Saturday, March 26, 2022

A Salute to San Francisco

The city where I’ve chosen to live for almost 12 years does not need me to defend it, but I will. Though the national and local media sometimes make much of San Francisco’s problems — insufficient affordable housing, hamstrung politicians, homelessness, a school board run aground, street crime and rising water lapping at the shores of this peninsula that measures just under 49 square miles — I love it. 

Here are some of the reasons why.  

San Francisco Exemplifies Location, Location, Location

From Point Lobos — one of the city’s outer headlands overlooking the Golden Gate Strait — you can see where the Pacific Ocean rushes into San Francisco Bay as the Sacramento River and the San Joaquin River flow out. From the beach at Crissy Field, east of the Golden Gate Bridge, you can watch giant cargo ships, fishing boats, ferries, yachts and sailboats make their way through the water. Off Ocean Beach, surfers bob in the water, their hooded wetsuits giving them the appearance of so many sea lions poking their heads out for a look around. 

I’ve been drawn to water for decades. For 40 years, from boats large and small, I’ve watched whales in the wild off both U.S. and Canadian coasts, in Mexico and in Argentina. Snorkeling is my sport, and I’ve spent time hovering above reef sharks (in the Galapagos Islands) following majestic manta rays (in the Caribbean Sea) and talking to sea turtles (off Hawaii). Now, more often than not I’m simply sitting by water, which research shows can lower stress, relieve anxiety and increase happiness.  

San Francisco Is Beautiful 

Iconic landmarks abound. How about that Golden Gate Bridge, for starters? You can catch glimpses of it from all over town (including from my balcony) and for me, it’s still a thrill to drive over it. Flowers bloom everywhere much of the year, (small gardens thrive in many a front yard) and palm trees wave from unexpected spots all over town. The city also boasts eclectic architecture. Here's a tip: After you've seen the renowned Painted Ladies, check out the beautiful houses on Waller at Masonic. 

What about green space? Some 220 parks are sprinkled throughout the city. Golden Gate Park, which takes up 1,017 acres, houses a botanical garden, a bison paddock (the five older females’ names all begin with “B”) the oldest glass and wood Victorian greenhouse in the western hemisphere, a space for free outdoor swing dancing lessons, 10 lakes, a Japanese Tea Garden and two word-class museums. 

San Francisco Embraces Art

Golden Gate Park is home to the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum, two of the 50 museums in the city. (Read my Next Avenue article about some of them here: https://www.nextavenue.org/modern-art-beat-poets/) Some are large (the Asian Art Museum, the Legion of Honor, the Exploratorium), some are small (the Cartoon Art Museum, the Cable Car Museum, the Beat Museum) and some are rare (the Museum of the African Diaspora, the Musée Mécanique, a retired Navy submarine). 



At the Hyde Street Pier, part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park,  visitors can tour historic ships. Public art is on display throughout the city. And the bullet holes in the floor in the prison on Alcatraz Island dramatically illustrate some of that building’s history. 

San Francisco Celebrates Culture

Theater. Music. Dance. Lectures. It’s all here, in its many incarnations, and I am grateful. I’ve seen “Hamilton” three times (!), been moved by the plight of refugees portrayed in “The Jungle,” delighted in Bill Irwin’s one-man show “On Beckett” and watched in awe as Sha Sha Higby performed in a storefront theater. Sutton Foster, Tovah Feldshuh and my friend Ken Haller all brought cabaret shows here, and I was in attendance. 

From the highest balcony, I saw Placido Domingo in “Cyrano” at the San Francisco Opera. After interviewing classical violinist Vadim Gluzman, I saw him play at the San Francisco Symphony.  I also bought a ticket to hear Bernadette Peters sing. With friends, I attended “Audium,” a concert of "sound sculptures" broadcast on 169 speakers. Plus, the city gave the music so many top bands, including The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Sly & The Family Stone, Creedence Clearwater Revival and more. 

