The City

Tacco covered the whole “Bay Area” thing already.  What she didn’t cover, and may not even know, is that it goes deeper.  Having grown up the LA area, I was used to considering my home the absolute center of the universe (which is pretty typical I would think) and assuming that everybody else agreed with this (which may be a little more LA-centric).  LA is interesting that way – Tacco was dead on about the whole “back East” concept, but understated just how dismissive we were about “back East.”  It wasn’t a compliment to talk about things that were “back East”; it wasn’t even neutral.  What’s more, the stereotypical LA mindset of my youth, and maybe even today, goes so far as to dismiss even the rest of Southern California as rube-ish.  San Bernardino / Riverside?  Sorry, too far from the beach.  San Diego?  Please.  In my world, the universe’s center stretched about as far south as Laguna Beach and as far East as “The 5.”

Approximate location of universe’s center circa 1985

Don’t get me wrong — where I grew up is a great place; I still feel at home when I’m there and in the vicinity.  I feel no pull to move back, but I have zero complaints.  But some distance-related perspective made me realize that my arrogance was probably a bit misplaced.  Downey, my hometown, is perfectly pleasant in its own concrete jungle suburb sort of way, but would meet NO ONE’S center of the universe criteria except someone who lived there.  Oh we knew, though.  You all envied us.

My LA provincialism bumped up against Bay Area provincialism when I moved up north for school, and makes for some solid comedy in hindsight.  I couldn’t understand how being “twenty minutes from Everything” wasn’t immediately understood by everyone else to be the trump card of all trump cards.  Bay Area folks would list off their own incontrovertible proofs of why the Center of the Universe was actually 350 miles north and I’d be surprised I had to explain how wrong they were.  In my mind we had beach, mountains, desert, city, lots of fast food, and Disneyland.  Boom!  Checkmate.  In the meantime, folks from places like NYC or Chicago would be over in the corner rolling their eyes.

At the time, there seemed to be a San Francisco / Los Angeles rivalry that LA wasn’t even aware of.  SF was more or less “that cutesy town up north with the cable cars and stuff” then but was otherwise never really thought about by LA-folk.  That condescending pat on the head was not reciprocated by our northern neighbors, I discovered.  Rather it was a dead serious “here’s why we’re better” laundry list.  All of the elements of which had a good bit of truth to them, by the way, but still, LA couldn’t be bothered to compete.

At any rate, before I went down the rabbit hole of silly intra-California squabbles and extreme provincialism, I was trying to get around to my post title, which is what you call San Francisco when you live in the Bay Area, even when you’re speaking to someone who isn’t from the Bay Area.  Because clearly “The City” would refer to San Francisco, even if you were in Omaha or Fort Lauderdale or Providence.  What you absolutely wouldn’t ever call it, unless you were being arch and ironic or arrogantly making fun of outsiders, is “Frisco.”  Obviously.  Even “San Fran” is iffy, even though I tend to let that one slip on occasion.

We had been in the Bay Area for a week and hadn’t yet taken the kids to The City; it was time.  And there’s no better time to visit, in my opinion, than Fleet Week.  Fleet Week tends to fall over the first full weekend in October, which is the dead middle of summer in San Francisco. June and July’s fog, mist, and chilly wind tend to shock visitors to San Francisco expecting, you know, summer. Even 10 minutes away across the Bay and to the south down the peninsula the seasons run their normal course, or at least the Californian version thereof.  But late September and October tend to look much more like a normal summer in The City, at least a mild one.  Various ships pull into port and sailors flood the streets, and there’s a huge airshow featuring the Blue Angels at what has to be their most spectacular venue, with show center right between Alcatraz and Ghirardelli Square.  Despite any stereotypes about the typical SF resident, San Franciscans love Fleet Week.

We actually managed to head into The City twice, once to watch the airshow and once just to play tourist for a bit.  On the first day we started at the Embarcadero Ferry Terminal, where there’s a food court of sorts that makes it nearly impossible to choose among the multitude of equally good options.  Then we did a bit of cable car riding over the hills toward Fisherman’s Wharf, with the kids standing on the outside step  and leaning into the street Rice-a-Roni style.  The cable car used to be a reasonable deal and an ok way to navigate the downtown area, but at some point they changed their fare structure – it’s no longer reasonable.  Kids dug it though!

Ghirardelli Square got Keeper’s blood pumping.  He’s a big dark chocolate fan and a connoisseur of sorts, so getting to squeeze as many of the little sample-sized squares into a souvenir tin was right in his wheelhouse.

