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Started: 2018-01-29 23:03:12

Submitted: 2018-01-30 00:03:14

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In which the intrepid narrator plays tour guide to his family in San Francisco

Wednesday, 27th December 2017

On Wednesday, after celebrating a relatively normal Christmas, we began playing tourist (and, for me, tour guide) in earnest. Kiesa went back to work, and we left Julian at home with Sasa so he could get his nap. This left my family of origin plus Calvin, the same group of six people that visited India two years ago.

We took BART to Powell, walked past the lengthy queue waiting for the cable cars, and headed to Union Square. Bethany spotted a Dyson showroom and wanted to visit it, one of the first in the United States showing the company's fancy vacuums (both human-driven and robotic), hair dryers, and floor lamps.

We walked around Union Square and found the the remains of the Macy's department store windows, now taken over by an SPCA display of animals available for adoption. (As a child, coming to San Francisco around Christmas, I remember elaborate animatronic window displays; the windows we found were a poor imitation.)

We looked at the sugar castles built in the lobby of the Westin St. Francis Hotel, then walked into Chinatown and ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant my father remembered from visiting the city decades ago. (Our old standby vegetarian restaurant in Chinatown, the Lotus Garden, remains closed, but the sign bearing its name is still visible in its old location on Grant Ave. I have not yet found my own favorite vegetarian Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, probably because I live on the opposite side of town.)

We took a detour to drop by the somewhat-kitschy Sun Yat-Sen statue in St. Mary's Square for Willy to take a picture, then walked down California St to the plaza in front of 555 California, the building formerly known as the Bank of America Building, where the large black granite sculpture retains the epithet "The Banker's Heart".

Bethany in front of the Banker's Heart
Bethany in front of the Banker's Heart

We walked to the cable car museum, in the winding house that powers all of the cables running under the streets, and looked out over the giant wheels ("winding sheaths") that delivered power to the cables. We looked around the small museum exhibits on the second floor, showing the history of the cable car system and its reconstruction in the 1980s.

Cable car winding sheaths
Cable car winding sheaths

My mother headed back to our house to watch Julian after Sasa's time for childcare expired, while the rest of us headed north towards Fisherman's Wharf. We tried to catch a cable car heading north, but they were generally full, so we set out on foot. We walked downhill on Mason Street, cut through Ina Coolbrith Park, climbed up Russian Hill, walked past the large houses and occasional apartment buildings covering the hill. Bethany expressed interest in seeing Lombard Street, so I plotted a course that took us to the top of the street (at the intersection with Hyde Street), where the cable cars clanged as they passed and traffic cops directed the hoards of cars trying to descend the street through crowds of tourists.

Bethany and Calvin join tourists photographing Lombard Street
Bethany and Calvin join tourists photographing Lombard Street

We picked our way down the sidewalk, next to cars following the zig-zag down the street and past tourists posing for pictures and staging awkward selfies in the road. This was San Francisco at its most tourist-infested, and it felt delightfully festive, even as I enjoyed a smug sense of superiority that I was enjoying the experience ironically (and that, since I live in San Francisco, I can nip over to Lombard Street any time I choose).

We headed down Leavenworth Street towards Fisherman's Wharf and spotted an elaborate dragon covering the gate in front of a house on the street. I was impressed by the construction; most of the individual pieces in the head and face seemed to be traditional blacksmith doodads, while the crest in the back looked like it had been crudely cut with a cutting torch.

Dragon on a door
Dragon on a door

Calvin was impressed by the sculpture, but did not see fit to express his rapture in the picture I staged of him in front of the door.

Calvin is less impressed by the dragon on the door than he should be
Calvin is less impressed by the dragon on the door than he should be

We continued down Leavenworth Street and stumbled across Joseph Conrad Square, a little triangle of land in the middle of three streets with a few trees and a small patch of grass. I took a picture of Willy showing off his heart of darkness. (Along with the photo Bethany posed for in front of the Banker's Heart, one might wonder about my siblings.)

Willy with his Heart of Darkness in Joseph Conrad Square
Willy with his Heart of Darkness in Joseph Conrad Square

While taking the picture of Willy, I counted "Yī, èr, sān" to set up the picture. I stepped off the sidewalk to let someone pass and he said "Xièxie."

We walked to Hyde Street Pier and I pointed out a few features of the historic ships docked at the pier, and mentioned the sea lion attacks at Aquatic Park. It was late enough in the day that we didn't feel compelled to actually step out onto the paid portion of the pier to board the ships (especially since I drug Calvin out on the same pier in the last six months). We walked through Fisherman's Wharf and dropped by Musée Mécanique, the weird arcade featuring taste-challenged coin-operated amusements from an earlier era. Bethany was especially taken by "The Song of the Prairie", which showed a group of cowboys standing around a fire and the warning label "Do not watch if you are easily offended". This, of course, was a challenge; Bethany dropped her quarter in the slot and we were presented with the soundtrack of flatulence (presumably the result of their supposed diet of canned beans). Our only regret was that Calvin was not within earshot, so we had to find him and drop another quarter for him to enjoy the full experience.

We left the arcade, walked down Fisherman's Wharf, and caught the streetcar down the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building. We walked down the main axis of the building, past the upscale shops, and walked outside to look at the view of the Bay Bridge, lit up in the night, showing off the lights animating the cables.

We dropped into the lobby of the Hyatt Regency to look at the business hotel inside a Brutalist building, and to see the sculpture Eclipse lit up in the middle of the lobby.

Eclipse in the Hyatt Regency San Francisco lobby
Eclipse in the Hyatt Regency San Francisco lobby

We took BART back home for supper, after a long day playing tourist (and, in my case, tour guide) in San Francisco.

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