Thursday, January 5, 2012

Embrace your inner tourist

Aw, just get on the bus.

San Francisco is one of the world’s great cities. You’ve been there, and you have done the whole tourist thing, hanging out at Fisherman’s Wharf, riding a cable car and gazing upon the Golden Gate Bridge.

I say, do it. Be a tourist. It’s fun. Don’t apologize.

So, we get on the bus with the open top deck and take the “two-hour” (it lasted nearly three and a half since the traffic was awful) tour of The City. I’ve visited San Francisco a couple dozen times but, I confess, this was my first visit to Haight-Ashbury and one of very few to the Tenderloin. From the relative safety of the bus, Haight was little more than a throwback to the summer of love, the Tenderloin little more than a movie scene, and SoMa an uneventful drive-through. A homeless guy cozies up next to Kathleen, and he’s so large that he sort of pools into her seat as well. She casually finds other accommodation.

Yes, yes, yes, Pier 39 is built for tourists and has nothing at all to do with San Francisco -- it could just as easily be a pier on Lake Erie. That would be true if the fresh fish were walleye instead of fresh mussels and crabs. Instead of whining about the artifice of tourist-based shopping centers, we should just embrace them. It’s fun -- there are street musicians, good food, interesting stores and usually good weather, and most of it is appropriately over-priced. 

From the bus we pick out cafes we want to try in Little Italy, catch a whiff of Chinatown, watch drug-addled teenagers in Haight-Ashbury and note the long line outside of Glide Memorial Church waiting for a free meal. There are seedy signs for topless bars, classic scenes of Queen Anne Victorians lined side by side, and the spectacular Golden Gate Park and Presidio.

Next time, I’m getting on the bus first thing in the morning, having an early lunch in Little Italy, going shopping in Ashbury Street, leaving a donation at the Glide, watching the sunset at the Golden Gate and having dinner in, well, probably at Fisherman’s Wharf, where I’ll stop at Boudin and buy some warm sourdough bread for the road. And that’ll be a fun day.

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