Date: Sat, 15 Jul
1995 10:42:33 -0400
Turning Fifty In San Francisco
The story begins on the morning of July 4th with my good friend Lois bringing me a birthday present of two cups of cappacino and two breakfast muffins. The day was to go somewhat downhill from there.
First unpleasantness of the day was the security check at the Knoxville airport. An X-ray of our carry-on luggage revealed a suspicious looking shape. Clyde was asked to show the attendant the box and thus the surprise of a lovely birthday bracelet was ruined. Clyde huffed at the security guard and then said to me, "Well, you might as well have it here now." It lacked something in presentation, but it is a lovely emerald, diamond chips, and gold tennis bracelet.
Thunderstorms in Chicago forced our plane to sit on the runway in Knoxville with us aboard for an hour before take-off. After being assured that all planes would be equally delayed at O'Hare, we discovered that our connecting flight to San Francisco left on time--without us. A three- hour wait and we were finally headed westward on a totally packed airplane. Standby passengers were cut off after they had a list of 50.
We arrived safely in San Francisco as the fog was rolling into the city. Next stop, the Huntington Hotel on Nob Hill. Problem: the hotel didn't seem to have a record of our reservation. I began to get concerned when the clerk stared at the computer screen and asked if I had a confirmation number. I did. I asked if there was a problem. Well they didn't have a record of our reservation but that was no problem. "What kind of room did you book?" I was pleasant and asked what kind of rooms they had left. I explained how I had come to the big city for my 50th birthday and would be so pleased to have a really nice room. By now the night manager was with us. I knew we were in luck when he smiled graciously at me and told the night clerk to give us room 1100.
Room 1100 was a large, corner room with a great view out over the city and the bay. We overlooked Huntington Park, Grace Cathedral, Alcatraz Island, and the Bay Bridge. Wonderful!!! A king-size bed and three windows that all actually opened to let in the fresh, cool breeze!
It was already close to midnight eastern time but we hadn't had dinner. We walk down the hill and have dinner at Fournou's Ovens. They have rack of lamb. Clyde is happy. Unfortunately, we linger too long and miss the fireworks which we could have seen from our room window. I hear the next day that the display was more like pastel clouds than fireworks. Sounds like the Aurora Borealis to me!!!
We wake up early the next morning and watch the natives doing Tai Chi in Huntington Park. Neat. We walk down the hill and find a good cafe latte place. Then to the cable car terminal on California Avenue to buy day tickets. Tickets are stamped July 5, 1995 -- my 50th birthday!
Off to Fisherman's Wharf by cable car. We take the ferry to Sausalito to have lunch there. As the ferry pulled away from the wharf and the skyline of San Francisco came into full view I teared-up and felt totally ecstatic to be in this lovely, lovely city. The last time I was in San Francisco was December of 1989, a number of months after a bad earthquake. I was convinced then that I would never be back. Either I wouldn't have the opportunity or the city wouldn't last much longer. But here I am -- anything is possible.
Ferry goes to Tiburon first. Definitely upscale. Nice lunch and walk in Sausalito and back to San Francisco.
We wait in line down at the wharf for the cable car. The street musicians and performers don't seem up to the quality of five years ago. The human jukebox is no longer entertaining the crowds. We heard he was busted for dealing drugs from the back of his getup. Ah well.
Birthday dinner at "The Big Four" which is the highly acclaimed restaurant within our hotel. Food wasn't quite as good as the night before. Nicest thing is the decor of the restaurant. It has mahogany paneling with inset mirrors. This gives that illusion of a mirror within a mirror within a mirror -- a thousand reflected images. Very mesmerizing.
The next day, Thursday the 6th, is the day I get to meet my bestest internet friend, Betty from Berkeley. We have breakfast at the hotel. $6.50 for a very nice bowl of raisin bran with raspberries.
I'm to meet Betty in front of the hotel at 9:00. I'm out there at 8:30 all excited. At 9:04 she pulls up in her car and I merrily jump in. Betty immediately pulls into the lane of oncoming traffic mistakenly thinking that California Avenue is a one way street and we must move over to make a left hand turn at the next corner. She quickly realizes her mistake when the light changes and the traffic starts coming towards us. We safely back and pull into our own lane. Not a good first impression.
But I don't mind. I'm impressed by Betty's soft voice and confident air. I look at her and think, this is what 50 looks like. Not too shabby! After some difficulty in finding a place to leave the car, we find the trail head for our planned four-mile walk from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Cliff House restaurant.
It is a stunningly gorgeous walk on the cliff, down to a beach, through the lovely neighborhood in which comedian Robin Williams lives, back into the woods, and finally out to the oceanside restaurant. Betty and I talked a mile a minute finding all kinds of common interests. She brought along chocolate! She balanced that with water and orange slices. I show her my tattoo but she senses immediately that it is only a temporary tattoo that I bought on the wharf the day before. She tells me about all the wordslers who got tattoos at Wordstock. She tells about the emerging flame wars on the little feet list.
The view back is always of the Golden Gate bridge. It's wonderful. The view forward is of ships coming into harbor and the lovely green on the other side of the bay.
At the Cliff House restaurant we both immediately recognize Karen Kay from her picture on the words-l web page. Hugs all around and we sit down at the windows to have a drink. Betty calls Verdant who lives only a few blocks away. Verdant appears shortly. More hugs all around. After an hour or so of chatter Larry and Clyde show up. Larry, Betty's husband, has picked up Clyde at the hotel and filled him in on the architectural history of San Francisco.
After the six of us have a pleasant lunch, Karen and Verdant leave for home. But not before the four of us go off to the ladies room to see Verdant's tattoo. Off to pick up Betty's car left at the bridge and Clyde and I are returned to the hotel. With cries of "see you on the 'net" Betty and I part.
