This is a really long post but I just don’t know how to make it shorter.
We traveled to San Francisco last Thursday. I wish I could say it was a thoroughly happy occasion, but it wasn’t. We went to attend the memorial service for my aunt. Even so, the family decided to make a mini-vacation of it, which is as she would have wanted.
Thursday we didn’t have to be at the airport first thing FOR ONCE. Always, always when we fly we fly early and have to get the kids up at some ungodly hour, but this time we had a nonstop flight that didn’t leave until after 11 a.m.
Well, Laurel and I sat in one row (middle and window seats) and Greg and Ethan sat behind us, strategically placed, see, so when Ethan kicked the seat he was kicking Laurel’s seat rather than some crotchety old fart’s. Laurel’s pretty crotchety (just like me) but she isn’t old. Because there were three seats in each row, Greg and I each had someone sitting next to us in the aisle seat.
Greg’s neighbor seemed very pleasant. Mine was, um, interesting. He was from Nashville and had never been to San Francisco. He was just as polite as he could be and asked if he could put the armrest between us up, if he could bum a piece of gum, and told me he was a nervous flyer.
And then he started drinking. That’s where the Real Fun began. After his first Jack-n-Coke he turned his iPod on and jacked the volume up to about 110 dB which naturally subjected everyone to thrash metal. I’m pretty tolerant of thrash metal in small doses, but it seems the folks seated in front of us were not, so they asked him to turn it down. He apologized profusely and did so, for awhile. Then he thought to ask me if it was okay if he drank in front of Laurel. Of course I don’t mind that, and it was very thoughtful of him to ask.
Then he pulled out his Skoal can and plugged his cheek.
Then he had Jack-n-Coke Number Two. After that he started nudging me to whisper stuff about our fellow travelers. Nudging me and patting my knee with his hand and whatnot. Meanwhile, the volume on the iPod steadily increased and Laurel started doling out indignant glares worthy of her mother’s until I called her off. He told me he was traveling on business – music business, of course, being from Nashville. Later he told me he works in a bar called Tootsies. Then he fell asleep leaning on the seat in front of us.
Then he spilled his drink on me.
By that time, I had buried myself in Laurel’s DS video games and when it happened – seeing as how I am a mother of two – I didn’t even flinch. Well, he started apologizing all over himself, asked if he could get me anything, and told me he felt like a complete asshole. Honestly, I thought it was pretty humorous (it’d have been less so if it had been more than a splash), so I told him it was fine, but he really did feel bad.
So anyway, it was a long but entertaining flight. I told Greg later that I don’t think he even realized how many boundaries he had crossed by getting all handsy and asking me for gum and money (oh yeah, I forgot that part, he wanted to tip a flight attendant but didn’t have anything smaller than a fifty – and made a point to flash his cash around). But in spite of all that, or perhaps because of it, I liked him. The poor guy was really worried that his checked bag wouldn’t get to the airport, even. You can’t help but feel a little compassion for someone like that.
Maybe I was just especially tolerant that day.
We landed and the rest of the evening was fairly uneventful. We were all tired and hungry by the time we got to the hotel so we went out driving around and finally happened upon some dinner.
The next morning we awoke and went to two separate places to buy fresh-off-the-boat Dungeness crab. And we bought A LOT. But at $4.50/lb, you can’t help it. Of course, our hotel suite smelled like crab for the remainder of our stay, but we must all suffer a little to gain a lot.
Then we picked Mom up from the airport, had lunch, and headed south for a drive. The kids wanted to see the beach of course, and cold as the water was, they walked right in. Ethan enjoyed it so thoroughly that he cried heartbrokenly when we had to leave.
Next we drove to a goat dairy, Harley Farms, and bought little buttons of artisan cheese to enjoy that evening with the crab. We visited with my aunt’s family and then went back to the hotel for dinner. It was delicious.
On Saturday we headed into the city proper for a day of sightseeing. We rode the cable cars, naturally, visited the Cable Car Museum, then went to Chinatown where we picked up dim sum and ate it on a dirty street corner in the red light district. That’s the kind of parents we are.
The kids and I tried boba tea. We didn’t much care for it, though Ethan warmed to the coconut kind. After purchasing some souvenirs we decided to board the cable cars and head in the direction of Fisherman’s Wharf, though I was most interested in the SF Maritime National Historical Park.
We waited and waited on the cable car and then heard the mechanism shut down. So we started walking. We figured we’d just pick up the car at another stop down the line, and we did – when we were 2 blocks from our destination.
Anyway, we arrived – after much walking – and enjoyed the Hyde Street Pier.
Laurel earned her eighth Junior Ranger Badge at the park, which was fantastic. After that we were t-i-r-e-d, tired, so we dragged ourselves to the nearest cable car stop only to have them tell us it’d be an hour before they got going again.
So we trudged over to another one – about 3/4 of the way there, Laurel realized she’d left her digital camera and her Chinatown souvenirs on the Balclutha. There was no way for anyone to go back for it, and I told her that chances are that as soon as someone sees a digital camera lying around, it’s gone. She was so upset that we called the Park in a last-ditch effort to recover it and lo, THEY HAD IT!
