Saturday, March 01, 2008

Two Days in San Francisco

On our first day in San Francisco, I took River out for the morning. We walked from our hotel (La Luna Inn, a comfortable and good value place, with easy access to public transport) about a mile down Lombard street, to the cable car stop.

On the way we had lunch at an organic café called Lettus. I overheard one patron say that people come from all over to eat at this café. I thought it was amazing, both healthy and delicious. As I enjoyed my grilled chicken sandwich on a wheat bun, mixed greens with champagne vinaigrette and a mango smoothie, I wished I had more time in San Francisco so that I could sample more of the wide culinary smorgasbord.

While eating, I struck up a conversation with the man next to me. Originally from Germany, he’d owned a bicycle shop in the neighborhood in the 1970’s. He now lives across the bay, where he says it is warmer and a bit cheaper. It surprised me how easy it was to converse with a stranger over lunch and I wished that happened more often out east. I enjoyed listening to his take on life in San Francisco.

After lunch, River and I continued on toward the cable car. A stroller is a handy thing, I learned, when there are two adults available to help out, but it is not an easy thing to handle alone. On the way, River became hungry and upset. I didn’t see any cafes in the area, so I stopped in a hotel lobby to feed him and luckily, no one kicked us out. When he finished, we continued on, and we walked up a very steep hill for about three blocks. It was so steep I feared letting go of the stroller. If I did, it would roll at high speed back down the hill and zip into oncoming traffic. So I held on tight and walked slowly. We reached the top, at the intersection of Hyde and Lombard streets. There began what is called the world’s crookedest street,” a downhill street that curves back and forth without any clear reason. From such a high vantage point there were beautiful views of the bay, of the city, and of the streetcars puffing up the hill.

Our plan was to catch the streetcar and travel on it across town, then continue on to the café where I planned to meet a friend. Only upon seeing several full streetcars approach and leave did I realize it was very unlikely that I’d be able to lift River, the stroller, my backpack, and the carrier onto the streetcar, find a seat and be able to buy a ticket, especially since one had to ascend steps to get on. I was going to try until River started crying again. Then I knew it was impossible. I’d become what I’d swore I’d never be – the person who carries too much baby junk around. I had so much it made me immobile and I learned my lesson.

Unable to get on the cable car, we headed back down hill to go to the nearest bus stop. This hill was equally steep, at least a 60 degree angle. But this time it was downhill, which was even harder. Should the weight of the stroller pull me forward too fall, I could lose my grip and the stroller would roll. I could see the busy street a few blocks down where the runaway stroller would crash into oncoming traffic. I wasn’t reassured to see a sign for parked cars that read “Prevent Runaways.” It told drivers to turn their wheels in and use the emergency brake.

I hung on for life and moved with baby steps, my quads bent and flexed as though I was skiing. We made it safely to the bottom and I managed to lift the stroller onto the bus.

“You have to take the stroller apart,” the driver told me when I boarded.

“OK,” I said. “I’ll do it as soon as I sit down.”

I plopped down somewhere near the front, next to a woman with silver hair. She was intrigued by the little hands she could see moving under the sunshade and began to ask about River. When I started to take the stroller apart, she told me not to.

“You’ll have two things to carry then,” she said.

“But the bus driver doesn’t like it.”

“Don’t worry about that,” she said. “There is a lot of tension right now between the drivers and the public. There have been a lot of complaints about poor customer services. There are even videos of drivers closing doors on people and racking up all kinds of violations. But because they have a very strong union, they haven’t been able to get rid of anyone yet. But now, with all the pressure, the drivers are on edge. So just tell him you are doing your best,” she said.

I appreciated her friendliness and her support. She went on to tell me about her life in San Francisco. That was the second stranger to have an extended conversation with me in just the few hours I’d been out in the city. I liked the openness and friendliness very much. However, for us at least, it seems more like a nice place to visit than a place to consider living, due to the high cost of real estate and what people said were not very good public schools.

After meeting a friend for coffee, where we learned more about the local lifestyle, we had dinner at a fancy restaurant on the Fisherman’s Wharf, where we had tender sea bass fresh from the ocean.

On our second day, I decided to take a walking tour of Chinatown. My tour guide lived in Chinatown for 22 years, so she was able to offer a personal perspective that helped convey what the local life and culture were like. With River strapped to my chest, I walked through alleyways, into shops and temples and down streets packed with Chinese immigrants, a small little world onto itself.

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