I crash with a good nap for about a half hour. We arrange with the conceirge to rent a car for the next two days. She tells us Hwy. 1 is closed because of a landslide just south of San Francisco. But we know better because Larry has told us it just reopened. Off for a drink at the "Top of the Mark". Whoops. Closed for a private party. Off to the top of the Fairmont Tower for a drink with a 270 degree view. Very impressive. Friendly bartender too. Stagger back down the elevator and off to dinner.
Dinner at Fournou's Ovens again. We felt bad that with all the wonderful restaurants in San Francisco we returned to the same one twice. But why mess with a proven good thing. Clyde has rack of lamb again. I once more gorge myself on the wonderful home baked bread.
Next morning up early to just look out the window in utter joy. We hike down the hill for cafe latte and a muffin. This time we forgo the cable car and hike back up the six blocks. I do mean "up". These hills can get to you after awhile. The car is delivered to us at 9:00 and we are off to explore the coast.
First we go to one of the overlooks that Betty and I saw on our hike. Clyde's gets some great pictures of the Golden Gate bridge. We start from the Cliff House and drive down the coast.
Stunning vistas as we drive through Pacifica and the repaired Highway 1. Drive through Half Moon Bay and are suitably impressed. Clyde's main objective for the day is Ano Nuevo Beach where he once saw the elephant seals during mating season. This involves a three mile round trip hike of which I had not been informed. But, no problem, I just slip off my Birkies and go barefoot when the soft sand becomes a problem.
At the end of the hike there are large male elephant seals lounging in the sun and throwing sand on themselves. Clyde is overwhelmed and gets out the camera. I'm underwhelmed thinking these have got to be the ugliest animals I've ever seen. But I have a nice chat with the friendly female guide who is there to explain the life cycle of elephant seals.
Back to the car and on south to Santa Cruz where we have a lovely lunch in a shopping center coffee house. Very California. Clyde is stunned to have bean sprouts appear on his pastrami sandwich. I have my best meal of the trip which is a Caesar type salad with pine nuts, glazed walnuts, and blue cheese hunks. Yum.
On to Monterey. Walked around town, had a drink, walked some more, and had dinner at a place specializing in calamari. Clyde is in ecstasy and feels he has now spoiled himself for calamari anywhere else. I see the most horrendous tattooed man I've ever noticed. Not only does he have the usual military type tattoos on his arms but arcing across the top of his back in letters about two inches high is emblazoned "Payback is a Bitch". Wow. Maybe this is a little <trailer-parkish>.
Drive around the beach area of Monterey and see the Asilomar area where a croning ceremony was once fantasized. Take the quick way back to San Francisco, Highway 101. Arrive back in town after dark and immediately get lost. But we pull to the side of the road, put the dome light on, and I figure out where we are and how to get back to Nob Hill.
Arrive back to the friendly Huntington Hotel doorman (these people really were very nice) and gratefully hand over the keys to the rental car and entrust it's nighttime safety to his hands.
Saturday morning we hike down the hill for cafe latte only to discover that our now-favorite shop is tied into banking hours and is not open. Hunt around for a different shop with minimal success. One closed coffee shop has the USRowing sticker on the outside and two single shells hanging from the ceiling: one skinny, one open-water. Finally find something. Get a day pass on the cable car and catch it to the top of the hill.
Friendly doorman retrieves our rental car wishing us a good day and not to get home so late this time! Off to Golden Gate Park. Tour the Steinhart Aquarium, the Far Side of Science Gallery, the special exhibit by the Alaskan artist, Ray Troll. My favorite is the Foucault Pendulum. How hard would be to install one of those in my one story, 970 sq. ft. house??
Have tea at the Japanese Tea Garden and marvel once again at this lovely landscaping. How hard would it be to achieve that kind of thing on our small plot of land in sunny, green Tennessee?
Turn the car in at the Union Square office. Decide the cable car crowds are ridiculous. I am now very glad I didn't book a hotel in the Union Square area. The Saturday pedestrian traffic is mob-like. Fortify ourselves with a cafe latte and hike straight <up> the five blocks to Nob Hill. Nob Hill neighborhood is peaceful and quiet. There is a military wedding taking place at Grace Cathedral. Very lovely. Bride and groom posing under crossed swords on the white steps.
Clyde soaks his aching legs in the bathtub while I stare out at the still stunning view from our windows and begin to pack for the trip home tomorrow.
Decide on dinner at Tarantino's on the Wharf. First we go over and tour Grace Cathedral where another wedding is taking place in a side chapel. Beautiful church. Almost reminiscent of Salisbury Cathedral in England, but nothing is quite that beautiful.
Catch the California Cable Car to the Mason/Powell Street line. That line is really crowded so we decide to hoof it down the hill. How hard can it be? It is all down hill, after all. We have a lovely, long walk straight down Powell Street, through China Town and North Beach, past Coit Tower (in the distance), to Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf.
After a reasonably decent dinner we strolled the Wharf down to the Cable Car turn-around. Waited in line again watching the crowds, the street entertainment, and the sun slowly setting behind the Golden Gate Bridge. Hang on the outside of the cable car, squeal with the crowd as the driver made the hills feel even scarier than they were, and arrive safely home at an early enough hour to win the approval of the door man.
We have a drink in the plush Huntington Hotel bar and take our weary legs up to bed.
The trip home is so smooth it dulls the memories of the delays on the way west. It is a little over eight hours from the door of the Huntington to the door of our little home on the hill in Oak Ridge, TN.
A more than satisfactory 50th birthday trip. Still don't know if I'm ready for the next 42 years of my expected life span, though!