July 07, 2009
Everything but the Rice-a-Roni

This might sound like a grand apology. A kind of, "I was wrong about this place, it isn't chock-full of greens and liberals carelessly walking over the homeless people they've regulated out of a job. It's really quite nice." It might sound like that, but it's not. Because San Francisco is the most self-consciously green city I've ever visited, and I have personally witnessed very wealthy citizens walking past the most aggressive beggars I've ever seen in a US city. And I come from the DC area. But it's also a bit more than that. Quite a bit, actually.

Ok, let's just get this part out of the way up-front. Cable cars are proof in wood and cast iron it's possible to be both cool and retarded at the same time. $6 buys you a place in line to watch three completely empty cars watch you back. Eventually, according to what I'm absolutely sure is some sort of inscrutible union schedule, one breaks off from the herd and picks up, oh, about half its complement. Then we all wait and stare at another three completely empty cars just sitting there for (I timed it) no less than 10 minutes.

But it is an interesting wait. The system is powered by two things, one I knew about, and one I didn't. It's called a cable car because there's a big freaking cable under the street which drags these creaking testaments to 19th century tech up and down hills which would cause mountain goats to stop and take a breather. But on the ends of the line, it's powered by people. With just enough leverage two guys are able to push a car onto a medium-sized turn table, then push said turn table 180 degrees until it CLONKS against a hidden stop, causing the cable car itself to wobble back and forth like the badly finished tinker toy it actually is.

Then it's all aboard. The smart tourists break away from the herd like the naughty Disney rejects we are and run around to the far side of the car, where one can hop on a seat next to the brake man or hang off the running board like an extra in a Gene Kelley movie. Then the show starts.

Since labor was once cheap and nostalgia is now expensive, the cars are still controlled exactly the same way as they were when they were introduced some 120 years ago. To wit: clutch to grab and release the cable, medium brake to begin the stop, small brake to finish the stop, and BIG RED-PAINTED BRAKE to, I don't know, keep us from pasting yet another brace of Japanese tourists to the pavement. It was very clanky, very noisy, and smelled of burning sawdust.

But, and I know this may surprise you, simply riding a cable car was not the purpose of the mission. No, for that, we'll do the wavy-effects fade-out to a flashback and cue the girl with the Queens accent...

Ellen: "You're going to San Francisco?!? You MUST go see The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill!!!"

Me: "Do you realize you actually capitalized the letters of a documentary film title as you said it?"

Ellen: "But they're so CYOOT!!!"

And then we wavy ourselves back to the present...

So there I was, at the bottom of one of the most famous, and steepest, hills in this whole damned city. Let's hear it for long distance bike rides, and losing 14 pounds last winter due to new and exciting germs brought home from kindergarten!

Now, being a veteran of the DC zoo, who's hills are not as flamboyantly steep as the Fabulous ones of San Francisco but are much much sneakier, hotter, and more humid, I knew going up a hill to reach the destination is a good sign. You're excited, it's all new, and you've just started out on the journey. So even though it looked like the paving crew got drunk and decided to see if concrete really could stick to walls, it wasn't a terrible walk.

It was, however, a challenging one, which I tried to convey to the parrot fanatic on the other end of the phone.

Me: *puff* *puff* "Boy," *puff*, "this hill is steep."

Ellen: "Do you see any? How many? What color are they? Are they making noise? Are they CYOOT?!?"

Me: *puff* *puff* "Oh look, an Alfa!"

Ellen: "What? Your phone sucks! I can't hear any birds!"

So up I trudged, seeing what were in actual fact much nicer bits of the city than those which surround my hotel. Reminded me of Old Town Alexandria, set on end. And leaned level. With, umm, Asians.

And, as everyone else would expect, when I got to the top of the hill I found lots of tourists, an amazing view, and not a single. F-ing. Parrot.

Ellen: "What? It says you just need to go down the hill and back up. You'll eventually find them."

Me: "..."

So, having the rest of the day off, I waited. I got to watch sail boats tack into the wind, giant container vessels push their way to Japan, and Alcatraz glower on its rock. The Golden Gate Bridge was characteristically half-shrouded in pulled-cotten fog, beautiful until you catch yourself wondering if anyone is tossing themselves off it while you're watching.

And eventually, whilst I was desperately trying to not obviously listen to two girls comparing rather specific things about their boyfriends, five green, squawking, soaring cousins of the green chicken who lives in my house swooped past.