I have attended the San Francisco Ballet’s legendary “The Nutcracker” — in 1944, the company debuted the first full-length version of that ballet staged in the U.S. Equally enjoyable was watching expert hula dancers perform in a most unlikely spot — a sandwich shop out by the water, after hours one rainy week night. Plus, I know where Rudolph Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn were busted for smoking dope on a rooftop. 

Some book authors come through town to read in the many independent bookstores; others require larger spaces. When Margaret Atwood was here, an audience member asked her, “Are you a witch?” (Atwood laughed.) When Billy Collins read his poetry, I hoped the evening would go on and on. Richard Powers was quick to anger when an audience member questioned whether trees should be considered sentient. And Ricky Jay gifted me with a deck of cards when he gave a talk, though he declined to show off his card-throwing skills. 

Fine food is important here, too. We've got quality and quantity both. Before COVID-19, supposedly even if you ate dinner out every night for 15 years, you still would not have visited every restaurant. During the pandemic, the city lost some restaurants, but over the last few months, new ones are opening all the time. Have to say I am thrilled that I live somewhere that I can buy fresh malasadas!

San Francisco Welcomes Quirky

Historians note that what started as a small Spanish settlement in 1776 grew from about 1,000 inhabitants in 1848 to 25,000 in 1849 after gold was discovered in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Back then, eggs jumped from a dollar each to $3, a pound of coffee cost $40 and overalls went for $45 a pair. Author and historian Gary Kamiya tells great tales about San Francisco's history in his book "Cool Gray City of Love," and he generously provides resources for readers like me who want to know more. 

Today, like many other cities, San Francisco holds an annual nude bike ride, pub crawls in December for people dressed as Santa and street festivals that pay homage to neighborhoods, subcultures and assorted holidays. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — men dressed as glamorous nuns known for their charitable acts — was founded here in 1979 and now is a worldwide movement. One day, out for a drive, I came across the Sisters celebrating near one of the tiled mosaic staircases in town, and caught one sliding down a bannister.  

I like that everyone in this city has an opinion on almost everything, a trait I share. I like that no one makes a big deal out of it when a man walks along a downtown street with a large iguana draped over his head. 

When I saw a giant cloud shaped liked a sperm whale, I was able to board a boat the next day from a pier just 30 minutes away — and see migrating whales! 

San Francisco is a baseball town. When I moved here in 2010, I committed post-season treason and shifted my allegiance from the St. Louis Cardinals to the San Francisco Giants, and later got to appear in a commercial for the team. I remain a particular fan of Tim Lincecum, the pitcher extraordinaire known as The Freak.

And I like that orange poppies grow out of sidewalk cracks and on verdant hillsides and even in concrete medians along busy streets. The jaunty flowers are at home here. So am I. 




Friday, December 31, 2021

Don't Postpone Joy, Regardless

Dismay may be a valid response to much of 2021, a year when the U.S. saw more than 54 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 800,000 deaths from it — so many of them preventable. Many of us also have struggled with dark visions of the future of democracy, assuming we have a planet left on which to practice it. 

But today a shiny new year beckons, so this is no time for existential dread or self-pity. (On that pungent topic, American cartoonist Dick Guindon notes, “You shouldn't wallow in self-pity. But it's OK to put your feet in it and swish them around a little.”) 

As the gifted Stephen Sondheim reminds us in his song, “I’m here,” survival is triumph, and a reason for joy. Photos snapped with my phone captured many happy moments from 2021, and I’m sharing them here. 

JANUARY

As a longtime sunset aficionado, I am so happy to have a 13th-floor apartment that faces due West so I can indulge in my harmless hobby every day. 

FEBRUARY 

Launched in 1886, the Balclutha now is docked in the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, and her story (Pottery! Cutlery! Whiskey!) always excites me. (Read more here: www.nps.gov/safr/learn/historyculture/balclutha-history.htm)

MARCH

I grew up eating rainbow trout that Daddy caught in Arkansas' White River. Now I head to the Sausalito marina often, to feast on trout at Fish. I always mean to order something else — but I never do. 

