to do! Places to be! YIPPEE!!)

17 February 2011

Road trip!!

Amazing. It's been three months since I posted anything here. Yes, I've been writing -- my fingers to the bone, actually. ;-) I'm several chapters into a novel, as well as a non-fiction piece I think my cyclist friends will enjoy. But blogging -- not so much.

So where am I right now? How about Stockton, CA? Last week, almost on the spur of the moment, I asked for six days off, starting two days after I made the request -- and I got a "yes!" My son was in the process of loading up to move to northern California, and I decided to help him drive. And it really was a quick decision; I think I considered it for about 30 minutes after thinking it might be a good idea and before hitting "send" on the request e-mail.

We spent Friday and Saturday running errands, tying up loose ends, and loading the truck. (I actually had very little to do with that. Procrastination worked in my favor. ;-) We left Sunday morning around 10, with a 12-hour drive planned for the first day.

Twelve hours turned into about 14, what with pit stops and weather and all. We had a good room with comfortable beds, though, waiting in Oklahoma City. Monday morning, Sean slept in for a bit while I had breakfast, rode the stationary cycle in the fitness room, then swam a few laps.

Monday through Wednesday were supposed to be 8-hour days on the road. All three turned out to be 10 or more. A word to the wise: If you find a discrepancy between your printed directions from Google Maps and the very patient voice from your GPS, go with the map directions. I'm just sayin'... Not that the GPS isn't great; our "nice lady who lives in the phone" saved us quite a bit of time and frustration this afternoon after we zigged once when we should've zagged! She got us back onto the correct highway in a matter of minutes, and I mean single-digit minutes.

(BTW, I got a new phone last month -- a "smart phone" that I think may be smarter than I am. I mean, it can get me un-lost in short order, and I still haven't figured out all the things it allegedly knows how to do. All I know for sure is that the GPS and internet access alone are worth the price -- I haven't used either that much outside of this week, but if you're going to be traveling much, a smart phone could be invaluable. Just remember: GPS works on the fly. Google Maps starts with the least stressful route available. You can always reroute from there.)

Monday was Oklahoma City to Albuquerque. Another long drive, another good room. (Another word to the wise: If you use it properly, Priceline can be a godsend.) Look for pictures on Facebook.

Tuesday was Albuquerque to Needles, CA -- a LO-O-O-O-O-O-ONG drive. And today was Needles to Stockton.

Tomorrow, we head north. At the moment, the plan is up in the air. Plan A was to swing by the San Francisco airport for a rental car, then heading on to northern California with Sean leading the way. If that holds up, I'll help him and his buddy unload the truck, then head back to San Francisco -- at least 8 hours on the road for me. But the weather is looking iffy at best, so we may go to B or C. Plan B is for me to follow Sean as far as Redding, with Josh getting a ride down to meet us and drive the truck -- and Sean -- the rest of the way in. Plan C is for Sean to drop me off in San Francisco and head to Redding and points north on his own. It all depends on the weather.

We'll leave Friday's plans for Friday. Right now, it's late, and I have work left to do.

A reminder: Check Facebook for pictures and details!