The Land of the Running White Clouds, or Aotearoa, New Zealand, #4

After watching Mt. Shasta slip by thousands of feet below me, and trying to follow the meander of the Sacramento River down California to the sea, I concentrated on preparing for landing, making sure my shoes were on, the book I hadn’t bothered to read was stowed away and my camera, too.  Then I sat back and waited, watched and listened as we came in over the bay and landed quite smoothly in San Francisco.  It took us only about twenty minutes to collect our bags and get connected with a shuttle to our hotel, a HOJO’s Express on Camino Real (not so) in San Bruno (the saint would have something to say about that, I thought.)

I was surprised, and so was Mariellen, at how neat and clean the place was.  I’d been steeling myself for much worse (not quite a fleabag, but near enough), and have been in much worse at twice the price, $48.00.  We checked in, but had to wait a short while before jay’s room next door to ours was ready.  I amused myself contemplating the view out our window, the backyard of several row houses and a dentist’s office.  Then we took the shuttle back to the airport and caught the BART train into downtown ‘Frisco.  We had a date to meet Mariellen’s and Jay’s nephew Mike Supple and his wife Melinda for supper.  Since it was only mid-afternoon we had a couple of hours to spend and decided it would be nice spending them exploring some of the city.

We took the train to the nearest stop to the Embarcadero, to broad avenue fronting the harbor, turning ourselves around once or twice before finally deciding which way was the right way to go.  We were on Market Street and decided that the clock tower in the distance was our destination.  I remembered seeing it in some movie or other and connected it with the Embarcadero in my dim recollection of the film.

Not a yellow brick road, but the next best thing.

Or, maybe it was my imagination.  Maybe I simply figured it would make a great “farewell” or “welcome home” shot.  In any event, we’d told Mike and Melinda that we’d meet them on Fisherman’s Wharf…and so.  I remember, now, that Fisherman’s Wharf was about a mile or so down the way from Market Street.  The day was lovely, though, and cool.

Funnily enough, It might have been a day in San Diego, bright dry and breezy.  I hadn’t expected that at all, thinking fog and misery when I thought of San Francisco weather.  Perhaps that’s only the visitors, though because I saw no sign of the natives in awe of the sun, breezy coolness and brilliant light.  They seemed as if this was just another sunny day; scads of them jogging everywhere, not a raincoat or umbrella in sight, and who wasn’t running was skateboarding, cycling or strolling hand in hand…s0metimes in the oddest combinations.

When we reached the Embarcadero I figured we had a little more than an hour for a leisurely stroll down to Fisherman’s Wharf from Market Street.  That was just great because the street was the perfect place for a mid-afternoon walk.  We wandered out onto the piers, along the water side.

The Lady and The Dock

What was once a working sea port was now filled with businesses, little bistros, restaurants, harbor cruise boats and the odd lawyer’s office or bank. Traffic along the avenue included a fleet of LRV’s harvested from similar places all over the globe.

Next Stop? Anywhere.

This one was from Philadelphia Suburban Transit, but there were cars from as far away as Sydney, Australia, still working long after the places they served had done with them in favor of the good old automobile and its conveniences.

One of the businesses operating out of the old piers is a place called TCHO, a chocolate manufacturer.  We stopped into their “store”, a little place hardly bigger than a large closet, and sampled several tasty and very interesting chocolate candies; one of which started off tasting sour and tart and finished sweetly at the back of my throat.  I found myself seized with desire to possess all of it.  Alas, too expensive, we satisfied ourselves with several small squares for Mike and Melinda.

Who we met shortly after near the aquarium.  They called Mariellen on her cell to say that they’d made great time from San Jose, the National Geek and Dweeb Sanctuary and location of the Pocket Protector Museum.  If smiling, holding hands and occasional shy and secretive glances at one another is a sign of something going on, happiness in each other’s presence, well then, M&M prove the point that love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.

They drove us over to the Mission District, once a rather unfavorable place, now becoming “discovered”.  There they took us to a little Mexican restaurant called Puerto Alegre,

Mike and Melinda at Puerto Alegre

a neighborhood joint with good food and a couple of guys who came in off the street to sing and play for spare change.  (Unfortunately, Mike informed us, the “discovery” of the place was ruining it, taking away some of its cruddy look and charm, cleaning it up for the “polo” set.)  We did eat a good meal, mine being a kind of seafood stew, a Mexican bouillabaise, which gave me a couple of ideas for my next try at the rectory, adding some cilantro and tomatoes to the broth.  The house Margaritas were darn good, too and I was glad I wasn’t driving.

After the meal we wandered back to the garage where Mike had parked the car.  I discovered that the “Mission” hadn’t been completely discovered and sanitized.  We passed a few shipwrecks, human “road kill” flattened by passing life I thought, living tears on the streets hiding in doorways.  One of them approached me, asking for a dollar, four quarters, explaining that she had AIDS and needed to get to a clinic.  When I showed her I only had a five dollar bill she changed her story to being entirely without money.  Just around the corner I heard our street musicians singing some dolorous Spanish song.

Singing some dolorous Spanish song...

God alone knows why but I thought of that story about St. Peter and the beggar.  I gave her the five bucks thinking all the while I wanted to do better by her.  Melinda commented that I’d let her fool me with her story.  I answered that I’d grown up in New York and knew from the beginning how little truth was being told; and knew, too, that she needed five dollars more than me.

We were soon back at our hotel fondly saying good night to the youngsters, wishing them well and opening the house to them when/if they come East.  I told Mike that I’d like to link to his site: SUPPLEWINE.COM.  He said that would be fine as long as I warn my friends that it’s pitched to a younger demographic.  Now, you’re warned.

You see, Mike is something of a “phenom” in the wine business, a fellow who earned the nickname “The Palate” when he was in college and know more about wine that I’ll ever know.

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