APRIL

I also grew up reading everything I could find about Josephine Baker, and when the de Young Museum (https://deyoung.famsf.org/) in Golden Gate Park featured an exhibit on Alexander Calder, I ran right over to see this, one of several sculptures he did of Baker. Sexy! 

MAY

 

During a visit to Filoli Gardens (https://filoli.org/) in May, ginkgo trees were for sale in the gift shop! I often sit next to my tree and tell it the history of this magnificent species. 

JUNE

Even the Tyrannosaurus rex (or what remains of it) at the California Academy of Sciences (www.calacademy.org/) wears a mask indoors! And why not? Whatever it takes to keep us safe! 

JULY

Got to cheer on "Late Night LaMonte" Wade at Oracle Park with the family one beautiful July afternoon! He saved a lot of night games with walk-off hits for the Giants. 

AUGUST

Headed to Moss Landing with my friend Julia for a whale-watch trip! Been at this for 40 years now. (I. Am. Old.) Always love time on the ocean! And if you don't already follow my Facebook posts on Whaleopedia (www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063957405764) about all things whale, dolphin and porpoise, start today. Kids especially love my Wednesday Whale Fact. 

SEPTEMBER

Judy, my friend for 48 years (!) came to visit, and we dropped in on Yoda, who dispenses wisdom outside Lucasfilms Headquarters in the Presidio. Then, wisely (it was a nippy day), we ducked into the nearby coffee shop.

OCTOBER

For 19 months (the gestation period for a baby elephant), my beloved warm-water pool at the JCC was closed due to COVID-19 and then installation of a new dehumidifier. When the pool reopened in October, I was often one of just two or three people in it! Water is my natural element, and I sorely miss it when I'm not there.

NOVEMBER

After sharing its pot with a bunch of California poppies, the ginkgo tree seemed to be rethinking its life on the balcony. The leaves turned crunchy brown and dropped — every last one. "We'll see what happens in a couple of months," I told The Boy. One day in October I noticed new growth, and within 30 days, the tree was celebrating spring. In November. Fine with me! 

DECEMBER

Aren't surprises just the best? Early in December, this beauty showed up in the mail, a gift from my friend (and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer) J.B. Forbes. The shimmery, bejeweled ornament reminded him of me, he said! I'm in awe. 

ON TO 2022

I don't believe in New Year's Resolutions, but if I did, this year's would be Stop Saving Anything. Many of us save new clothes, new bed linens, new slippers, new towels, new everything (undies, even!) — and FOR WHAT???? 

My longtime mantra has been, and remains:

DON'T POSTPONE JOY!

I am reminded of this every time I want to call Steve Woolf, who died in July after a very short and not particularly fulfilling retirement. He was happy the last time we spoke, home from the hospital, feeling better, looking forward to better days ahead. That was just three days before his journey on this planet ended. I miss him.

Make sure you find some joy today, call people you miss, watch the sun set and carry on. 


   

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

It's That Time Again!

Ho Ho Ho — and all that jazz! 

Though my official Grandmas and Grandkids Christmas Decorating Party is still some days away, I'm auditioning a new piece I bought at a posh discount store (yes, there is such a thing) last week in San Francisco: 

Why did I buy this? Because I fully expected an Inspector Armand Gamache action figure to come with it, to complete the obvious reference to Three Pines. (Louise Penny fans, you're welcome.) 

No such luck. Then I realized the snow-festooned trees also remind me of winter visits in years past to the Donner-Tahoe area in the Sierra Nevadas. Brrr! 

But beautiful!  

Photographing the new addition to my minimalist collection of decorations (most of them fit in one medium-sized bin at the top of the closet) sent me to my phone, where I scrolled through pictures from Christmases Past. I found fun shots of some of my decorations and also those of friends. 

Enjoy — and feel free to duplicate any of these approaches, unless your loyalty to tradition forbids making any changes. I like to mix it up!  

Christmas 2020:


Christmas 2019:

                                         

Christmas 2018:  


                                

Christmas 2017:

                                

Christmas 2016: 

                                

Christmas 2015: 

Cheating a bit here — this was a New Year's Eve Party, which I attended wrapped in a 9-foot-long  feather boa and a fancy feather fascinator. Still have the topper, though the boa withered away after decades of parties. 

