SEEING SAN FRANCISCO WITH A HIPPIE...MY MOM
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...If you are going to San Francisco.  Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair...
An old song by Scott Mackenzie permeates my thoughts as I await my Mother's arrival at the San Francisco Airport.  Tie-dye and ripped
jeans may have left fashion but the heart of change still resides in this city.  Human rights are the lifeblood and history of this city by the Bay.  
From the hippies of the sixties to the gays of the eighties to the immigrants of the new millennium, San Francisco will always be on the
leading edge of human rights.
So who better to see the sights of this cosmopolitan gem than with my Mother, Molly.  Human Rights have always been the lifeblood and
fire of my Mother also.  Starting way back in the 1960's she worked at the Catholic Inter-Racial Council, where I played with, what else,
Mattel Matchboxes, under her desk. Â I learned of her commitment to better our condition. Â I sat on my Father's shoulders at eight and
watched as Mom helped put flowers in rifles while others burnt their draft cards and bras in Cumberland Gap.  Then, it was handing leaflets
out for George McGovern at her bidding when I was eleven.  Mom continued to try and make it a better world during my formative years by
protesting, leafleting, getting arrested and changing the bigots, the warmongers and the oppressors as well as the diapers of my younger
brothers.  Meanwhile, I filled my teen years with protesting, bloodletting and also getting arrested.  My childhood was filled with boycotts.  
Grapes, Iceberg lettuce, Nestlé's were all items banned from the house.  While places like Berkeley, Haight-Ashbury and San Fran were
getting all the publicity for their counter-culture, Mom was changing the world from the suburbs of Pittsburgh as a housewife.  While I was
putting the moves on the neighborhood hammer, Mom was hammering first-strike nuclear nosecones.  As part of the legendary
"Plowshares Eight," she was jailed for nine months for her non-violent action against GE.  Books and movies, including one with Martin
Sheen, have been made about the exploits of this group (you can read more about it
here).  But suffice it to say, Mom's exploits were all
umbrella-ed under Human Rights.  Be it bombs, bigots or boorish behavior, Mom had a strategy, a leaflet or a march to bring it to its knees.  
And some of the biggest have fallen under her watch; Rockwell International, Westinghouse and now even GE, is teetering on extinction.  All
have had a large hand "in bringing weapons of mass-destruction to life."  And Mom was one of those few who had the guts enough to put a
stick into its machinery, or should I say she threw a "hammer" into the works.
Twenty years have now passed.  San Francisco has managed to stay oblivious to other city's movement to "Genamerica."  Where all the
city's have the generic feel of Happy Meals, Motel 6 and Homeless People.  It still has its landmarks, its quirks, and those incredible streets
but counter-culture has been swept into the corners of a Ben & Jerry's ice cream store.  
I, too, have moved on.  Moving around the country
like a man without one, I have become a first-rate
email spammer.  Mom, she has gone on to become Pittsburgh's biggest pain in the
right-wing arse.  Making them reflect on themselves and how they treat their fellow man and world.  As the Director of the
Thomas Merton
Center she has her hand on the pulse of so many radical/left-wing issues that the right leaning wing nuts can't seem to track her down.  
Now a six-time Grandmother she has moved into the digital age of "getting the word out," with email and websites.  Me...I can't even seem
to get my foot out of my mouth!
I left my heart in San Francisco...
I arrive an hour earlier from Phoenix at San Fran Airport than Mom who is flying in from Pittsburgh.  She has dropped enough balls to field a
batting practice to come and spend five days with her spoiled, prodigal son in beautiful Northern California.  After a five-hour flight and a bad
fruit meal, she looks radiant!  She is my
Mom...
  We begin our odyssey by corralling a rental car.  It takes us three shuttle trips around the airport but we now have a sporty sedan that,
thankfully, is not a standard shift.  This town is made for stripping gears.  We negotiate our way to hotel in the heart of the Cow Hollow
district right on Lombard Street.  Surrounded by an eclectic array of fine restaurants and clubs we wonder if we need the car after all.  
Every type of food imaginable is at our fingertips; Thai, Japanese, Mexican, Portuguese, French, Inuit, Road Kill, Spam, Bugs, Crustaceans
and, of course, Sushi.  I have no idea where to buy film or gas but if I need fish heads, whale blubber or ivory it is next door to anywhere.
  As we peruse a map we can see the world-famous trolley cars run only a few blocks away.  So we leave the car and decide to stroll up
to them and take it to the also world-famous Fisherman's Wharf.  Now we are walking along the streets of San Francisco!  There's a
Chinese Restaurant.  Then we walk past Ding Huao's, Main Chao's, Ping Pong's, Sum Yung Boy, Bung Bowl and Ting's Ino.  Then it is
the next block.  We suddenly realize that the trolleys run at the top of the street.  Did I say street?  I meant the equivalent of the stairway to
heaven!  We have to scale the perpendicular road that rises to the top of Russian Hill.  This hill makes Mt. Shasta look like a curb!  