We arrived at the other cable car stop to find they could take us only 4 blocks due to a cable malfunction. Not only that, but they only had 2 cars on the line. So it took quite some time and it was getting dark. And cold. And miserable. We finally boarded the car, made it those 4 blocks, and boarded a shuttle bus.
And that’s when the fun really started.
First of all, driving in downtown San Francisco is SO MUCH WORSE than driving in St. Louis, even in rush hour with road construction. It’s much, much more diffic
ult. People are friggin’ crazy out there. So here we are in this giant city bus trying to make its way down super-crowded streets with a driver who had never run the cable car shuttle before (apparently this breakdown thing is a regular event), and people dodging into and out of traffic. So then this hotel parking guy directs some schmuck in a car to back up in front of the bus – nearly HITTING the bus – and holding us up. So our bus driver, patient fellow he is, starts laying on the horn and, um, gesturing. That got hotel parking guy’s dander up and then the exchange went something like this:
Hotel Parking Guy: What’s the problem, buddy? They weren’t gonna hit you.
Bus Driver: What’s MY problem?! What’s YOUR problem?! We’re trying to get through here!
Then there were some other harsh words and I was this (this!) close to standing up and telling Hotel Parking Guy, “SHUT THE FUCK UP BECAUSE I WANT TO GET OFF THIS FUCKING BUS” when our bus driver slammed the door in Hotel Parking Guy’s face and went on down the line.
Whew. Lucky them. They about saw the Pregnant-Michelle-on-the-Front-Porch-on-July-4-2005 come out. For those of you who don’t know about this, ask me another time.
After FINALLY arriving back at the hotel that evening (2 full hours after beginning our departure from Hyde Street Pier), nothing sounded better than pizza, so that’s what we did. And it was good.
By Sunday morning Mom decided she’d had enough adventures with our crew so we headed off alone to cross as many bridges as possible – for Ethan’s benefit of course, but NOT before stopping to pick up Laurel’s camera and souvenirs.
Anyway, so across the Golden Gate we went and up to Muir Woods. It was cold and raining and disgusting and I was miserable so it was but a fleeting trip. My hair suffered greatly and my hood was full of water so I couldn’t put it up without drenching myself in frigid water, but after getting back into the warmth of the van even I had to admit it was a good time.
By the time we made it back to the van we determined a) we didn’t have time to go to Mt. Tamalpais as originally intended; and b) even if we did have time we wouldn’t be able to see a damned thing thanks to the weather.
So we just did the bridge circuit.
I would be very much remiss if I did not mention the two non-SF highlights of the trip – I didn’t know where to put them so figured I’d just stick them in here:
1. Santa Claus was staying in our hotel and every morning ate breakfast at the same time we did. And every morning he took pains to speak to our kids and give them candy canes. Santa was unmistakable in his red overalls, Birkenstocks, and red cap with “S.C.” embroidered on it (not to mention his trademark white beard, hair, and his glasses). The kids were beside themselves with excitement to learn that Santa also vacations in California prior to the Christmas rush and was AT OUR VERY HOTEL.
2. We returned to our hotel one evening to discover the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile in the parking lot.
Then came the real reason for the trip.
My aunt’s memorial service was Sunday afternoon. Laurel had taken it upon herself to author a poem in Ann’s memory. I think she captured all there is to say, and just before she read it we learned that not only did Ann love poetry (something I would have suspected), but red was her favorite color. Here is Laurel’s poem, as read to the attendees while proudly wearing her bright red blouse:
“You Shouldn’t Wear Red to a Funeral”
By Laurel B
A poem about a woman
Who was charming, loving, and sweet,
She could coax a smile and warm “Hello!”
Out of anyone on the street.
The fog had rolled across the sky
Upon that sad, sad day,
Even the birds had stopped their words
As Aunt Ann passed away.
Aunt Ann used to write to me,
It always made me smile,
My grin didn’t stretch from ear to ear,
It stretched about a mile.
I know she lived a full, full life,
Through letters she sent to me,
She made some visits, took some trips,
Spent time with family.
I couldn’t see the things she saw
in person, so instead,
Aunt Ann painted pictures for me
In rosy shades of red.
But now that she has gone, gone, gone,
There’s something I must say,
Aunt Ann, I really loved you,
You always made my day.
This poem is about Aunt Ann’s life,
The writing took a while,
But I’m still glad I wrote it,
All because of Aunt Ann’s smile.
“You shouldn’t wear red to a funeral,”
Is what most people say.
“Au contraire,” I say to them,
“Here’s why I wore red today.”
The reason I am wearing red,
It’s ‘cause we shouldn’t be sad,
I know Aunt Ann would approve of this,
She’d think we should be glad.
I can’t think of anything else to say. I will very much miss Aunt Ann because she took a special interest in my life and was always very supportive of me, and then of Laurel. I admired her very much, and as I told Greg the other day, the list of people I truly admire is very, very short.
We’ll all miss you, Aunt Ann.