Saturday, April 9, 2011

Serendipitous Adventures in San Francisco

Giants' Opening Day: April 8, 2011

At Walgreen’s this afternoon, I overheard the young man behind the counter tell another worker that he is a big Giants’ fan but his favorite baseball player is Albert Pujols.

I get that, so I spoke up.

Regular readers may recall in the November 4 blog post I confessed to committing post-season treason, having come under the spell of the feisty, freaky Giants after moving here. And yet after a 50-year relationship with the Cardinals, I have some tender feelings for them as well.

I told the young man at Walgreen's that a week ago, I bought a ticket on StubHub to the Giants’ home opener, on April 8, against the Cardinals. Okay, I paid about what I used to pay for a winter coat at Marshall’s when I was working full time, but I paid because I really wanted to be at that game. I just couldn't imagine enjoying it on television when all the excitement was taking place only four miles away. 

Yesterday morning, the forecast called for 56 degrees and 15-25 mph winds. The ballpark sits in a cove, right on the water. I put on the following: A black cami, a long-sleeved black t-shirt, a long-sleeved black sweatshirt, my Tim Lincecum t-shirt, my whale-watching long johns, fleece-lined wind-proof leggings, black wool sock liners, fuzzy orange socks, one baseball earring and one Cardinal earring. I topped it all off with a fleece jacket and packed a wool scarf, wool gloves, a fleece headband and a wool hat.

That, dear Cardinals fans, is what it takes to feel comfortable at a ballgame in San Francisco. I felt great – even when I discovered I was in the very last row. Before I made the climb, I thought it might be like dangling from the blimp, but it was just fine. Nice people were on either side of me, no one was in front of me (just the long stairs leading down) and I was directly above home plate. I could see the entire park, the party boats in the cove and seafaring container ships entering and leaving, guided by tugs.

I teared up when the Cards took the field. I teared up when the Giants took the field. I loved it all, right up until the 11th inning, when Tony wouldn't let the Cards pitch to any of the Giants and the Giants’ pitchers (and we saw a lot of them) couldn’t seem to catch a break from the umpire, whose strike zone was all over the place. I know better, but I left the game – and I had a lot of company. On the Muni, we all cheered when a guy on his phone called out that the Giants won in the 12th inning.

You might think eight hours of baseball was enough (I left the apartment at 10:30 a.m. and got home at 7 p.m.), but I watched the last inning on the TIVO recording.

Of course I didn't tell the young man at Walgreen's all that, but we did talk about some highlights -- and there were many. To encourage him to continue to talk to customers, especially old women who usually are ignored in stores, later today I went back to Walgreen's and gave this same young man the 2011 Giants calendar that I received at the ballpark yesterday. He was thrilled.

To backtrack a bit: On that first walk to Walgreen's, I encountered a sidewalk sale. Diane and John were selling books, shelves and some of Diane’s clothing because she recently retired. As it happens, Diane and I have the same taste. She had my favorite brands – Flax, We Be Bop, Blue Fish and a designer I didn’t know but who clearly knows me. There on the corner I removed my fleece jacket and my San Francisco sweatshirt and tried on some of the outfits. No one walking by paid any attention – except the two other short, round women who stopped to try on clothes too.

One more magic moment to report on: Wednesday, I went with my friends Nancy and Betty-Lou to dinner at the home of two of their dearest friends. The company, the food and the conversation all were terrific, plus there was a bonus.

A redwood tree with six thick trunks grows right alongside the wooden deck in the long, narrow backyard. I learned that in the mid-1940s, someone who lived in the house brought home a tiny redwood sprout in a small cup and planted it, probably expecting nothing. What grew was private redwood forest that towers high over the house.

I went out on the deck for a minute to pay homage to the tree -- yet another serendipitous adventure here in my amazing new hometown.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Bravo Baseball, Ballet, Sunshine and Italian Food

Walking the perimeter at AT&T park at a Giants’ pre-season exhibition game, I popped in at Orlando’s Caribbean BBQ. Not for a crab cake or barbecue – I eat burnt hot dogs at ballparks, embracing all three known carcinogens just once a year.

I stopped in because after the ad for the eatery came up on the JumboTron, a vague memory unpacked itself from a box in the dusty attic of my past and presented me with a vision of a large Cardinals button that read, “Bravo, Bravo El Birdo!”

Orlando Cepeda, it seemed to me, had come up with the phase that led to the button.

“Sir,” I said to a smiling middle-aged fellow at the barbecue joint, “Wasn’t Orlando Cepeda a Cardinal at one time and didn’t he call his team ‘El Birdos’?“ The man considered my question.

“No,” he said. “He was never a Birdo. You are thinking of Albert Pujols.”

I was not thinking in any way of Albert Pujols, but I thanked the man and continued on my walking tour. (It was okay to be away from the action for a bit – there wasn’t any until the last 10 minutes of this particular game against Oakland.) When I got home, flushed with Giants Fever, I looked up Orlando Cepeda on line.

This Hall of Famer played for the Giants from 1958 to 1966 and then moved to the Cardinals, where he helped the Redbirds win the World Series in 1967 and the pennant the next year. Furthermore, Cepeda did nickname the Cardinals “El Birdos,” and his teammates called him “Cha Cha.” In 1967, Cepeda was elected as the National League MVP, the first unanimous selection for the award ever made.

In 1967 – San Francisco’s (in)famous “Summer of Love” -- I was 19. Bob Gibson was the Cardinal Pitcher Extraordinaire, and the roster also included Tim McCarver (now an erudite broadcaster), Roger Maris, Curt Flood, Lou Brock, Julien Javier, Dal Maxvill and Mike Shannon (the much-loved St. Louis broadcaster).

And somewhere in the apartment is my “Bravo, Bravo El Birdo!” button. Maybe. No disrespect to Albert Pujols, of course.

“Bravo” was on the tip of my tongue in another context this week when I went to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in Berkeley. Founded in 1958, this is a company I have seen four or five times, dating back to the early ‘80s. I think I may even have reviewed a performance or two for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

As always, the performance Tuesday night was glorious, visually compelling and emotionally rewarding. And as always, “Revelations” – first produced in 1960 – brought down the house, with audience members all the way to the back row (where we sat) applauding and begging for more.

Another highlight this week (besides the Southern California weather visiting here in Northern California) was an outstanding plate of spaghetti and meatballs at Osteria, where I was invited to celebrate Susan’s birthday with her lifelong friends. Usually, I have the salmon, but this dish appealed and did not disappoint.

Baseball, ballet, balmy days and meatballs – perfect!