"The Hapa Haole Journal"
Monday, December 11, 2006 6:45 AM
The HHJ: A Streetcar Named "Desire"
Although I've been able to walk to several places including the Asian
Art Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco's
public transportation system, the Muni, makes it easy to keep my car
parked at the motel to avoid traffic and parking problems. In fact, I
haven't used my car since I arrived.
Averaging three to four miles of walking per day with a couple of days
over five and six miles even with the Muni, the farther location of
Amoeba motivated me to start using my three-day Muni visitor's passport that I got from the Visitor's Center downstairs on Market by
Powell which allows unlimited travel on the bus, streetcar, metro
(rail), and cable car systems for the duration of the pass that is also
available for one or seven days. There are also regular weekly and
monthly passes available, but they require extra fare for the cable
cars. Regular fare is $1.50 (exact change required as no change is
given) which includes a transfer good for at least 90 minutes in any
direction of travel and $5 (no transfer) for the cable cars.
Tuesday saw me heading off to catch one of the streetcars on the F line
that serves Market Street to the Embarcadero and Fisherman's Wharf.
They're all different, each representing a different U.S. or European
city's streetcar line. I caught the "Louisville"
enjoyed the gleaming brass and woodwork of the antique streetcar for
several blocks until we got into a minor traffic jam caused by a white
SUV stopped by the curb on Market preventing a bus coming off a cross
street from completing its turn and thus, blocking our streetcar from
The bus waited patiently while our streetcar driver started honking.
"Ándale, ándale!" our driver called out.
The SUV driver continued whatever he was doing at the tail of his
"Ándale, ándale, ándale!" our driver called out and honked
several times more.
Still, the SUV driver didn't get the point.
Our driver leaned on the horn and kept leaning.
Nothing. It was gridlock with the SUV blocking the bus and the bus
blocking all lanes of traffic in every direction. Our light went from
green to red, then green again.
"Ándale! Ándale, papi, ándale!" our driver's demands turned
to pleading. With a few more blasts from the streetcar horn, the SUV
driver finished what he was doing, got in and drove away. The bus
completed its turn and our path was clear.
"Ah, man!" The light had turned red, yet again.
Getting off at Pier 33 to check the schedule and fares to Alcatraz, I
walked a bit to the next stop to continue to Pier 43-1/2 and was
surprised to see a bronze plaque embedded in the sidewalk that simply
said, "MICHAEL MCCLURE." A curiosity, for sure.
A few yards further was another plaque and a few yards later, another. I
walked back to the first plaque and recorded what each said:
ONCE THIS WAS
ALL BLACK PLASMA
Considering how vibrant San Francisco is today, that's quite a reminder
of how far it's come.
I don't know if there are more plaques because at that point, I boarded
another streetcar or trolley, if you prefer, and rode it down to the
intersection of Jones and Beach. Looking around, the area has greatly
changed since I was last here, losing it's charm amongst all the tourist
shops, T-shirts, trinkets, and all. Even the white wooden sign with
"PIER 43-1/2" painted in red has been changed to a plastic and
Alioto's is the same (best Monte Cristo sandwich I've ever had). Now,
however, it's crowded by surrounding buildings while the open air fish market of Fisherman's Grotto is also modernized and more enclosed.
There wasn't much else that looked the same. All seemed so much more touristy, an undesirable trait in my eyes, so I walked beyond to view
the fishing boats available for charter finding quiet peacefulness among
the unoccupied watercraft rocking in their berths with little waves
lapping against their sides. A memorial chapel for those lost at sea had
been built between the docks and was being repainted, prohibiting my
entering it to get a good look at the stained-glass window.
After sunset, I boarded another streetcar to return to my room. Quickly
crowded by people boarding at the next stop, the driver called out for people to move back.
Which they didn't.
"Come on, people. There's plenty of room back there. Cocktails and
hors d'oeuvres are all the way at the back."
Passengers started shuffling.
"Of course, the waitress is on break right now, but you'll be
served as soon as she gets back."
