May 31, 2010

Tales of the City

Memorial Day weekend arrived, our first weekend in the Bay Area, a splendid three days for us to relax. Yesterday Esperando and I met with Youngest Daughter and took a picnic to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. When I was growing up in the City, my best friend in high school and I would cart a loaf of bread, Italian antipasti, cheese and peanuts in the shell off to the Arboretum and laze most of the day away on the lawn eating our food, feeding the squirrels and pondering life. Yesterday we couldn’t get near the Arboretum without great effort, so we ended up taking our picnic to Speedway Field. It is a grassy area sporting about 20 scattered picnic tables with adjacent restroom. We got there around 10:30 so we could grab a table, by 11:00 am we were ravenously consuming our Semifreddi bread and cheese, it was too early for wine, and we forgot to bring the cherries and grapes I bought to round out our meal. We ALL forgot our cameras—how could we be so stupid!

This is similar to what our picnic area looked like.

I made a visit to the restroom shortly after our arrival and a flood of memories came rushing back to me. I think every school and public facility in San Francisco is tiled with the same little beige-gold floor tiles, small tiles formed in a complicated matrix pattern. The bathroom was relatively clean, although a few bits pieces of graffiti clung to the stalls, and the stall door had been removed from the handicap stall. That transported me back to the women’s bathroom at Forest Hill Station when I was a teenager taking public transportation back and forth to high school. Then, all the doors were off the stalls and a bunch of tough girls skulked around on the bathroom smoking. I only ventured in there once and after viewing that lot, you couldn’t have drug me in there again with a team of wild horses. San Francisco holds a lot of memories of growing up for me.

When I returned to our picnic table it was in time to view a couple of women advancing down the sidewalk toward our table pushing an 8-foot-tall many branched jointed metal tree on wheels. They almost had a head-on collision with a Parks and Recreation truck that was approaching from the opposite direction. The women got the truck driver to back up a little, pushed the tree against the edge of the sidewalk, and bent its branches away from the sidewalk while the truck driver edged as far over as he could to drive forward again, mangling the bushes growing on the opposite side of the sidewalk as he went, but clearing the women and their tree. Once clear of each other, the tree resumed its progress down the sidewalk toward a busy picnic area to join in the festivities at a group of tables set with white tablecloths and canopies.

Then a Hispanic man, his wife, two excited young boys and other family members arrived at the table adjacent to ours. In several trips they brought a mega stack of paper plates, big aluminum baking pans full of food, soft drinks and beer—and a party jump house with compressor, one of those giant blowup tents in which kids jump up and down inside. They started the compressor repeatedly but it began to look like the whole point of the party wasn’t going to take shape. But, finally the compressor took hold and an enormous jumper began to take form. It was blue and red and featured Spiderman on the roof. The two little boys clung to each other, barely able to suppress their excitement at being the first ones to get a head-start on jumping at what was undoubtedly going to be THE birthday event of the season.

It looked something like this but much larger, and had a big slide on the side besides.

About that time a man with picnic basket in hand came up to us wanting to know what number our table was. We pulled our tablecloth back to discover the number “10” painted on it. Then the Hispanic man came forward to set us all straight that he had rented that and the two adjacent tables for his party. We now understood, if you didn’t reserve a table, you didn’t sit at one. It made sense and we would know better next time. At least we had been able to enjoy the table for several hours and eat our lunch before it was time to go.

It seemed destined for me to have a nostalgic sort of day. We spent the next 2 hours driving all over the City, up to Mt. Davidson to see where my family lived while I was growing up. There we encountered Rob Anderson, step grandson of our old next door neighbor Mrs. Anderson who was 82-years old at the time we arrived. Rob grew up in that house next to ours. He moved in after his grandmother died, probably as a 10-year just about the time I left to away to go to college. So although we never knew each other, we exchanged memories of the neighborhood, and the neighbors who had lived and died there. I was 10 myself when we first moved in and I found Mt. Davidson park itself to be a creepy place. It was known then in the City for its annual Easter Sunrise Service. I remember my father and I often planned to go but we could never quite leave our warm beds in the dark just to climb up the mountain to view the sunrise on Easter morning. After that we drove on to Twin Peaks to admire the beautiful view, then to the Palace Legion of Honor passing through that ritzy manicured area of the rich, Sea Cliff, and then on to the Presidio. Finally we returned Youngest Daughter to her lair and headed back for a well-deserved nap to the East Bay.

The steps up to Mt. Davidson, still the same, still creepy, like approaching some kind of ruin.

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