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Started: 2017-04-30 11:14:11

Submitted: 2017-04-30 15:22:26

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator spends a week's staycation in San Francisco

San Francisco's schools gave Calvin the week of 27-31 March off for spring break, and Julian's preschool followed the same schedule. This meant we needed to come up with an alternate child care plan, since our au pair can't work long enough in the day to cover the time we actually need to be away for work.

I was interested in going skiing, but that's logistically complicated by the fact that the ski areas at Lake Tahoe are three hours away, one-way, in good traffic. (I miss being able to nip up to Summit County, a two-hour drive away, as a skiing day-trip.) A reasonable ski trip would require an overnight stay, and that's logistically complicated by the need to find a place large enough to hold the family. Kiesa doesn't ski, and Julian isn't old enough to try, so Kiesa ends up having to take care of Julian, and she'd rather do that from home.

We ended up taking time off work and inviting Yanthor and Anya to join us for a couple of days. They arrived Sunday morning, and after picking them up from the airport and eating breakfast we abandoned them to drive to Sacramento for my grandmother's graveside service. We returned in the evening in time to celebrate Calvin's birthday, and let Calvin stay up late to play Cities and Knights of Catan.

We spent Monday and Tuesday playing various board games, especially Warhammer Quest: the Adventure Card Game, which was an amusing game that distilled a dungeon crawl into its essential nature, with a campaign over several stages. We beat most of the stages we played and enjoyed the game.

On Monday I staged an expedition to Borderlands, our local sci-fi bookstore in the Mission. It's a dangerous place to visit, since there are so many great books I can buy, so I usually have to restrict myself to two books per visit. (Sometimes I can remind myself about the size of my to-be-read pile and I only have to walk out with one book.)

On Tuesday I staged an expedition to my employer's office on the Embarcadero, with a great view of the Bay Bridge and the bay. (I also learned that my desk had been borrowed by one of my colleagues visiting from London, on the theory that I was going to be out of the office all week.) We walked up to the Ferry Building for a late lunch, then headed back home.

On Wednesday I dropped Yanthor and Anya off at the airport. After they left we hosted for dinner a family we knew from Colorado in the mid-aughts who were visiting San Francisco for spring break. When we knew them they lived in Longmont and had two kids; they now live in Boise and have four kids.


Kiesa went back to work on Thursday, since her vacation time is badly constrained (her job only gives her two weeks of vacation per year) and I thought about going back to work for the last two days of the week but decided to take the rest of the week off to wander around San Francisco. (Wandering around San Francisco was one of my explicit goals for moving here.) I dragged Calvin out of the house to see two of the World War II museum ships docked at Pier 41: the submarine USS Pampanito and liberty ship SS Jeremiah O'Brien.

Calvin on deck of USS Pampanito
Calvin on deck of USS Pampanito

We started at USS Pampanito, a Balao-class diesel attack submarine from World War II. Calvin declined the audio tour, preferring to continue to listen to whatever audio book he was listening to, so I tried to summarize the contents of the audio tour, with generally poor results. (The audio tour was provided on an iPod Shuffle, and I accidentally switched it into shuffle mode and got the tracks out of order.) As we walked along the main corridor from the aft torpedo room to the engine rooms to the control centers, mess, and officers' staterooms I tried to summarize what we were seeing to Calvin, drawing on my prior knowledge of submarine engineering and operation, supplemented by the audio tour.

Engine room on USS Pampanito
Engine room on USS Pampanito

I had trouble imagining the boat with a full compliment of crew, all taking up each other's space (which would make my crowded open-office-plan workspace seem roomy by comparison). Calvin and I had the boat to ourselves as we worked our way forward, but I imagine it would be considerably more crowded with 80 people on board.

The tour focused on the boat itself, and didn't try to put its operation into the broader strategic context. How important was the US Navy's submarine fleet to the war? What strategic decisions influenced how the fleet was used? What rules of engagement did the fleet operate under -- in particular, did they engage in unrestricted submarine warfare? (Is unrestricted submarine warfare a war crime?)

SS Jeremiah O'Brien
SS Jeremiah O'Brien

Docked next to Pampanito was SS Jeremiah O'Brien, a liberty ship built as a merchant bulk carrier to replace the staggering losses inflicted by U-Boats on the Atlantic merchant fleet, and to keep the American war machine operating by supplying the necessary equipment and food. (Wars are won on the factory floor before they're won on the battlefield -- and the supply chain links the two theaters of war together.) Liberty ships were built in ridiculous numbers to spam the North Atlantic with more ships than could be sunk.

SS Jeremiah O'Brien and San Francisco skyline
SS Jeremiah O'Brien and San Francisco skyline

I remember visiting a liberty ship somewhere in San Francisco Bay while I was in fourth grade. (In my memory the ship was docked somewhere in the East Bay, maybe in Alameda, because I associate travelling across the Dumbarton Bridge with visiting the liberty ship.) I believe this ship from my memory must have been Jeremiah O'Brien.

