Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In the San Francisco Fog, Part 2

After getting our fill of the Renegade Craft Fair, Rebecca and I Ubered over to Fisherman’s Wharf to catch an early afternoon VW bus tour of the city. The well-tatted Uber driver was much nicer than our earlier driver. Then again, we had temporarily stashed the maize-colored ponchos and posed no danger to his moneymaker in the wet seat department.

In search of a California experience, R. and I had a bite to eat at In-N-Out Burger. The food was more fresh that fast, so I would be all for renaming the chain In and Plan to Stay for a While Burger. But it was tasty and the chocolate milkshake hit the spot in the way that my samples of Kombucha never did. However the Kombucha guy was a lot easier on the eyes than any of the people working at In and Plan to Stay for a While Burger.

I don’t know how I landed on the idea of a VW bus tour of the San Francisco, but it seemed like great fun especially since R. and her husband David are Volkswagen bus aficionados. As in, they actually own one. And no, they are not Deadheads nor do they smell of patchouli.

As far as I could see, there are three VW bus tour operators in San Francisco. One website shows plain buses, one buses painted a la Peter Max, and the third company uses plain buses but the headlights are accessorized with eyelashes. We opted for the eyelashes, aka Painted Ladies Tour Company. What could be more San Francisco that a possibly transgendered Volkswagen bus? As my mother used to say, “When in Rome, shoot Roman candles!

After lunch, we walked a couple of blocks to catch our tour. The driver, Antoine, greeted us warmly and we piled into the back seat of his orange bus. There were already folks planted in the middle seat.

We drove over to Union Square via Lombard Street (San Fran’s famous crookedest street) to pick up the rest of the tour group. Lots of Japanese tourists took our photo as we went by. "Look Yoshi! A Volkswagen bus! How cute!"

The three people in the middle seat were clearly from the sweet tea part of the country. However, I would venture to say that they did not enjoy good colon health since they were not even close to the life of the party. Even being photographed by Japanese tourists did nothing for their grim demeanor. They hardly said a word on the entire trip and they didn’t even get out of the bus at some of the photo op stops. AND they treated that middle seat as if were their church pew: Jesus himself assigned it to them and by damn, they weren’t moving. EVER.

At Union Square we picked up a honeymooning couple from Houston. He sat in the front for the rest of the tour, and she piled in the back with Rebecca and me. He was pleasant enough but sort of a knuckle dragger, while she was fun and amusing. We weren’t sure if she was pregnant or just big boned in the stomach area. She looked pregnant but she downed two classes of Antoine’s chardonnay before you could say Ernest and Julio Gallo, leading me to the big boned in the stomach area theory. Quaffing chardonnay with strangers is not something you typically see a pregnant woman do in the back seat of a Volkswagen bus. But, as we learned in Tales of the City, San Francisco is filled with all sorts of interesting folks doing all sorts of unexpected things.

Although the windows fogged up (weather happens) and it was sometimes hard to hear Antoine over the spinning hamster wheel that passes for a VW bus engine, the tour was fun, and a great way to get an overview of San Francisco.

It would be difficult for those other VW bus tour operators to top Antoine, our man about town. He had a French accent that would have made both Pepé Le Pew and Maurice Chevalier jealous. In addition to his life as a guide, he’s a linguist (presumably cunning in that department), translator, and rollerblader, who referenced Tex Avery (which he pronounced Tek Zavery) in conversation, seemingly certain that we would know who he was talking about. And, just a few years ago, he was the top crepe maker in San Francisco. He didn’t explain how he earned this this title, but it sounded better than being the top bûche de Noël maker in the city.

There were lots of Kodak moments and weather compromised not-quite-Kodak moments on the tour.

One of the first spots that Antoine pointed out was the former San Francisco Armory.  Nowadays, it’s where Kink Video makes its kinky pornos (It’s only kinky the first time!). This bit of local color elicited NO comment from the slugs in the middle seat. Had it been later in the tour when I’d had enough of their non-responsiveness, I would have mentioned seeing someone I recognized as a musician from my church in the trailer for one of their videos. (True fact!) Had I consulted Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (Freshly Updated) before the tour, I would have realized that this would have been an excellent ice breaker for chatting up the other folks on the tour.

Not long after the Kink Video World HQ we passed a bakery so popular that it took down its sign—the line was out the door. I’m thinking everyone was there for the bûche de Noël. We went by the Mission Dolores too. I asked Rebecca if she'd seen Sister Act.
We stopped at the The Women’s Building with its murals of empowered Latinas.

We drove through The Castro, right past the Midnight Sun (aka the Midnight Scum) which Rebecca and I knew from Tales of the City. I remembered that when I went there many years ago I worried that I’d worn the wrong clothes. Some things never change.