He is not, however, a fan of museums, which is unfortunate because we’ve been striving to visit more than our share, and we found a great one right on the waterfront that’s run by the National Park Service and talks about San Francisco and the Bay Area’s maritime heritage.  Frankly I didn’t even know it was there, and it’s excellent.  Firebolt and Woodsprite loved it as well, and found to their delight that there was an opportunity to earn yet another Junior Ranger badge.  They’re amassing quite a collection.

Our last stop was Chinatown, which always makes for an interesting stroll.  We didn’t get to eat there, but did manage to buy a 3 yolk moon cake, as the following day was the Mid Autumn Moon Festival, at which they’re traditionally eaten.  It’s a pretty nasty little foodstuff, in my opinion (which was shared by the rest of the family).  440px-MooncakeLotus seed paste with salted duck egg yolks scattered within, and surrounded by a thin crust.  Heavy, oily, somewhat gritty, very caloric, and not particularly tasty either.

We split ours into about 8 pieces to share with my parents, but only about 4 got eaten.  Maybe it’s an acquired taste.  But I’d have much rather introduced my kids to traditional Chinese food via dim sum.  Next time.

Friday was airshow day, and not only did my parents join us, but they let us in on a viewing semi-secret, which was that their Disabled placard and our military ID gave us access to parking at Fort Mason, which is essentially right at show center, with panoramic views.


We parked easily, feet from our viewing spot, and managed to sit next to a gentleman from, which records and streams Air Traffic Control comms online.  Today he had a live feed of the airshow performers’ cockpit communications on his speaker, which was a great (and often humorous) supplement to watching the maneuvers.

IMG_9485At one point soon after the Blue Angels took off and were heading toward show center, one of the pilots was asked in a quick exchange, “How’s your rider?” “Good!  GLOC-ed twice already, but yeah, good!”  I laughed out loud and noticed quickly that I was the only one and that all the other show watchers in our area were looking at me quizzically.  Oh yeah, that’s right, you guys don’t speak Jive.  So I quickly translated for them – that one of the pilots had a passenger along for the ride in the back, who had passed out from G Forces twice already in the short flight, but was “doing great.”

These are actually the Snowbirds — Canada’s flight demo team. Equally impressive but much more serious on the radio.

I find it extremely difficult not to enjoy a good airshow, particularly when the Blues are involved.  I do find that I’m no longer “wowed” by the maneuvers like I once was, but the symmetry of it, the precise formation flying, the excitement of the people around me – all of that makes for a deep contentment.


Aviation appears to be a bug that Keeper did not catch, which I suppose is a minor disappointment on some level, but will probably serve him well career-wise.  They’ve said for a while now that the last fighter pilot has already been born, as the trend and technology inch more and more toward unmanned flight.  I don’t think airline pilots’ jobs are in any danger of going away any time soon, but the issue isn’t one of technology.  As with driverless cars, there are minor technological bugs to be worked out, but the larger issues deal with public acceptance.

Keeper started off the airshow viewing a bit surly, and asked why he should be interested in “a bunch of planes flying around,” but he came around after a few of the performers did their thing and the infectious positive vibe of it all overcame him.


Afterwards we walked over toward a Food Truck gathering called Off The Grid, which had set up on the west side of Fort Mason.  More excellent food, and a free mechanical shark to ride!  Hard to get the gist from a photo rather than a video, but he fell off pretty quickly.  Oh, and did I mention more good food?  I did.  Still, yum.


As sunset neared, we ate the rest of our dinner, played some cards, and tossed the football around on the huge field.  The kids were ecstatic, which was great to see.  It’s far from a given.  Also, it’s been much more challenging than we’d anticipated to get them out and about.  Inertia being what it is, they often default to staring at a screen in their beds or at least in one of the motorhome seats, and they resist our exhortations to get outside and move move move.  Keeper, after challenging everyone to a race and then running top speed around the field for no particular reason, informed us, winded, that he “had forgotten how great it feels to run around.  It’s been so long!”  I asked him to please, please remember that.

Think he will?


Tomorrow we’re off to Pismo Beach, and the beginning of our three week Southern California beach stretch, which I’ve been looking forward to.  I spent much of my childhood and early adulthood convinced I couldn’t possibly live away from the beach, and then I discovered for the rest of my life that I most certainly could.  I’m wondering how revisiting my childhood will affect me and the others, as well as what they’ll all think of where I grew up.

One thought on “The City

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s