Wednesday was All Souls, and also our last day on this trip to tour San Francisco.
We decided to go back to Fisherman’s Wharf to look at the bay and the sea lions. That meant we went back to the streetcar F line.
The streetcars here run on tracks like old times because they are old-time cars. Some may date back to the 1940s or possibly earlier.
Our first ride on the F was a few days ago. The fare machine wasn’t where I expected it to be, and I tried to hand cash to the driver.
“You don’t hand money to the driver. There’s no place in North America where you hand the fare to the driver.”
He pointed to where the machine was, behind a screen just behind his seat.
Other passengers from out of town got onto the car without the right change. A couple tried to put fives into the bill slot.
That got the driver really upset, because he had to explain at several stops that the machine takes singles only.
When he stopped to change places with his relief driver, just before we reached the piers, he exchanged a few remarks about cars he found difficult to drive.
I felt sorry for the guy, walking around with all that angst, but it was also kind of funny.
So anyhow, the F rolls up on Wednesday morning, and it’s the same driver. I was an old hand by this time. I had been on the F at least twice before.
I was even able to make change for a couple who only had a five. I felt so sophisticated to be ready with all those dollar bills to make bus fare in a distant city.
The car went up Market Street and after a few blocks had to come to a halt. There was a Ryder truck with the flashers on double-parked and blocking the tracks.
The driver starts by blowing the horn. “Nobody is supposed to stop on the tracks. What am I supposed to do? I can’t go around him.”
He jumps out of the streetcar and shouts at some people on the sidewalk, “Who’s truck is that?”
Of course, nobody knows.
He runs up to the truck. Nobody’s inside.
A few seconds later the truck driver shows up and moves it out of the way.
Greenhorn passengers who don’t know how to pay their fares; self-centered truck drivers who shut down traffic: That poor streetcar driver doesn’t seem to get any luck.
He finally got a break a few minutes later. Just before the piers he changed places with a relief driver.
The streetcar comes to the bay shore at Pier 1. I believe the street that follows the piers is the Embarcadero. The name may be related to “embark,” as in “get onto a ship.”
I don’t know. I’m making that up, but it sounds right.
Fisherman’s Wharf is at the far end.
One of the attractions of Fisherman’s Wharf is Pier 39. Restaurants, bars, jewelry stores, a carousel, house of mirrors, it has just about anything you need at a bay shore. There is a marina, which is used by commercial fishermen each winter during the herring season. (Or is it cod? I can’t remember.) It is filled with yachts 10 months of the year.
There are also anchored rafts where sea lions congregate. There are dozens of them, stretching their necks and barking, sleeping in the sun, climbing over each other, or playing in the water.
Sometimes a few will wander down to the piers where the ferries load.
Signs dotted around Pier 39 relate some of the history of the place. A man named Simmons, the Taco King, got the idea of taking a derelict structure that had become the resting place of cast-off major appliances, and turning it into an entertainment hub for tourists and locals.
It took years, millions of dollars, lots of loans, and the sale of Mr. Simmons’s Tia Maria taco chain to get it done.
After it opened, there were lawsuits trying to shut it down.
That was years ago, and there are still signs of some lingering bitterness. One of the signs on the pier says the cable cars stop three blocks short of the Wharf only because businesses along those three blocks have lobbied the city not to extend the tracks.
Maybe some of them were among the plaintiffs trying to close the Pier 39 decades ago. I don’t know.
We saw the sea lions, the ferry boats go in and out, and a juggling comedian who could put his body through a squash racket (an unstrung racket, that is). We also ate what might be the world’s best clam chowder at a place called the Seafood Market, or something like that.
A city map that we had seen somewhere had a section labeled the Mission District. The name was familiar, but that’s all. I looked it up and found that it is the neighborhood with San Francisco’s oldest surviving building, part of the original Mission of Saint Francis of Assisi.
The district was a center of punk rock culture in whatever decade punk rock was popular.