                                

Christmas 2014:

Snapped this at Vierra and Friends in Cole Valley, where my friend Lison decorates her salon in a Big Way! 

                            

Christmas 2013:

                                 

Christmas 2012:

With my Girl Cousins at Karen's house, celebrating Christmas with my dear Aunt Betty. She's gone, but we remember!               





HAPPY DECORATING — AND MERRY CHRISTMAS!






















Saturday, November 13, 2021

Untold Tales from a Food Writer's Tasty Past

An apple pie for Joel Grey, harsh feedback on lettuce preferences, eating gourmet chocolates with the French chef who crafted them. Also, insider info on strawberry-rhubarb pie, too much port for one afternoon, the joys of golden kiwi revealed. Oh, and a frozen pork chop.

These highlights from my days as a newspaper food writer and later, a restaurant critic, bubbled up after I mentioned to a friend that I now have a dream job. Read on.

Just over a year ago, a gifted caterer (justeatitsf.com) who pivoted to home delivery service because of the pandemic needed a writer/editor to help with web copy, email blasts and social media posts. At the time, I needed to revive my waning interest in cooking or resign myself to eating food primarily prepared at the local grocery.  

When she said she wasn’t sure she could afford to hire me, I asked if she would feed me in exchange for help with words — and she agreed! I’ve been well fed (and happy) ever since. Let’s hear it for bartering! 

Here's a photo from my Thanksgiving meal last year:

Feast now on some of the highlights (and delicious lowlights) from my past:

Interviewing Chef Pierre Franey as we sipped fresh banana malts at a local eatery.

A disgruntled restaurant owner who tried to get me fired because I wrote that I didn’t hate iceberg lettuce. (I do hate frisée, but no one cares.)

Hearing from home cooks I’d featured in the newspaper that they’d laminated and framed the articles and hung them on their kitchen walls. 

A sly restaurant owner who told me he had a special menu for regular customers, and then got angry when I wrote about that.

Struggling to cut into a pork chop at a restaurant I was reviewing — it was frozen. 

Sampling a box of Chef Michel Guérard’s new line of gourmet chocolates while I interviewed him. 

Choking down a tuna roll at an interview with a sushi chef because I am not (and never will be) a fan of raw fish. The photographer with me deftly palmed his, slipped it into his jacket pocket (eww…) and told the chef it tasted great. 

A distinguished restaurant owner who indicated he had recognized me by first kissing my hand, then starting up my arm.  

Holding a Pie Baking Party with friends so I could learn to bake an apple pie. I wrote a story that included all the recipes. (After some practice runs, I did manage to make one perfect apple pie, which I delivered to Joel Grey at the theater where he was performing in “Cabaret.” He liked that pie so much, he told me to quit my day job.) 

Learning from a restaurant owner what goes into the price of a meal, including the ingredients, the prep time, the rent or mortgage, the gas and electricity bills, linen service, salaries — it’s amazing we don’t pay more!

Getting a personal call from a favorite chef every spring when he was making strawberry-rhubarb pie. 

An arrogant restaurant owner who told me he didn’t want anyone over 35 eating at his place, and then got angry when I wrote about that. 

Hearing a restaurant/bar owner’s story about the night Allen Ginsberg came in, sat in front of the fireplace and recited from his poem “Howl.”

Taking heat from a deli owner who flinched when I asked if he had any lean pastrami. (Still sorry!)

Trying to sober up fast in order to drive home safely from a port tasting.

Following a truck on an unfamiliar road and suddenly realizing I was in line at a highway weigh station instead of on an exit ramp. (At least we hadn’t eaten yet!) 

Interviewing food writer and self-described “fruit detective” David Karp, who informed me at length about some of the 40 known varieties of kiwi. (If you haven’t yet, try the golden — tastes like sunshine!) 

Finding my review proudly posted alongside other favorable coverage in a restaurant’s bathroom. 

