My plan was to ride the trolley and head down to Fisherman’s Wharf. The weatherman had said it was going to be a sunny day and the forecast glowed through my window. Fisherman’s Wharf is full of tourist traps, kitsch, kiosks and barkers. I usually disdain such destinations, having been in San Francisco before, but I wanted, no yearned, to smell the ocean. I needed that saltwater smell like an addict needing a fix. It’s been a long, cold summer; this was my last chance for the year to see the ocean. The Pacific has always been my favorite. Standing at Fisherman’s Wharf, I’m only 7,000miles away from an island east of the South China Sea; an island in the sun, the island of my birth.
They say you can never go home, but they say nothing of leaving it behind.
I had no plans once I got to Fisherman’s wharf. I bought the $11 trolley passport, it would let me ride on the trolleys all day long, as many times as I wanted. I was planning on taking the trolleys wherever they went, jumping off, jumping on at whim.
The Powell/Hyde trolley stops in the middle of the street next to this thin sliver of a median. The line was long, but as always, I made friends with the couple at the end of the line. They were from the UK, they told me about the passport. So I ran back into the Westin who told me to go back to the trolley and buy it from the conductor. The passports the UK couple had were something they got through their hotels, my ‘boutique’ hotel didn’t tell me anything about it.
I wasn’t concerned about it, because I knew where I wanted to go and it was wherever my feet take me. So I walked back to the trolley waiting area and there was still a line. This time the end of the line were two very pretty girls. One was blonde and blue eyed and the other was a dark haired beauty with blue eyes. The blonde was from New Zealand and the brunette was from northern England. I loved their accents. It was a friendly little chat and nothing more.
I know that when I write, I wax poetically, I adore beauty, what can I say? But I’m not that jerk who follows a beautiful woman around and makes a pest of themselves. When we arrived at the end of the line at Fisherman’s Wharf, I went one way, they went another.
I was attracted to the old ships at the end of the dock. This year was the first time I’d been taken to a Jimmy Buffett concert and I dressed appropriately. Hopefully on Hollyween, I will again be dressed as a pirate. Arrrgghhh. So to see the old cargo ships that sailed the high seas, the inner pirate in me was enthralled.
I walked the entire length of the dock and meant to get a ticket so I could climb aboard the Balclutha. Oddly enough, something else popped into my head and I ended up walking away and strolling down the street. I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going, I just put one foot in front of the other.
My purpose of the day was to be at Fisherman’s Wharf and now I was there. Saw the Cannery, I don’t know why it rang a bell in my head, maybe the movie Cannery Row? I don’t know if it was the same cannery. I wanted to find myself a nice place to eat, preferable over the water, but needed to be outdoors. It was only 1130am so it was early for lunch and Cioppino’s still had some empty tables on the sidewalk.
But I wasn’t hungry. I kept walking until I passed a family from Sweden lining up to pick up tickets for a quick harbor tour. It was $15 for a 40min ride to the Golden Gate Bridge, cross under it, turn around, circle Alcatraz and come I went looking for grub.
My eyes have this tendency to wander, it just goes wherever it feels like and today, my feet followed. I passed by a group of homeless looking teenage Rastafarians, playing guitar and singing. I would have approached and left some money, but seriously, the stench was overpowering even at 10ft away.
Further down the sidewalk was a lone figure, in a yellow rain slicker with matching hat, in his hand was a fishing pole attached to a paper cup with loose change. He had a full matted beard, but he had friendly eyes. I placed a dollar in his cup and asked him to pose and thanked him. He told me “You don’t know how many people walk up to take my picture and never leave nothing.” I smiled, what was I going to say? “Hey, I’m sweating like a pig in this thing.” We laughed. “You’re suffering for your art!” I told him.
I went away from the crowds and ended up behind all the big restaurants, but I saw a bunch of fishing boats tied up. It was quiet back there, the water was smooth as silk, that’s the photo with the boats. I ended up walking around the back of some warehouses where the fish smell and saltwater was pungent. I loved it.
