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.

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