Yep, those were the days! I also remember abandoning my restaurant beat for a week on September 11, 2001, so I could be back on the streets reporting the news. I told my editor: “I am not writing this week about whether I liked my salad.” 

I treasure the hundreds of interviews with restaurant owners, chefs, wine mavens, cookbook authors and also the readers in metropolitan St. Louis who willingly shared their recipes. I met so many interesting people, and I learned so very much over the years. 

And that’s why today I’m able to work for food!

P.S. Bonus: I also write for a Master Mixologist (msquaredspirits.com) whose posh craft cocktails are now available in 39 states. He shows up at my door now and then with alcoholic rewards! 




Sunday, October 10, 2021

Couch Hunting — With Lobster

Insider Tip: When shopping for a couch, never judge the firmness of the seat by sitting on the middle cushion. Why? Because everyone who comes in the store sits there, and the center cushions wear down more quickly than they would in your living room. 

How do I know this?

“I need to do some couch shopping,” my friend Julia said one day.  I told her I wanted to go along, because I needed a new piece of furniture as well. My beloved chaise, bought a decade ago at the Crate and Barrel Outlet in Berkeley, was no longer working for me and The Boy. 

When he was an infant, the two of us fit on it just great. Cuddling there while we read or watched “The Octonauts” together was equally splendid all through the toddler years and even beyond. But when we were reunited after the pandemic eased, we discovered he’d grown and takes up more space than before. We managed for a while, but then I started pondering replacing the narrow chaise with a chair and a half. 

Over several weeks, Julia and I drove to nine furniture stores in the North Bay and the South Bay. We sat on many, many couches together, and I also tried on assorted chairs and a half. We learned how couches are built, we learned how cushions are made and we learned about different types of cushion fillings. 

At the Sunrise Home Furniture Store in San Rafael, we learned that two resident cats had the run of the place — and we were charmed. 

At each store, we also learned that few couches were actually available. Though Julia could order just about any couch she fancied in any fabric and any size, delivery would be delayed for six to eight months. Furniture manufacturers had shut down during the early days of the pandemic, we were told, and when they opened up again, they were confronted with a global shortage of foam, a key ingredient in couches. Also, at most stores, bargains were hard to find. “Nothing is on sale right now because everyone is looking to buy furniture,” confided one bold saleswoman. 

Early in July,  I was ready to make a purchase. But what to buy?

I revisited my initial goal of acquiring a chair and a half. On a whim, I measured the wall and briefly considered buying something bigger, maybe a loveseat or small full-sized couch. I also recalled my great enthusiasm for a leather Bennett Duo recliner that I'd curled up in at a La-Z-Boy store, though the price was high and the chair fit just one. Then I reminded myself the whole point of shopping had been to find something that The Boy and I both fit in comfortably for however much longer he is willing to snuggle with his grandma. 

Late one Sunday night, I scrolled once more through the options on the Crate and Barrel website. Way down at the bottom I spied a chair and a half that was on sale for $300 less than full price! I promptly put it in my cart. When the store opened the next day, I walked in and asked to see the relevant fabric swatch (truffle) and to sit one more time on a floor model in the Lounge II line. The salesman said if I placed an order that day, I could get my chair by Thanksgiving. Probably. Maybe Christmas. 

I told him I’d seen one available right now on line — and on sale. Calmly, quietly, he told me as kindly as possible that no furniture was on sale. Period. I persisted, so he went to his computer to check it out. He ran back across the showroom floor, his words spilling out: “I found it! I found it, and there is just one in the warehouse," he said. "If you want it, or even if you think you want it, I wouldn’t wait.” 

I wanted it. On my phone, I found the chair and a half still in my cart, and said aloud that I’d just push the PayPal button so the chair soon would be mine. With a look of horror, the salesman drew back and intoned, “Please don’t break my heart!” 

When I complimented him on both his sense of drama and his salesmanship, he explained that every day, customers came into the store, sat on several couches and went home to think about what to buy. “Then they make the purchase on line,” he said, “and I get no commission.” Of course I told him I would let him sell me the chair, which was delivered just days later — a bit of a miracle, in July 2021, as new furniture stories go.

