Day 5: Tuesday March 19th: My birthday. When we awoke John said “Happy Birthday, Honey,” and I replied “Thank you sweetheart.” We had breakfast with our game buddies and back to rooms. I had business to take care of, three phone orders which I entered using my Kindle Fire. Work was complete by 10 am so off we headed to the wharf. The only plan we had was to go to the Grey Line ticket kiosk at Pier 41 to get our two free tickets for the “City Sightseeing Tour” on a double-decker bus.
We hopped on the F and stayed on riding all the way to Pier 1, which was the end of the line. Now there are not actually 41 piers, maybe 20. We got off and began to walk. We were close to the Bay Bridge, which connects Oakland to San Francisco and just blocks away from the downtown Business District. The weather was gorgeous, warm and sunny. No cold wind or fog. We walked along the water front, browsing the open markets. Evelyn bought some dried apricots. We went into the long building called Pier One, where there were more shops and food courts. I bought some herbal tea. Back outside we found a long wooden pier which we walked down. At the end there were several men fishing off the dock. One was in a motorized wheel chair another wore a cap with a cape hanging off it to protect him from the sun. Just like one of the characters in Blade Runner. All the fishermen were Asian.
John held up his phone and began to play Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding for a young man from Germany who said he was originally from Tehran. He looked quite baffled; surely he did not understand the words of the song, one he probably had never even heard before. John tried to explain it to him, to no avail.
This was the reason we made this trip to San Francisco, so John could sit on the ‘Dock of the Bay’ and drink a beer. The scheme was hatched by Bill and John last summer on one of our long bike rides. But as our planned vacation approached John realized that it would be Lent the whole time we were in San Francisco. So what? You may ask. It’s Lent. Well John decided to give up all alcoholic beverages during the 40 days of Lent. An easy enough task since, he may only drink a beer or two in a span of two weeks or a frozen Margarita at Eldorado’s Mexican restaurant. But John felt that if he drank a beer, even for this momentous occasion, he’d be breaking his word to God. Not a good idea, I suppose. So he kept his fast and abstained from drinking a beer on the dock of the bay. To make him feel better I took a photo of him and Bill holding up invisible beers on the ‘dock’ in the ‘Frisco Bay,’ and (as you can see) I photo-shopped the beers into their outstretched hands. No one will be the wiser. (Unless they read this travel log)
After we enjoyed the bay and the shops and Pier One we hopped back on the F Streetcar and headed to Pier 41. It was getting warmer and Evelyn and I thought we might go back to our hotel and shed some of our clothes, maybe put on Capri pants and short sleeves. But by the time we got back to Pier 41, the wind had picked up, the sun went hiding and we changed our mind. We got four tickets for the City Sightseeing Double Decker bus which was departing in 10 minutes. The bus was all open, top and bottom; no window glass, obviously made for summer rides. The bus driver/tour guide introduced himself as Igor (I’m not exaggerating, that really was his name.) As we boarded he told us we could grab a blanket out of a box to take on the top deck to keep warm. He had a thick Eastern European accent. (Later we learned from a cab driver that he was probably Russian). We went to the top to sit, hoping to have a better view. After Bill brought up the prospect of bed bugs and lice on the blankets, we left them folded on the floor under the seat.
The bus began its tour in the Business District, then up Market Street and on to the beautiful neighborhoods where 100 plus year old Victorian houses stand side to side up the inclined streets, looking like beautiful colored steps. Igor was obviously a talker and he proceeded to tell us in his heavy Slavic accent everything he thought he knew about San Francisco and any other unrelated topics that popped into his head. Between his use of ‘zee’ in place of ‘the’ and all his ‘W’s replaced with ‘V’s we only understood every tenth word, if that. When he started his lesson on Victorian Architecture, I began to tune him out and to concentrate on staying warm. None of us was dressed properly as the day had started out with a promise of sunshine and warmth. Thin jackets over shirt-sleeves was all we had on to ward off the chill. The wind was wicked cold and our bare freezing heads were plummeting our core temperatures dangerously low. I pulled up my thin hood and tied it under my chin. Evelyn used a little decorative scarf tied around her head. John had a bare head and Bill’s John Deer hat did nothing to keep him warm.
Our tour took us through Little Italy and Chinatown, beautiful residential areas and past popular tourist destinations. We slowed down as we rode past City Hall, which looked a lot like the Capital Building in Washington DC. We even passed the steep hill where Steve McQueen raced his Mustang in the 1968 movie ‘Bullitt’ in one of Hollywood’s most famous chase scenes. We drove through Nob Hill, Pacific Heights and saw Lombard Ave, the curviest road in San Francisco.
But through it all we were hunched down, our hands capped over our ears, just wishing the ride through this windy cold hell would come to an end. Igor had given us strict instructions that we could not get up while the bus was moving. “It eez against zee law,” he said. So we stayed put.
Somewhere along the line, we realized that Igor was no longer talking about San Francisco but was ranting about “Zee high taxes in California,” and complaining about all the social programs. “Zee government takes care of 80 percent of zee people [unrecognizable words here ] 90 percent are able but not willing.” I guess Igor was a Republican. It was such a strain trying to translate what Igor was saying, that I gave up once again. He was obviously on a tirade, preaching politics to us, his captive audience. At one point I heard him say “Margaret Thatcher” and later in another sentence “Gorbachev”. I guess he was either still sore about the fall of communism in the Mother Land or maybe he was on the other side of that issue. The last coherent words I heard Igor utter were “…paid off.” Who paid who off? After Darth driving us to Wine Country and boring us to tears, I didn’t think a bus driver/tour guide could get any worse. I was wrong. Igor beat Darth on the ‘California Crazy’ competition hands down.
At last Bill decided to do something. When the bus stopped at a red light, he stood up and began to make his way to the front. He said he was going to the lower deck to see if it was any warmer down there. But then he was forced back into a seat when the bus lurched forward. Not long after that, Igor pulled up at Golden Gate Park and told us to be back at the bus in 30 minutes. Time to escape. As we started off the bus, John and Bill said that they were not going back the way we came and when Evelyn said to Igor, “Don’t wait for us. We’re probably not getting back on” he said “Suit yourself.” And we did.
Again an angel was sent to us in the guise of a Taxi Driver. As we came out of the restrooms a cab pulled up to the curb. John and Bill approached the driver and in less than a minute we were all seated in a nice warm cab. The cabby was friendly and talkative. On our way back he drove us down Lombard Ave. which was quite an experience. This steep curvy street is only wide enough for one car and on both sides there are beautiful flower beds. The front doors of the houses on Lombard open right onto the sidewalk, which is actually a series of steps for pedestrians. Some of the houses had pull-in for their cars. I’d hate to try and back out on this street.
We thanked our driver at the hotel and tipped him well. He could have charged us ten times the going rate and we’d have paid it. We decided to go to our rooms to freshen up. Since it was my birthday I got to pick here to have dinner. I wanted to go to the Pizza place down the street and have pizza and beer. As we were sitting at our little table at the Pizzeria, Bill and I drinking a beer [John still abstaining], the couple we met on the wine tour, Pat and John, came in. They sat close to us and we chatted for a bit, enjoying our food.
Back at the Holiday Inn we set up our game table to get ready for the battle of the sexes. But before the game began Bill and Evelyn surprised me with a birthday cake. I was serenaded with the Happy Birthday song before we cut the cake. It was dark and rich chocolate with a butterfly decoration. Yum!! Yum!! They even had paper plates, napkin and plastic forks for the party. Thank you Evelyn and Bill. You guys are great. And thank you John, since you knew about it.