Steve the San Francisco Tourist

When I was about 13 or 14, my family (parents, three younger sisters, and me) took a 3 week tour of the west. Thanks to the fact that my parents back then would gleefully drive us for eight hours at a time, we hit everything: the Grand Canyon, Vegas, LA (and assorted amusement parks), Yellowstone on the way back, etc. I think I most fondly remember two parts of that trip now: visiting “The Hearst Castle” and taking a walking tour of San Francisco. In fact, I think these two parts of the trip were the beginning of my life-long and conflicting interests in lefty/alternative politics, kitsch, material positions, money, and good food. Plus they both got me out of the car.

Anyway, I found myself once again in San Francisco for the first time in 25 years or so (this time for a conference) and I had a lot of fun. Thursday was a “work day,” and Friday was a “tourist day.” Here’s what I did:

NYC friend Annette S. (who was attending her first CCCCs) and I met up at Powell and Market and took a bus to the Haight-Ashbury area. It was unfortunately a kind of rainy and cold day, so walking there was pretty much out of the question. I guess it was too far anyway.

We just kinda strolled around and shopped a bit in the area. Annette S. spent a long time contemplating the purchase of a groovy blazer from a trendy second-hand store (she ultimately bought it). Here’s a couple of pictures:

Me standing in front of some very cool Victorians– another example of how my digital camera cannot do the scene justice.

I had heard that there is now a Gap on the corner of Haight and Ashbury; here’s a picture of it. It looks like I’m not the only one who has remixed consumerism, kitch, and coolness.

All your Grateful Dead t-shirt needs.

After hanging out over coffee for a while, Annette S. went off toward the Castro and I went to catch a bus down to Gharadalli square, which I don’t remember as a kid. It has the look and feel of a “restored” historic area rather than an authentic one, if that makes sense. Here’s a picture of it:

I hung out there for a while– more shopping, I had a snack of Belgian style fried potatoes (essentially fancy french fries), people watching, and waiting for Steve B. to show up, who joined me for the second leg of tourist day.

Basically, we walked down the wharf, stopping first at this place called Chippino’s for a helping of one of San Francisco’s signature dishes, a seafood stew in a tomato base called, perhaps not surprisingly, chippino.

Here’s a picture– this is actually Steve B’s serving, and I’m eating in the background. Two things worth noting here: first, they brought us each what had to have been a half-gallon of this stuff; we could have EASILY split a portion and probably split this three or four ways. Second, Chippino is most definitely an “earthy” and simple dish, with mussels, clams, squid, etc., and of course crab. I guess what I’m getting at is even if I was hungry enough, I don’t think I could have eaten it all. After a while, sandy mussels and chewy squid kind of wears on you.

Anyway, mostly we just walked around the Fisherman’s Wharf area.

It rained and rained way too much, so after a while, we had had enough. It’s too bad because it would have been a lot more fun on a decent day.

Here’s a picture of Alcatraz, which is quite the tourist attraction nowadays. Boats go out there for tours, and we found out that the tours were booked until Tuesday. There were t-shirts everywhere making various jokes about one of the most notorious prisons that have ever existed, things like “Alcatraz swim team.” Ha ha.

We did manage to go inside one place called Musee Mecanique, which was a sort of “hands on” museum for antique arcade games. Remember that fortune teller thing from the movie Big? They had dozens of those in there. Along with fortune teller machines, they had old pinball machines, player pianos, those movie/picture/peep show things you look into, you name it. Follow that link for Musee Mecanique and you’ll see a bunch of them.

Here’s Steve B. looking in at one of the machines, one that depicted an opium den someplace in Asia.

We didn’t ride a cable car for a whole bunch of different reasons, including the crowds even on a rainy day, and the fact that it was raining. We did take a ride on an old streetcar on the Market Street Railway. Frankly, I think this was a better choice than the cable car because the route took us all the way down the port area by all the different wharfs and such, we saw lots and lots of cable cars right outside our hotel, and besides, it was raining.

Here’s the inside of the car we were in, which was a 1950’s era car from San Francisco or Brooklyn, I can’t remember. They had streetcars from that era from all over the US and I even saw one from Milan.

Steve B. and I got back to the hotel and chilled a while, watching a bit of basketball. We went to Chinatown for dinner, meeting up with hotel roommate/friend/fellow conference goer Bill. The night closed with beers at an Irish bar with a loud band– fun, but I could have used a quieter place.

Other than a shuttle bus ride to the Oakland airport that was a bit exciting for very early in the morning (up and down hills at an alarming speed, etc.), that pretty much was the end of my trip.

Despite the weather, I had a pretty good time. I liked my time in San Francisco, though I must say I didn’t love it the way that some people do. It struck me as a bit scruffy (though that might be the weather), too expensive, and there were way too many homeless people, and I don’t mean that relative to my quaint and simple midwestern home; I mean that relative to places like Chicago or New York, where I suppose the harsh weather makes being homeless a lot more difficult and hidden. I’m hoping to go back out there for another conference one of these days though.

One thought on “Steve the San Francisco Tourist”

  1. Hello,
    I’m writing to let you know that we have released the video/DVD “Musee Mecanique presents The Zelinsky Collection.” It features the late Ed Zelinsky giving the tour at the Cliff House before the collection was moved to Pier 45. The video was produced by Garry Newkirk Productions and directed by Garry L. Newkirk (‘Amusing America-San Francisco, The Video”). The DVD is available at Pier 45. If you would like one for review, please feel free to contact me at your convenience. Thanks, Garry

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