I ended up next to the submarine th USS Pampanito, I went there. I paid my money and was so frantic to get inside that I didn’t wait for the guy to give me my headphones for my audio tour, DOH! But I enjoyed myself anyways. It was fairly self-explanatory, I know what an engine looks like. I recognize the torpedo tubes, bunk bends, toilets, officer’s quarters, etc. It was tight quarters. I kept thinking about all those submarine movies I’ve seen. There’s no way they ever filmed that inside a real sub like this.
When I came out, I hopped over to Boudin’s Bakery and got myself a black forest ham and cheese sandwich. I had my own 16oz Coke Zero on my back pack, so I asked for a cup of ice, expecting them to give me a regular cup with a cover. No, they gave me a itty bitty flimsy plastic cup full of ice. I took my digital camera out of it’s case, jammed it into my jeans and put the cup of ice in the camera holder, it sat at my hip attached to my belt. I ate the best ham and cheese sandwich I ever ate in my life and drank my Coke Zero out of my new cup holder.
The Golden Gate Bridge was draped with cotton candy fog.
All I could do was stare in admiration. The chill in the air was bracing, but I love the rolling of a boat cutting through the waves. We went under the bridge. The boat operators told us that when you go under the bridge for the first time, you make a wish. But what wish could I make? I had found an adventure I could not have imagined. Everything in my trip was working out beyond my expectations.
The closed off the bow of the boat so passengers wouldn’t get wet from the waves, I hadn’t expected the front row seats to be taken up so quickly, so I stood during the entire boat ride. But I finagled my way to the front so I could sprawl on the deck and get my photos of Traveling Feet in.
We went around Alcatraz, we had taken the tour before and even though I was only 16yrs old at the time. I still remember the cold reality of that rock. I can still recall standing in on of the isolation cells with my family and strangers as they closed the door. I wondered how someone doesn’t lose their minds sitting in that darkness. I didn’t need to return, one visit was enough for me.
When we rounded Alcatraz, we got a nice view of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island, then downtown with the iconic Transamerica and Coit Tower. The story goes that a Coit daughter was rescued from a fire by the SF Fire Department and developed a keen appreciation for the firefighters eventually even marrying one. There was a giggle when he said it is supposedly an homage to a firefighters ”…um equipment…”.
When we docked the captain had said that Brian who was doing the trip commentary would gladly accept tips since that was the only way he was getting paid. As I waited for my turn to clamber up the ladder to take me to street level, Brian held out his hand to steady each passenger as the stepped from the bobbing boat to the steady dock. Yet, of all the people who preceded me, only one guy slipped money into Brian’s hand. I pulled out a $5 to give Brian, hoping it would make up for the others who stiffed him.
I wandered down the street finding myself meandering down to Pier 39. Along the way I stopped and handed some cash to the steel drum band playing Bob Marley’s “Jamming”. Then I stopped with a large crowd who was being primed for a group of young men about to do some street break dancing. There was some amazing feats of strength, tumbling and the final act was one guy who flipped over the outstretched arms of two of the tallest men picked out from the crowd.
I followed the noise of the harbor seals. Until I was hit by the wall of overpowering harbor seal scent. It was a very strong fishy smell. They nap on docks and they bark at each other.
I found little souvenirs, keychains, magnets, etc. to bring back home. It was now 3pm and I had forgotten about my ham & cheese sandwich and was looking for a place outside where I could sit down and write a letter in the beautiful, bright sunshine that warmed my heart and my head that day.
I was thinking of the Franciscan Crab Restaurant, since it sat on the dock and had seats by large picture windows overlooking the bay. But after looking at the menu placed outside for review, I just didn’t want to spend the money. So I walked back towards Salty’s Famous Fishwich. The regular size was approximately 12ins long smothered in a bed of coleslaw and jammed into a torpedo roll. As big as my appetite CAN be, it balked at this. So I got the ½ size. I watched them make my fishwich freshly in front of my through the large picture window. I even had a fresh batch of coleslaw that the cook had just whipped up.
They had picnic tables to the side of the building so I sat there. Facing the sun, fending off the pigeons that hovered waiting for droppings, I enjoyed a moments respite from wandering. I needed to eat the coleslaw with a fork because it seemed like they piled a pound of it on the sandwich.