Curious about the lobster reference in the headline? 

Julia and I carefully timed each of our furniture shopping trips to include lunch out. By chance, on our first two expeditions we ate at restaurants that featured lobster dishes on the menu, and we indulged. On our third trip, we went all out, purposefully driving to the New England Lobster Market & Eatery in Burlingame. 

Furniture shopping, especially with friends, has never seemed arduous to me. Add a lobster roll or lobster ravioli — and the experience is even better.  














Saturday, August 28, 2021

When Sea Lions Go to Lunch

In the vast expanse that is the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (449 square miles wide and twice as deep as the Grand Canyon), sea lions cluster atop organic debris and go in search of feeding whales. When this haphazard-looking flotilla finds them, their buffet is officially open. As the whales feast on anchovies and sardines, stirring up the water, the sea lions grab their share. Seabirds soon arrive to join the party.

All this goes on as we wrestle with the Delta variant, rail about politics, weep over 100-plus fires burning in the West and watch in horror as floods and heat waves wreak havoc elsewhere. Whales have been on the planet for 50 million years, still surviving even though we’ve attempted to slaughter every last one of them, we’ve neglected to reduce ocean acidification caused by the climate crisis and we continue to dump toxic materials in the sea. 

So far, Whale Nation endures. 

In celebration of that — and of the 40th anniversary of my first whale-watch trip — I headed for Monterey Bay from my home in San Francisco to board a boat, my first big adventure out since March 2020. 

Humpback whales spouted, breached and showed off their beautiful 10-foot-wide scalloped tails as they dived. We also saw a mola mola (ocean sunfish), plenty of jellies, seabirds galore and dozens of those clever sea lions. The sun sparkled on the water as passengers, masked to protect us from one another, oohed and aahed at nature’s display, even as we lamented that the whales cavorted closer to another boat than ours.





The evening before the whale watch, a friend and I attended a different kind of dinner party. Just before dusk, we drove to Moss Landing State Beach in time to see thousands of shorebirds chowing down as half a dozen photographers documented the noisy scene. Caspian terns, plovers, long-billed curlew and more than 300 other species feed there. Brown pelicans soared overhead and also assembled on the bank as harbor seals frolicked in the water.

Earlier, along the Salinas River, we saw a great white egret that towered over dozens of smaller birds feeding on the mudflats. My friend walked up and over the dunes and spotted an otter in the sea.  

Spending time in nature reminds me this remarkable parallel universe is always available when I’m feeling “out of tune,” a phrase from William Wordsworth’s poem "The World Is Too Much with Us." In it, Wordsworth chides readers for their materialism and for distancing themselves from nature. Some things never change — he wrote that in 1802. 

In addition to reconnecting with wildlife on my short getaway, I gobbled up panko-encrusted sand dabs at The Haute Enchilada in Moss Landing, fresh snapper at Duarte’s in Pescadero and cheesecake at Swanton’s Berry Farm, where I also scored three pints of Chandler strawberries, my favorite. As for anchovies and sardines — well, I’ll leave those for the flotillas of sea lions and their majestic dining companions. 



Monday, April 12, 2021

Car Talk: New? Used? Calm Down?

Something new, something shiny, something thrilling. After spending a year saving money — nowhere to go and nothing to do, what with the fear of COVID-19 looming large — I am in the mood to shop for something. Something big.

“I’m buying new clothes,” a friend said. I’m not. 

My closet is full of clothes that will seem new when (if) I move on from sweatpants and sweatshirts. While looking for an errant sock in the laundry basket last week, I caught a glimpse of a favorite red ikat print shirt hanging in the closet. I whispered, “I miss you! Soon!” 

I need no clothes, I need no earrings (hope the holes are still open) and I certainly need no furniture here in my junior one-bedroom apartment. 

What I want is a car. Specifically, a Subaru Crosstrek. Whether I need one is debatable. Because I enjoy researching tempting ideas before making any decision, I’ve sought information from several people. Some of it has been useful. 

