Finding the “here” here

Bubba and I spent the weekend in San Francisco. Alone. Together. Sans children. I’m pretty sure the Universe was smiling down on us, with its fog-free mornings and 70+ degree weather in November. I’m not sure why, but I’ll take it.

We arrived Friday afternoon and checked in to our hotel down by the ferry terminal. We could hardly wait to toss our suitcase into the room before setting off for a walk. Bubba gets to the Bay Area a lot, but generally his trips are confined to the airport, taxis, and office buildings of clients, so he was eager to explore, too. We found excellent coffee, quirky shops (Bubba’s favorite is one whose slogan is “tasty salted pig parts”), and some pretty impressive people-watching opportunities. I love the flavor of San Francisco: thin twenty-something men in their skin-tight yellow or red jeans, aging hippies in their Birkenstocks and dreadlocks and tye-dye, joggers in outfits carefully chosen to showcase their body ink.
It wasn’t until we got to Fisherman’s Wharf that I found disappointment. Fifteen years ago, it looked like a wharf. Planked walkways, the scent of sourdough bread as much a part of the air as the barking of sea lions, and local artisans hawking their handmade goods against the backdrop of masts and sails and Alcatraz in the distance. Today, it could be anywhere. The shops are those of Anymall, USA; Dreyer’s, Hard Rock Cafe, Crazy Shirts and GNC. As we walked, the buildings rose around us on both sides so that we couldn’t even see the water beyond the stores.
This is where globalization is too much for me. I want to visit a place as a tourist and find the meat of that place. I want it to stand out and be different. I want to be able to think of that place and have its trademarks spring instantly to my mind. I don’t want to find Starbucks and Build-A-Bear in every town I land in. I want to know where the best local stuff is. Who are the individuals that make up this place and why do they make it special? What have they taken from their history here that speaks to the evolution of this place?
We got out of there as quickly as we could. Back to the grittier, dirtier, less homogenized part of town. We saw homeless, street performers, tasted cheese from a local artisan dairy, and found a little authenticity. I don’t want to pretend I’m not a tourist, I just want to know why I ought to come back and visit this place. What can I get here that I can’t get from my own space on the planet? Thanks to globalization, I can find San Francisco sourdough in my local grocery store. I could order a t-shirt for the National Champion Giants online. But to walk the sun-warmed planks of the piers and listen to the sea lions bark and watch a feather-boa clad drag queen rollerblade by on a Saturday morning – that is a trip worth taking!
6 replies
  1. Wanda
    Wanda says:

    I'm with you. You should have seen SF 35 years ago! It was priceless. (And I am pretty sure I would like tasty salted pig parts.)

  2. graceonline
    graceonline says:

    Ah, I wish I'd known you were coming. We could have shown you some places with a bit more old-fashioned SF flair. The briny-smelling Fisherman's Wharf of old is no more. You're right: You've seen all it has to offer back home. Next time, give me a shout. There is still much of the city to love. And I'll give you a loaf of my own bread that has developed that unique San Francisco sourdough flavor.

  3. Kevin Hellriegel
    Kevin Hellriegel says:

    Jeez, I can't believe that Fisherman's Wharf is like that. Oh well, at least I know where I can get my Starbucks latte while I take my daughter to the Build a Bear Workshop…just like Bellevue Square…or Seattle…or Portland. Thanks for your blog; I always enjoy it!

  4. Deb Shucka
    Deb Shucka says:

    Wow, I'm so sad to hear about the wharf. I have wonderful memories, much like the ones you shared. I'm so happy that you and Bubba had a happy getaway, though. Much needed and deserved. 🙂

  5. Janna Leadbetter
    Janna Leadbetter says:

    There's something so sad and beautiful about that picture.

    I've found you through the magic of linkage, and am wishing you the best with your written endeavors. 🙂


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