I wrote a letter, scribbled from my heart, at times rambling, scratched out, a bit of coleslaw might have hit it, but(thinking on it now), painfully sincere. It was a spontaneous moment that if I thought of it, my bravery would abandon me. So after I ate, I made sure I had time to run to the post office so I could mail it directly. Which meant that after I ate the fishwich, a concoction of fat breading deep fried to crispy perfection, I might be able to burn some of it off by a long walk through the hills of San Francisco.
I watched hopeful as the UPS store carefully wrapped my package after I had tucked my scribbled letter carefully so only the intended reader would see it. I always wonder if such mailings ever make it to the intended receiver. I wrote it and mailed it out, much in the same way we pen a letter in bottle and send it adrift. I hope to receive a response, but don’t really expect one.
I wandered back down towards the wharf again, not minding too much where I was, I was a bit lost. I was looking at a rental bike store, I’d seen quite a number of people renting bikes, but I seriously thought it would be more of a bother to stop, lock up the bike and worry about doing something stupid.; like cracking my head as I caromed downhill uncontrollably. I’m really not that big of a klutz, I just know my luck.
I looked up only to find myself standing on the sidewalk of the Joseph Conrad Square. Conrad is my favorite author. A Polish impoverished nobleman, English was his third language. Yet his prose resounds like the voice inside my head. I haven’t done research on him, I only know bits and pieces. I just know that I love his ‘voice’ as he writes. To find myself suddenly standing there staring at his name mind-boggling.
In a year of unexpected joys, coalesced into this vacation adventure , to me it was a sign to keep a promise I made to myself. I would attempt the 50,000 words on NaNoWriMo. I’ve had too many people tell me that I should be a writer. I have shrugged off their compliments. Just when I thought I was confident in my writing, I’d read someone else’s works and become chagrined to think I could call myself a writer. I’ve had a few discussions about the term, but if you write, you are a writer; if you are published, then you are an author.
After I shook myself back to reality, I wandered down to the Cannery and something just caught my eye and I wandered into the courtyard. It was there I found Norman’s Ice Cream & Freezes. My eye caught the words ‘Halo Halo’. That is the national ice cream dessert of the Philippines. It’s made of shaved ice, sweet beans, coconut strings, coconut jello, milk and ice cream. There are variations on the theme, but the aforementioned ingredients make up the majority. I had to stop and eat.
I sat outside and listened to a guitar player playing in the courtyard. Then a Filipina older lady and her three small dogs came strolling by. She tied the leases to a chair that was next to me, but the minute she walked away, the dogs attempted to follow and dragged the chair with them. I offered to sit on the light chair to keep the dogs from following her into the ice cream shop.
When I finished, I wandered back down towards the trolley yard to make my way back to the hotel. I wandered unto a small beach, part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. I heard the shriek of excited children playing on the surf. It was like heaven to me.
I made it the trolley yard only to find a long winding line along the wrought iron fence. But unbelievable, there was a magic act, the same guy my nephew and I had seen during our road trip to the Keys last year. I had taken my nephew to Mallory Square at sunset and he enjoyed recording the various street acts. His favorite was the guy with the straight jacket. I looked him up, Michael Patrick is his name. In Mallory Square he is in a straightjacket and gets tied up in thick chains and gets out of it. At Mallory Square he had audience interaction, so the audience tied him up, but he was performing inside the trolley turn so he only had the straight jacket at Fishermans’ Wharf. It was so strange to see him. How many coincidences could I possibly get on this trip?
I know the skeptical will smile at me condescendingly, but those who really know me know that I don’t make this stuff up. I just had to add that because I know people who I call friends who still don’t believe me. And it makes me sad to think they can’t open up their souls and feel all that the universe has to offer.
As I said earlier, I had bought an unlimited riding pass, so I had to wait it out, or I’d lose out on $6, taking the ride back, I only lose out on $1. It was close to 90mins waiting in line. But there was a guitar player serenading the line. I watched the sun set behind the line.
But my patience was amply rewarded. When my trolley started to board, I ended up hanging from the left side of the trolley on the first front pole! When we first came here with my family, we had ridden on the inside. In the morning my first ride was from inside as well. I boarded in the back and was peremptorily shoved inside to make room for other to board. So to find myself finally dangling proudly on that pole was perfect. Perhaps it was the unspoken wish I’d made under the bridge?
It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.