A photo on the Mission District web page showed people in costumes for the Day of the Dead. I was looking at this on the morning of Nov. 2, el actual Dia de los Muertos. I love coincidences.
A little more searching told me that there would be a Day of the Dead festival at Garfield Square from 4 till 11 that very day.
So after our foray to the Wharf, we came back to the hotel for a rest and then got the BART train to 24th Street and Mission Street.
It was a short walk to the square from there. We arrived at last light. Families and organizations had set up altars with candles and offerings to the dead. Signs welcomed our ancestors, who come to visit on this feast day.
Many of the altars had photos of friends or family members. Others were devoted to celebrities, ranging from Elvis Presley to David Bowie.
People could write names of the dead on a wall. There were strings where anyone could hang a wish or a prayer for a dead loved one. One note said “We love you, Grandma”; another, “I love you, Prince.”
Many people, including a band of women singing and playing Mexican folk songs, wore costumes and had their faces painted to look like skulls.
Along with the tall votive candles, the altars were decked with skulls, feathers, flower petals, symbols of both the living and the dead.
We were invited to light a candle at an altar that gave me another back-in-Asia moment. It combined symbols of Hinduism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Judaism (well, maybe not Kosher Judaism, because Heberew letters, yodh hey waw hey, spelled out the unspeakable name of God), Islam, and some I’m not sure of.
We also lit small votives at another table altar.
A group called Intactivists had set up a shrine to some of their supporters who had died. Signs referring to “child mutilators” were terrifying, but became less so when we realized that the organization was protesting infant circumcision.
We had hoped to see, or maybe join, the procession that was supposed to begin sometime between 7 and 8. But it was getting late with no sign of a parade forming. So we decided to go back to the neighborhood of the hotel for dinner.
We had an early wake-up call in the morning. Two hours before our flight was 8:30 a.m., so we had to get a train a little after 7. I’m not used to being out at that hour anymore.
On the way back to the station, we bought a small loaf of pan de muertos, a festive bread, coated with sugar and flavored with cinnamon, made only on All Souls.
We decided to go to Cesario’s again. We climbed the almost vertical stretch of Mason Street to build up an appetite. Joanna had the penne with eggplant that I had enjoyed before. I had spinach ravioli.
Both dishes were fantastic. When I’ve had spinach ravioli before, the filling was still mostly ricotta, flavored with a touch of spinach.
Not so these ravioli. They had strings of spinach inside and more spinach in the sauce. If I have this too often, it’ll turn me into a ravioli snob.
We had the same wines as before, the Chianti and nero d’Avola, and a California pinot noir. They were all excellent.
Pinots from California have a spicy edge, especially at the end. The nero was a little sharper than many I’ve had, and oddly enough, the Chianti had less acid than most.
Five a.m. comes early. I used the coffeemaker in the room to help me wake up. We were ready to go by 7, well ahead of schedule.
We were in the station to catch the 7:13 train to SFO, half an hour earlier than our original target train.
Things can’t go that smoothly unless there’s something wrong. Turns out, our 10:40 plane was nowhere near on time. Our flight was already scheduled with an hour’s delay when we checked in.
Most of the retaurants at the airport are clip joints. I mean, $12 for a bowl of oatmeal at a self-service counter? Come on.
We had great muffins, yogurt, and some sourdough at a Boudin’s counter.
Then we waited for the plane, which didn’t leave until past noon.
I did get a chance to power up my computer battery, though.
At this exact point in writing the flight is more than half finished, approximately seventeen-twentyeighths.
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We made it through the airport and then had another wait, this time for baggage. The airport is not only run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is a storehouse of political appointees, but it is also in Newark, where everybody seems to resent having to work for a living.
The bags finally started to show up on the conveyor, and after that things started to pick up. We didn’t even have to wait for a cab. We got one right away.
We made it to Egan’s for dinner shortly after 10, and just in time. The kitchen was due to close in 20 minutes.
But they had oysters; they had beer; they had beef. I was happy.
They had salmon and that made Joanna happy.
Happy trails, gang.