Me: *RING* *RING* "Ellen! You're not going to believe this! I can see--"

"I'm not on the phone right now. Please leave a message and I'll get back to you." **BEEP**

Ah, well. I got to watch a few more fly past, pretty little not-quite-hawks squawking their unmistakable, and loud, squawks back and forth to each other as they came home from whatever hapless vineyard they'd pillaged that day. I then heard several dozen on my way down the world's most treacherous garden walk, before I finally packed it in and headed for home.

Tiring? Duh. Disappointing? A little, but that wasn't the city's fault, or that of the birds. Educational? Well, it changed my opinion of this place from, "there is in fact somewhere nastier than East Baltimore" to, "it isn't all that, but it isn't all bad, either."

I even found another Alfa!

Posted by scott at July 07, 2009 09:33 PM

eMail this entry!

So, it sounds like it's got a decent view and good weather, but filled with nutbars of all varieties who'd happily spend their time telling me why I'm a relic that needs to be put away to rot?

Posted by: Ron ap Rhys on July 7, 2009 11:48 PM

See, that's what makes you & me different. I wouldn't... DON'T... have the nerve to stand out in this crowd.

Let's just say I'm happy you haven't gotten yourself assigned to the west coast. Because, if that were to happen, Amber would once again be crashing my dinner to go potty less than six months later.

Posted by: scott on July 8, 2009 12:09 AM

To be fair, it's not a matter of nerve so much as it's a lack of ability. It's damned hard for me to not stand out. I manage to do it for very short periods of time at family functions so I can keep the peace. However, put me somewhere for an extended period of time and the Ron will come out. In full force.

Posted by: Ron ap Rhys on July 8, 2009 11:17 AM

Dammit, you should have said. We could have gotten together, I'd have bought you a Gordon Biersch (Marzen is the best.) We could have gone to visit the tank museum (www.milvehtechfound.com)


Part of the issue is that you needed to hang out in Silicon Valley more, down the road in San Jose. The weather in the City is almost always terrible; the best time to be there is, paradoxically, October. Summer weather is often very foggy and cold because of the bay.


Panhandlers: Remember that you're in a tourist trap. The panhandlers are considered to be part of the experience. I remember one time that some asshole grabbed my hand as I was walking down the street, and some bimbo and her baby-bimbo started taking pictures of it! "OMG look it's a REAL-LIFE BUM!!"


Cable cars: Haaa, sucker! The secret is to board in the MIDDLE of the run; walk down the street a couple of blocks and board THERE, where there's no line...

Posted by: DensityDuck on July 8, 2009 03:59 PM

DD: Sorry bud, didn't know your exact location. I suck. And I **KNEW** there'd be a better place than those dratted birds, but a man's gotta do what his wife tells him to do, know'wha'I'mean?

I wish we'd had our convention in SV! But NOOOOO... Weather's not been THAT bad. I'm warm-natured, went up that windy-ass hill in jeans, a t-shirt, and a very light jacket. Never did understand all those tourists bundled up w/ thermal underwear.

Bah. I'm from the DC area. These guys are to DC panhandlers what Cowboys fans are to Eagles fans (I think. Maybe it's the other way around?)

Cable cars: Yeah, I watched a guy hop on 2 blocks down and had a big DING DING DING go off in my head. I picked up the return trip a few block up from... rrrm... whatever that street is with the crooked stuff innit. At any rate, on that day the smart money was 2 stops away from the turn-around. Any further and the cars were just jam-packed.

Oh, and I opened my window this morning and nearly fell out of the damned thing. Now that I look around, it seems nobody in SF has ever heard of a F-ING WINDOW SCREEN!!!

There's a guy who sings "Volare" at the top of his lungs from ~ 8 pm - ~ 10 pm here. I really wish I had a sniper rifle.

Posted by: scott on July 8, 2009 10:41 PM

Unless you're more than 500yds away, you don't need a sniper rifle. A normal rifle with iron sights should suffice.

As for the Cowboys Fan/Eagles Devil Worshipers comparison, note that we're devoted to the Cowboys but polite about it. We view the following of another team as something that's part of a poor upbringing and something that should be pitied. Eagles fans, OTOH, are abusive and potentially psychotic. Their team has sucked balls for so long (that whole never won a SB thing) that they've got some complex. Through in the normal attitude of anyone from Philly (my shitball city, with its high crime, poverty, and generally run down appearance is better than your city with low crime, clean streets, and economic success.) and you can see what's going on there.

Probably a better comparison would be Eagles fan and Redskins fans. That'd be the difference between abusive due to not knowing any better and resigned to basic suckage but hoping for some small scrap of success.

Posted by: Ron ap Rhys on July 9, 2009 06:28 AM

Roollll along and STOPPING... Rooolll along and STOPPING.


*Trolley episode of Flapjack*

Posted by: ellen on July 9, 2009 10:46 AM
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