Friday, July 15, 2011

Salt in My Ears

We really meant to have just one – but that’s not what happened.

Cheri is in town again, visiting her son and daughter-in-law and granddaughters. Regular readers will recall she was last here in January (see the Jan. 26 post), and we had a great time then. So even though mornings lately have been foggy and drippy and chilly, I was up and out early, off to catch a string of buses.

We met at the San Francisco Maritime Museum (part of the National Park Service – see and meandered through a new exhibit on historic maps. I always tell people that every place I’ve been, Captain Cook got to first, and the exhibit confirmed that.

Then we headed for the Hyde Street Pier, aka the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (also part of the Park Service). Along the way, we looked for my favorite tie-dye street vendor, named Blue, but we had missed him.

For just $5 (free if you have a Golden Eagle park pass), you can board a series of historic vessels permanently docked at the pier. We meandered all over the Balclutha, a three-masted, steel-hulled, square-rigged ship that carried cargo all over the world, including 17 trips around Cape Horn. Launched in 1886 near Glasgow, Scotland, the Balclutha required a crew of 26 – some of them as young as 15 or 16.

We walked through the Eureka, a side-wheel ferry built in 1890 that used to transport people from San Francisco to Sausalito. The ferry bears a sign that reads: Highway 101, because it was the only way to get from here to there. The ferry was full of old cars, trucks and chocolate wagons that belonged to Ghiradelli Company. (Foreshadowing…) We also admired some of the smaller boats.

We popped into the park’s gift shop. It’s a great little store, with wonderful shirts, and they also “Moby Dick,” both Melville’s original and the pop-up version. Then we headed for the Buena Vista
(, where they have been serving Irish coffee since 1952.

Not to me, of course, or Cheri.

She had never been there, and I was there just once before, some 29 years ago, on an unforgettable evening. Let’s just say I took part in an Irish Coffee Standoff with some co-workers, and remarkably, I do recall the rest of the rowdy evening.

Anyway, the idea was that since Cheri likes coffee and my ancestors are from Ireland, we would pop in and have one Irish coffee each. Once we got a great table in a window, we decided to stay for lunch. I opted for a crabmeat omelet with fresh crabmeat and Swiss cheese. It would have been an excellent omelet but for the bits of horrid orange polyester tomato. Cheri had a different sort of omelet, one with bacon – it looked great.

The coffees came. We toasted our families and ourselves, and we drank. ‘Ohhhh – I like this,” Cheri said. Yep! So we ate and drank and laughed and ate some more. We really meant to have just one Irish coffee, but we decided to have another for dessert. It was equally tasty.

Then it was off to the Buena Vista Gift Shop, where I felt compelled to buy a teensy bottle of Tullamore Dew, a fine Irish whiskey I first tasted in 1971. Next we found ourselves in the Ghiradelli gift shop. No – not “the” – but one of the half dozen or so on that block. Next, we popped in at a number of shops selling San Francisco souvenirs. Cheri bought a shirt. I escaped without buying anything. Except the whiskey and chocolate, of course.

Walking along, we saw a sign that read “$15: Boat Tours of the Bay.” I know a bit about boat tours of the Bay. Farther down the block, at Pier 39, the trips are $30-$40. “Let’s go,” I said. "This is a good deal." Cheri laughed and said we really didn’t need to get on a boat. 

Oh, but we did. A few minutes later, we were scrambling down the ladder, the last two passengers on the Silver Fox, which has a double life as a fishing boat and tour boat. The Silver Fox goes out in the Bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge, around Alcatraz and back to the pier.

Today, the waves were frisky, the ride was bouncy and we all got wet from the spray. Not soaked, but more than damp. We saw cormorants, a pelican, murres, gulls and a fur seal. A guy on the boat said he saw a dolphin, but it may have been a harbor porpoise. We also saw half a dozen people windsurfing (aka kitesurfing and sailboarding), including one guy who was riding our wake.

What a great day! Maps, boats, ships, crabmeat, Irish coffee, and a boat trip in the Bay with Cheri, my friend for 51 years.

The bonus? Salt in my ears as a souvenir of the trip.