Free Advice Is Plentiful

My mechanic said (in the nicest possible way) that I’m crazy to abandon the car I have. My Cousin the Car Salesman presented pros and cons. My son offered slightly different pros and cons. My insurance agent refused to weigh in, but provided some numbers. My financial adviser provided more numbers. Several friends — some own old cars and some brand new — heard me out and voiced support for whatever I decide. 

Stay close to the phone, as I may be calling for your thoughts soon. 

My Subaru Legacy Wagon is 15 years old, with 70,066 miles on it. It’s in fine shape, mechanically speaking. (Thanks, Dirk.) Yes, there are some scrapes and peeling spots on the exterior. 

Why ponder something new? 

My car has no safety features. It does have me, and I have a superlative driving record. However, I’ve read that people my age are subject to slower response times while driving. Plus, in spite of spending time in the same dense fog that helps the coastal redwoods grow so very tall, I am shorter than I used to be. I would like a car that allows me to sit up higher. 

(Once, I convinced a doctor to alter my sad, short height on my Official Chart to allow me some dignity. Because he’s shorter now too, he did.)

So Many Decisions!

If I decide to pursue something new and shiny, that’s only the beginning. Then I have to decide whether I want a new car or a used car. If I buy, should I use some of my savings to pay cash for the full amount to avoid interest or put down a wad of money to lower the monthly payment? 

I haven’t forgotten that I already have a car, so I investigated what it might be worth. One online source said I could expect between $700 and $6.500. That’s quite a range! Once I filled out the calculator, I got an estimate of about $4,800. I got no phone number for anyone ready to pay that.  

Regarding used cars, I’ve also read that because car manufacturers shut down early in the pandemic, the demand is huge right now for good used cars. One writer recommended waiting until fall to shop, when dealers will have more new cars available and presumably the price of used cars will drop. Right now, he reported, people are paying “silly” prices for used vehicles. 

Maybe I should lease a car. For a long time, conventional wisdom held that leasing a car was a waste of money. It’s like renting, people said. You pay and pay and pay, and at the end you have nothing. As a homeowner, I heard that repeatedly. For over a decade, I’ve been a renter — and I love it. I pay and pay and pay — and I get to live in San Francisco! Owning a home here is not possible for me. Heck, I probably couldn’t afford a one-car garage, much less a car to put in it.  

One article I read said leasing a car is not a bad idea for older adults on a fixed income. Yes, you pay and pay and pay, but you pay less than a typical car payment for a vehicle you bought, and you don’t have to touch your savings. That said, leasing a car comes with lots of fees and rules, and I get the feeling the house (the dealership) always wins.  

Whether I choose to buy or lease, my cousin says I must visit three dealerships to compare deals. My one concern about that is that I may be susceptible to a hard sell if I fall in love with a car on the lot. My son has another concern. He asked, “Have you driven a Crosstrek?” 

An Alternate to Test Drives

Ummm — no. I have been a passenger in one, but I realize that doesn’t count. To remedy that — and to hold off on my forays to dealerships — I opened an account with Zipcar (https://www.zipcar.com/san-francisco), a short-term car-sharing rental service. People here who don’t own cars use Zipcars all the time, as do people who need pickup trucks or vans just for an afternoon. 

Zipcars provides newer models of all kinds of cars, so I can test drive several models, giving them an opportunity to prove themselves more worthy than the car I want. Or think I want. One friend suggested that if I go for drives in new Zipcars now and then, maybe that will get wanting a new car out of my system. 

Last time I was besieged by fantasies of a new car, I thought I wanted one of those little Fiat 500e models. Adorable! Apparently, the car flunked safety tests and now Fiat doesn’t make them anymore. Over the years, I have owned a splendid 1966 candy apple red Mustang, a series of boring family cars, a horrid Ford Escort, a feisty Sidekick, an assortment of Hondas, an immense Oldsmobile and my current Subaru Legacy Wagon. 

Two weeks ago, when I saw the property manager at my building in the garage, he called out, “I like your car – I learned to drive on one of those!” He’s a grown man, with a son.

Isn’t that an indication it’s time for me to get a different car?