I took Tom and Huck up to The City today, as they have this week off from school. I asked them what they wanted to do. They elected to go to a local tourist trap, Pier 39, a place I have not been in years.
It is, perhaps, not a well-known fact that those of us who have lived in the Bay Area since birth only rarely visit places like Alcatraz, Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the Golden Gate Bridge. We do those things only when out-of-state friends are visiting, and then we say silly things like, “I’ve always wanted to ride the cable cars, but for some reason — even though I’ve lived here for over 30 years — I’ve never done it! I’m glad you’re visiting so I had the chance to try it.”
Our out-of-state guests usually stare incredulously, and say equally silly things, like, “If I lived here, I’d ride the charming cable cars every day.” (Well, no, you wouldn’t, because you wouldn’t want to wait in the one-hour-plus lines of tourists to get your ten minute ride.) Mostly, those of us who have lived here all our lives go to The City to dine in style. The landmarks are beautiful, but they are second to the excellent restaurants. The food is so good that the excellent weather and the spectacular views are mere gravy.
Today my provincial view changed.
Today was the ultimate tourist-in-San-Francisco day.
Today was — dare I say it — fun.
We started at Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39, a small aquarium with two 300-foot-long glass tunnels out into Bay waters so we could see the native fish up close. It was amazing to be surrounded by water on all sides. Later, we even got to touch a bat ray, a leopard shark, and a star fish. Not a bad start to a day I had worried would be spent wandering through shops with “Escaped Alcatraz Inmate” t-shirts for sale.
After our aquarium tour, I decided to take Huck and Tom on a guided Bay cruise — Alcatraz, Angel Island, Sausalito, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Since they have only seen The City from within, I wanted them to see it from the water, with the panoramic City skyline as a backdrop. I wanted them to see the San Francisco that visitors see when they first arrive, the city that my Nana and the late newspaper columnist Herb Caen used to refer to as, “The City that Knows How”.
This was a good plan. Except that it was about 20 degrees cooler out on the water, and windy. And then there was the typical fog, which obscured the usually bright towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is another little known fact that if it is 70 and sunny on the Peninsula, where I live, it will be 55 and windy in The City. Dress accordlingly. We had fun, but we were freezing, and so happy when we passed Alcatraz because it meant we were almost back at the pier, where we could warm up.
After our cruise, we stopped for lunch and had hot clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, something we almost never make at home. Tom and Huck loved it. I confess I did as well.
We strolled the tacky shops of Pier 39, buying Ghirardelli chocolate (even though we can get it at the grocery store at home) and flattening souvenir pennies. We briefly considered heading down the wharf to the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum and the Wax Museum, but decided against it.
Before we left, we stopped to watch a street performer. He surprised all three of us by selecting Tom to be his assistant. He did the following:
1) Ate fire and let Tom hold the torch.
2) Hammered a four inch steel nail up his nose and then pulled it out of his nose with pliers and tosssed it over his shoulder into a wine glass Tom was holding.
3) Walked barefoot on eight feet of broken glass while carrying Tom on his back. (Tom, at almost ten years old, is over five feet tall and weighs 90 pounds.)
Now, this is more like the quirky San Francisco we Bay Area natives know and love.
Tom and Huck loved today.
They were in heaven.
They saw the mythic San Francisco skyline — the Trans-America Pyramid, Coit Tower, the Presidio, the Golden Gate Bridge — through a shroud of equally mythic fog from a boat bobbing in the Bay.
They touched sharks.
They watched a man eat fire, hammer metal into his skull, and walk barefoot on broken glass while one of them got to assist in these endeavors.
Only in San Francisco.
P.S. I forgot to take my camera with me today, so the snapshots will have to remain in my memory. And I think they will for a good long time. Who can forget a man pulling a four-inch nail out of his nose with a pair of pliers?