I couldn't help snickering.
A couple of blocks later, at a red light where the road curves, the
driver leaned out her window. "Hey! You need to move your car back
or I'm gonna hit you going around this turn."
There wasn't anything behind the late-model car, but it didn't move.
"Come on! Back up!"
It still didn't move.
"I'm telling you, I'm gonna hit you, so you better back up!"
The car shot forward, running the red light, and we all whooped and
cheered, clapping and laughing as we looked around for a cop to give it
"Idiot! He's lucky there's no cop around," one passenger
Several blocks later, the driver announced,
"Don't get off here if you want BART 'cause you'll have to walk.
Wait a bit and I'll take you right to the station."
At the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station, most of the passengers
A couple of stops later, the back door doesn't open for a man
to get off. He tries to get the attention of the driver, but several
passengers near him insist that he step down.
"But, the door isn't opening."
"Man, you gotta step down to make the door open."
He steps down, the door opens, and after he exits, the door closes.
"Man, tourists are illiterate!"
Sure enough, there are large stickers on the doors instructing
passengers to step down to open the door although I prefer
"unobservant" to "illiterate."
On Wednesday, I got more than my money's worth on my pass by riding all
the cable car routes to the end of their lines and back again. At
Ghirardelli Square, a really bad street musician was trying to roust up
some business. I managed to slip behind him, but on my way back to the
cable car station, I had to pass in front of him as did several other
pedestrians. After I went by, his song changed from a well-known pop
song to what I believe is an original composition:
"I need some customers,
Who can spare some pocket change...
I'll be here when you come back -
Please help me pay for my Cadillac."
His singing was still bad, but those words were almost worth something except I didn't want to go back.
On Thursday, I visited with a friend from high school in his office. Working for an
investment firm, I jokingly asked him, "So, if I open an account
with you, how long will it take for me to either lose my money or become
He laughed because his firm handles
large corporate investors, not individual investors. Then, he got serious. "If I were you,
I'd open an account with Charles Schwab because they have all the
research tools for an individual investor and there are advisors to help
if you need it. Gone are the days when you can buy and hold. You've got
to watch your stocks like a hawk or
invest in a fund where a manager will do it for you."
We speculated on another tech boom
before going on to personal plans for Christmas and my trip down the
Later that afternoon, determined to fly a kite and thinking to beat the
rain forecasted for the weekend, I went down to the Marina Green, a
popular spot for weekend kite-flyers. Although the American flag was
flying well from its flag pole, my keychain Ready Sleddy flopped, as usual.
It's a good thing there were
several small, white, two-man sailboats with mainsails and jibs
practicing a small racing course. It was a nice diversion from my failed
kite-flying to watch them line up and maneuver in accordance with their
coach's whistle signals.
Friday started out with a delicious lunch with two new friends at a
Korean restaurant in the Japan Center. Starting to walk out with them, I
drew back at the rain, but they went on, one having to work. I spent the
rest of the afternoon cruising the center before catching the Muni to check
out my aunt's former home.
I nearly missed it, the block had changed so much. The corner drug store
is now a going-out-of-business video store and, except for three private
residences of which my aunt's former house is one, the entire side of
the block is commercial with a dry cleaners, a rug store, a furniture
store, etc., where it once used to be entirely residential except for
the corner drug store. The opposite side of the street is different,
also, but not as much.
Returning, walking from the stop back to my motel, the wind suddenly
gusted capturing another pedestrian's umbrella and blowing it across the
street while grabbing at my boonie. It managed to only turn up the brim
because my chin strap held it on. The gusts persisted for only a block before calling
letting the rain prevail.
Love that Gore-Tex.
Of all the different types of public conveyance, the only consistency I
found was that I slipped in every seat going up and down the hills. Some
of the cable cars are different from the others and the buses have
differences, too. Only the metro rail seemed to be the same, but I rode
only two on the J line and that's not much of a comparison.
As for the
streetcar named "Desire," it's No. 952 and I've yet to see
it in real life.