Bad weather didn’t deter us from driving to the top of Twin Peaks, though there wasn’t much of a view, due to San Francisco Fog. Instead of admiring the view, Rebecca, the Texans, and I used the fully automated self-cleaning toilet at the top of the peaks.  These public toilets are so au courant (as Antoine might say) that they have their own web page.  My post-flush verdict is that the experience is better than holding it for three hours but not really worth of its own web page.

After Twin Peaks we drove through Haight-Asbury, where I saw a street guy, clearly influenced by Beat Poet Alan Ginsberg, sitting there with a cardboard sign that said “Hungry as Fuck”.

We made a photo op stop at Alamo Square, pronounced a-LAH-mo by Antoine. Seeing one of the houses there a bucket list item for the slugs existing in the middle seat. Someone told me that the exterior of the house was used in  some show that I didn’t watch. The famous postcard view of the houses with the city skyline in the background was not happening due to the bad weather.

Have I complained enough about the people in the middle seat? DO NOT GO ON A TOUR IN A VOLKSWAGEN BUS WITH THEM. If we’d been having an orgy, they would they would have brought the erectile dysfunction.

We made a short stop at the Palace of Fine Arts. In the distance two women were posing in their wedding dresses, being a threat to some heterosexual’s marriage someplace. The pregnant and/or big boned in the stomach area Texas woman mentioned that it was good luck if it rained on one’s wedding day. If that’s the case, those two women were going to be plenty lucky. Then again, perhaps they were just actresses filming B roll for something from Kink Video’s Supersized Supersexy Superslutty Girl-on-Girl Honeymooners’ series?

It’s hard not to like a photo op stop at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge.

At the end of our three hour tour, we dropped the slug family off at their Holiday Inn and Antoine took us back to Union Square. This meant another trip down Lombard Street. Perhaps it gets old if you do it all the time, but it twice in one day in Volkswagen bus with an award-winning crepe-maker behind the wheel was pretty cool.

After bidding au revoir to Antoine, I took Rebecca on a detour through the Westgate Mall on Market Street on our way to the BART station. I told her that I wanted to show her something there, but didn’t say what it was. Trusting soul that she is, she went along with my tomfoolery. As soon as we got on the “Up” escalator I said “TA-DA! America’s first curving escalator!”  I know how to treat a girl, don't I? 

While we searched for the rest rooms, we shared a Thorstein Veblen moment, agog at the temple of consumption. We both wondered who bought all those glitzy, flashy, expensive things that we seem to be doing semi-OK without. Apparently, even in San Francisco, there are tons of folks who aren’t interested in picture perfect artisanal free-range non-GMO heritage stuff but want something glitzy and flashy and marketed under the name of some designer whose name meant nothing to two old farts from Pennsylvania. 

After our day on the go, we were pretty tired by the time we got off the BART train back in the East Bay.  We walked into the garage and I had that WTF moment when you figure out that your car is not where you left it. We walked up and down the ramps of the mostly empty garage. Interestingly enough, this course of action did not make our car appear. Rebecca asked if there wasn’t another parking garage.

I scoffed.

Of course I was sure there wasn’t another parking garage.

Men who are a teeny-tiny part Native American don’t make mistakes about things like this.

I had actually considered calling 911 before it dawned on me we might indeed be in the wrong parking garage…which is what Rebecca had been saying all along.

And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as we walked back to the station and went out the other exit to the garage on the other side of the BART station, there was our rental car, right where I’d left it.

So much for my partially native American incredible homing penis. 

Obviously that was enough cultural tourism for one day.

Since we had a few hours to spare on Sunday morning before the memorial service, R and I drove over to Berkeley to see Bernard Maybeck’s masterpiece, the First Church of Christ, Scientist. Yes, this was definitely an architectural history nerd thing to do. You're shocked, I know.

I tried to go on the spur of the moment when I was in the Bay Area in August but that didn’t work. This time, I emailed in advance and dropped the fact that my grandmother had worshiped there in the 1940s. After a week, I got a note that my email had been forwarded to someone, but that person was never in touch with me.

So, alas and alack, I was left with going to church on a Sunday morning in order to see the place.

Although my grandmother was an avid Christian Scientist—my mother suggested that she timed reading her daily lesson to conflict with doing the supper dishes—I’ve never been to a Christian Science service. This was uncharted territory for both Rebecca and me.  

Our GPS took us right to the church, which is just a few blocks from the University of California campus. We parked in a garage and my special homing penis took special care to remember where we’d parked the car. The steady San Francisco fog made think that our $44 investment for ponchos and umbrellas wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

There were some homeless guys sleeping under the eaves of the church, which was still locked 30 minutes prior to the start of the service. I noticed a woman come out of one of the doors and asked if she could let us in. She obliged right away. We chatted a bit—it turned out that she was the one who’d forwarded my email to the folks who never responded. We had some time before the service started and so we were able to poke around without benefit of museum docent.