Calvin descends into the engine room on SS Jeremiah O'Brien
Calvin descends into the engine room on SS Jeremiah O'Brien

We had free reign of almost all of the ship, from the cavernous engine room with a massive oil-fired triple-expansion steam engine, to the bulk cargo holds, to the crew quarters, to the deck guns in front and back providing a bit of defensive armament. (The ship's regular crew were civilians, but the guns were operated by Navy crew, who slept in a separate bunk house towards the stern.) I wondered about the implications of arming a merchant ship -- but by the point when the liberty ships were built any merchant ship in the North Atlantic was a target, regardless of whether it could fight back, so they might as well be able to contribute to their own defense.

Calvin on the deck gun on SS Jeremiah O'Brien
Calvin on the deck gun on SS Jeremiah O'Brien

Two of the cargo holds were open, showing a documentary about the ship and presenting a small museum exhibit about merchant shipping across the North Atlantic and the convoy system used to try to protect ships from attack by U-Boats. The centerpiece of the museum was an elaborate diorama of the Normandy beaches in the week after D-Day, showing the temporary docks set up to take supplies and soldiers onto shore. Jeremiah O'Brien was one of the ships that participated in the invasion, and shuttled supplies back and forth between England and France in the weeks after the invasion.

We left the ship after several hours, having seen everything we could. Immediately after leaving the ship Calvin was attracted by the noise coming from Musée Mécanique, an arcade collecting coin-operated mechanical contraptions from the beginning of the last century. Most had been repaired into something resembling their original condition, but many were in poor taste by modern standards. I gave Calvin a couple dollars of quarters to put in the machines, which amused us for a while before we decided to grab a very late lunch and head home.


On Friday I ran a quick errand (dropping Yanthor's iPad off at UPS), then took a walk along the beach from the terminus of MUNI's L-Taraval line to the terminus of the N-Judah line. On my way back home I stopped at a small bike shop named The Wiggle (named after the sequence of turns bicyclists make to travel to Golden Gate Park without climbing any hills) to pick up a balance bike for Julian's second birthday.

In the evening we celebrated Julian's birthday, and then I realized that Calvin got his first balance bike for Christmas when he was 2 (almost 3), so Julian has some room to grow into his oversized balance bike.


On Saturday, Kiesa left for a library conference in Maryland (which made me think about Mommy's Work Plane), leaving my mother to help take care of our children. In the afternoon Calvin wanted to go bike riding, since I'd reminded him that bicycles exist by getting Julian a balance bike, so I pulled his bike out of the garage, tuned it up a bit, resized the seat to fit him, wondered whether the aggressive Lightning McQueen branding on the hand-me-down bike was really appropriate for Calvin at his age, and set out towards Ocean Beach to bike along the Great Highway.

Our neighborhood in San Francisco is not especially bike-friendly; we live on an aggressive hill, and the neighborhood streets are small and lack bike lanes. I decided to drive to Ocean Beach on the theory that it had a large flat straight bike path next to the Great Highway. I got to the beach and discovered that the highway itself was closed (I believe to facilitate sand removal as it tried to drift over onto the road), which proved great for bicycling but bad for parking. I looped around and eventually parked near the zoo, but this left us with several blocks of busy Sloat Boulevard to navigate on our bikes before we got to the highway.

I did not realize in advance precisely how wobbly Calvin would be on his bike. This was the first time he'd ridden this particular bike (it was to big for him earlier, but he's definitely outgrown his first pedal bike), and he hadn't ridden any bike for at least a year (probably closer to two years). Sloat Boulevard had a bike lane, but it also had two busy lanes of traffic. Calvin had some trouble staying on a straight path at first, and kept zig-zagging across the path. He was biking close to my own stall speed, so I had a hard time keeping him in view, even as I tried to encourage him to stay on the correct side of the path and keep going.

I had just passed Calvin when I heard him crash to the ground behind me. He had apparently wobbled too close to a parked car and had fallen off his bike and bloodied his lip. (At least it was a parked car, and not a moving car.) I picked him up, checked him for injuries, gave him water, helped him settle down, and asked him if he wanted to keep going or turn back. He wanted to continue, so we did, and I kept better track of where he was and how he was doing.

(It was only later that I realized he had actually chipped a corner his number-nine tooth, his left top front incisor, one of his handful of permanent adult teeth. (I chipped one of my front incisors in a similar bike accident when I was in grade school.) I talked to my brother-in-law Tristan, who's a dentist, and he advised me for things to watch out for. I took Calvin into his dentist a few days later, and he got a filling to repair the tooth a couple of weeks after that.)

After a few blocks on Sloat Boulevard (and his pedal falling off, apparently because it had unscrewed itself; I was able to screw it back in and we proceeded without further incident) we reached the Great Highway. Normally this is a four-lane boulevard marking the very western edge of San Francisco, with houses immediately to the east and ocean immediately to the west, but when we visited it was closed to motor traffic, and had been taken over by pedestrians and bicyclists (I may also have seen a skateboard and a few scooters).

Great Highway, closed, with pedestrians
Great Highway, closed, with pedestrians

Once we were on the Great Highway Calvin improved. I encouraged him to pedal faster, to take advantage of the natural steadiness of a bicycle, and he figured out how to do it. We stopped at the beach around Judah Street, then turned around and headed back to the car. I plotted a course through the relatively-quiet residential streets to avoid Sloat Boulevard, and we returned to the car without further mishap.