Tuesday, February 16, 2010

SF in summary

Sunday was high tourist time. Elevenish, S— and I headed into SF to meet St—; we reached ground in the Mission, where I continued my food tour. Got a maple-glazed donut with bacon bits from Dynamo Donuts to start, and a mocha from the gorgeous slicked-back clean-wood Haus Coffee. We walked down Mission, which S— said reminded her of her experience of Brooklyn. In fact, there were scads of New York-y things afoot: Strand bags and I Heart New York t-shirts proliferated; Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” blared from a car stereo—“Wrong city!” I called out.

We arrived at our destination, a taqueria S— knew. I ordered what I thought proved to be an enormous torta (twice the size of what I expected) but then St—’s burrito appeared, a masterpiece of engineering. I have heard of two-hand burritos but this one looked to be a three-hander; slathered in guacamole, sour cream, and salsa in a sort of Mexican-flag motif, it got a plate to itself because it wouldn’t have fit in one of the dinky buckets that festooned most of the tables. The whole restaurant was bright, colorful, expansive, as was the Mission as a whole; left to my own devices, I could’ve wandered all day.

Allowing for a moment of digestion, we stopped in at 826 Valencia, the equivalent of my friendly neighborhood superhero supply company. I was quite jealous; I would rather a pirate than a superhero store just about any day of the week. There were drawers you could pull out of the wall with labels ranging from the mundane to the inscrutable—“Bundles,” “Hope,” “Tud”—and a mop that would thwap down from the ceiling on the unsuspected. (A poster advises what to do if you have been mopped: you may ask, “Why me?” but remember that it is a rite of passage like a bar mitzvah.) I told the shop-minder that I volunteered at their sister-center; she gave me a discount on my plunder.

Lunches more-or-less absorbed (except for the 2/3 of burrito St— toted about in a plastic bag all day), we headed over to Bi-Rite, recommended by the always-spot-on-foodwise R—, where I got pink lady apple sorbet and brown sugar ice cream with a ginger caramel ribbon. The line was extensive; we sat in relief to watch it unspool with our hard-won cups and cones while dogs nosed our feet enthusiastically, drawn by the burrito. Bi-Rite looks out at the foot of Dolores Park, full of the young and the beautiful out for a day in the sun. I think that park is what Fort Greene Park wishes it could be, if only it could be granted perfect year-round weather and palm trees. Can’t get over those palm trees—for me, they are the ultimate signal of unreality, vacationland: a (very, in this case) nice place to visit, but I could never live there.

Appetites sated, probably forever, we wended our way back downtown to hit up the cable cars. This was an endlessly satisfying experience. Even waiting in line produced its own odd joys. We watched the conductors step down from the cable cars onto a sort of wooden turntable and roll them around to start the route. A saxophonist played mellow songs to the adoring eyes of a baby in a stroller. We soldiered on to the front of the line and found ourselves riding up and down hills, rollercoastered. Transferring to a different route, we got to hang off the edge of the car: at first I clutched deathly with both hands, feet firmly on the step, but soon I released the chokehold and tucked one foot behind the other, feeling like I was out for a Sunday rollerskate in days gone by.

We disembarked from the second trolley to make our way to the front of the ferry terminal, there to encounter one giant pillowfight. Hundreds of people in every conceivable combination dragged their pillows into the square. One fellow lofted an extra-large Babar on his shoulders, poised as a sort of battering ram; another displayed a giant stuffed monkey. The plaza darkened as the six o’ clock start time neared. Pillows waved up and down in a gathering susurrus, the strangest flock of birds you’ve ever seen prepare for mass migration. The clock chimed the hour and all feathers broke loose, dazzling up into the streetlight beams, coating girls’ hair, creating beds for small children to make feather angels when the chaos died down. S— took pictures enthusiastically; us other two stood on a table and watched, grinning and shaking our heads, taking in the battle at a sweep and then at smaller levels—a couple shaking feathers on each other’s hair; a small child whapping a smaller child with a pillow larger than both. A more curious snow I have never witnessed.

Featherfall over, we hopped on a trolley—manufactured for good ol’ Philadelphia, as it happens—to Fisherman’s Wharf. Which was gaudier than I had anticipated but certainly enjoyable. Seals and sea lions occasionally popped up along the docks, letting loose ridiculous steamroller noises. S— said they come out more during the day; I wondered aloud if they could sleep at night with all the noise their fellows created. Next we found an In-N-Out. I do not eat beef so would not partake in that west-coastiest of burgers, but did have what I thought was the least-potatoey, most-fried order of fries I’ve ever encountered. Then I waited in line for Ghirardelli’s ice cream store; I ordered a salted caramel hot chocolate but wasn’t able to drink much of it for reasons that will be clear by now. Supersaturated by food, we got on the third and final trolley line back to the BART station, facing the most dramatic hills yet!


Monday: the inevitable hurry-up-and-wait transitional day that embodies everything I hate about traveling. I'm sorry to leave the Bay Area, which is probably my favorite place I have ever visited, but I’m glad to be homeward bound. The plane makes its way across the sky; a baby in the back keeps chanting, “Ba ba!” Have you any wool? You may need some: the snow is falling back east, big fat flakes that still coat the Tuesday out my window. I’ll borrow the closing line of one of my favorite children’s books, and say: These snowflakes are real.

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