Some of the backstage areas looked as if they hadn’t been touched in years.  There were original Maybeck presentation drawings framed and hanging on the wall. It was a bit like being in a museum after it had closed….thirty years after it had closed.

The building is so much more than a shelter from the elements for worship.  It’s a tremendous vote of confidence in both God and architect. Maybeck had a singular vision of what a church was, and the congregation gave him free rein to express it.  The church isn’t exactly falling it apart, but it does have its share of deferred maintenance. Someone could easily put big money into the place and no one would notice.

I kept expecting people to arrive for the service. I knew that there were not a lot of Christian Scientists but I still expected 20 to 50 people.  Berkeley’s a big place, and the church is a national landmark. California seems as if it should be a hotbed of Christian Scientists.

As it turned out, there were just seven of us. One for each cacti vendor at the Renegade Craft Fair. It was if I’d stumbled into a Shaker Village just before the death of its last residents.

The service was interesting in the same way that your last blind date had a good personality. Everything you needed to know was in a magazine that served as the church bulletin; the order of service was printed on the inside cover. A month’s worth of sermons, which seemed to come from the Mother Church (aka the home office) filled the rest of the pages. Every Sunday, all Christian Science churches throughout the world use the same sermon. 

The service started with a nice organ prelude including Elgar’s Nimrod, a favorite of mine. And then there was a female vocalist. She sounded classically trained and to my mind at least, WAY better than you’d expect singing to a congregation of 5 regulars and two guests.

There were two pastors. According to the Internet they were readers elected from the church membership to conduct the services. It was hard to believe that a church with such a small congregation could find two clear voiced readers, but well, there’s a lot of stuff about religion is hard to believe, like that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah had nothing to do with wearing white shoes after Labor Day.

The First Reader led the service and read from the Christian Science text, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the denomination. The Second Reader read from the King James Version of the Bible, which, interestingly enough, seemed to have nothing to do with LeBron James.

When one of the readers welcomed those who were attending via the telephone, I wondered if stereopticon slides might be part of the service.

I don’t want to make too much fun of someone else’s religious practices in writing in case I am nominated for a cabinet post at some point in my life, but wow, I didn’t understand a word of the sermon. The extra bits, from Mary Baker Eddy, were called correlative passages, a term I can’t even spell. I noticed that they contained lot of hyphenated words, which made me wonder if MBE had gotten in on the ground floor of the hyphen craze in the late 19th century. Even the sermon wasn’t just the sermon, it was the Lesson-Sermon. This was difficult for a visitor-listener like me to understand-comprehend.

Christian Scientists say that the passages from Science and Health textbook are meant to help explain the spiritual meaning of Bible passages. Frankly, I thought the passages from Science and Health needed to be followed by an explanation from Science and Health for Dummies. Presumably the dim light under my bushel basket one of the reason why I’m a Presbyterian and not CS.

At the end of the service there were smiles from the other congregants and we had a brief chat with the woman who let us into the building. The readers never came out to speak-chat to us, as they would have in most Protestant churches. Perhaps they were lost in a correlative passage in the back of the church.

Even with some deferred maintenance the church is still stunning and if it ever passes to new stewards, I hope they will treasure it as fully as Berkeley’s Christian Scientists have.

After church, we walked over to the campus for a mini-jiffy (I’m channeling my inner Christian Scientist) tour. I thought we’d end up by Sather Gate but my incredible homing penis was still on the blink and instead we opted to go to the top of the Sather Tower, or Campanile instead.

The admission was $3 and no they don’t take plastic. I made a snarky remark about how unusual it was for a place near the center of the tech revolution to not accept credit cards and the student  worker gave me the who-invited-you look. Clearly she’s not in the running for anyone's Associate of the Year award. 

The cashier directed us to walk the three feet to the elevator, where an sullen elevator operator with a manbun took gave us a lift to the of his shaft. We walked up a flight of stairs to the observation deck.

The view is amazing. San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge were in the distance, and the Berkeley campus was spread before us. Hanging out in the campanile inspired Rebecca and me to try--in vain, I might add--to remember the actress in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

I looked up at the great set of bells wondered if they’d ever been used to play Lady of Spain.

On the way back down in the elevator, I asked the still sullen manbun sporting operator if people remarked that his job has its ups and downs. He groaned. People say it all the time, he said. For once in my life, I felt very mainstream.

We made it on time (barely) to the memorial service, the whole point of our trip to California.  All that tourist stuff was great (with the exception of the Slug family) but doesn’t even begin to compare to being with your closest friends at a time when you really need each other.  I believe that everyone deserves a great funeral, and Zan had one of the best. There was only one thing wrong with it: it came at least 50 years too early. 

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