Houses are built on a sliding scale on each side.  When the earthquake hits it is going to be one hell of a domino effect.  I throw Mom a
rope and we proceed up the hill.  This is literally a 35% grade!  The parking meters are way stations.  It is against the law to park your
car on these hills with the wheels turned out.  You don't see any skateboarders around here!Â
  We finally have traversed to the top.  At the crest begins the world's crookedest street.  Tourists are thronged around it to take photos of
the tourists who drive down it.  It has nine hairpin turns with houses stacked around as guardrails.  Flowers adorn its length, probably as
memorials to the idiots that went over ten miles an hour.  We hear, ding-a-ling-ping-a-ling-a-ding, no; it is not another Chinese
Restaurant, the trolley is here!  People are hanging off of it like it is a Haitian Ferry boat.  We jump on and instead of getting the
world-famous singing trolley conductor we get Captain Bligh.  "Push into the middle!  Those people don't bite.  They just ate!"  He
unceremoniously takes our two dollars rings the bells, like he's Quasimodo, and we proceed down the mountain like were ski-jumping.  
The conductor maneuvers the car from the center pulling levers and thrusting the brake like he is Fred Flintstone.  It becomes obvious that
this is not a serious mode of transportation as he jumps off to go to lunch and leaves us stranded for ten minutes while he implores
another driver to take over.  We are only tourists after all.
  We drive to the end of one line and then have to catch another to get to Fisherman's Wharf.  This driver is much nicer and he doesn't
even charge us.  He rings the bell the whole length of the trip.  I think he is trying to play "Staying Alive," either that or "Fire on the
Mountain."Â  We finally arrive at the Fisherman's Wharf turnaround and watch them spin the whole trolley car around by pushing it on a
wooden track disk.  No wonder these are the oldest moving historic monuments in the country, no one else would use them!
  Here we are at the world-famous Fisherman's Wharf.  The second most visited place in America.  I think www.steelcactus.com is the
first.  Crabs, mussels, prawns and shrimp outlaid in the mountains of ice for your choosing.  T-Shirts, five for ten dollars, knick-knacks,
bric-a-brac and even tic-tacs for cheaper then any place else, straight from the Asian market.  Seafood of the highest order, so fresh most
of it is still alive.  We dawdle around soaking up the beauty of the bay and its specialty shops.  I drag Mom to Pier 39 where they have a
two-story
Venetian Carousel.  We climb to the second deck and as I jump on a unicorn my childhood flashes before my eyes as Mom
exclaims, "Don't sit on the unicorn, you'll poke your eye out!"Â  We go around and around as the tourists below us give me strange
looks...just because I'm forty.
  Sea Lion City is nearby and we walk over to see the sea lions piled on top of each other like the carp are in Pymatuming.  Their wails
are woeful and sad.  They have six or seven floating wooden docks for them to lounge about on.  They squeeze together in a heap that
resembles an orgy of blubber.  They
wail and moan until our hearts can take no more even though they are probably having a blast.  As
we stroll to the oldest surviving restaurant on the piers we can see Alcatraz Island standing as a beacon to how bad men can be.
  I order the Dungeness crab and Mom orders something even stranger.  It came from the ocean but we don't know which one.  I order
the local brew, Anchor Steam Beer, and we toast to all the bonds that which connect a Mother and a child.  We are in San Francisco and
many adventures await!
  As we head back to the trolley stop.  We see a store called, "After the Earthquake."  The building is built to look as if it is falling down.  
It is filled with the usual tourist junk but it is displayed in overturned cars, crumbling walls and broken steam pipes.  It is good to see
somebody has a sense of humor about the oncoming judgment day.
  We hop the trolley again and I get to hang off like a Rice-a-Roni commercial.  They don't charge us again for our ride as we make our
way into the middle of Chinatown.  And talk about i-roni, this is where I see my first McDonald's!  Everything is spelled out in Chinese so
we have no idea where we are.  We make our connection to the second trolley, they don't charge us either, and we end up, where else, at
Fisherman's Wharf!  Doh!  One big circle, thank God they didn't charge us.  We take a taxi back to the hotel.
  The next morning we eat breakfast across the street at Mel's Drive-In.  There is no Flo or grits here.  It's a 50's diner much like
Arnold's.  I look around for Potsie but only find Chinese people, leftover hippies and bull dykes.  I'm actually surprised when I find they do
have bacon and eggs.  I order from the Chinese waiter as Mom becomes amused at the older, oily Chinese gentleman who is seated
next to us with a young couple.  Being the big man that he so wants to be, he leeringly tells the young woman that she is very beautiful and
she can have anything she wants on the menu but, '"Remember the most expensive meal isn't always the best."Â  Mom wants to smack
him with her New York Times.  But I manage to keep her from laughing at the guy by telling her somber stories about our beleaguered cat.
  I'm anxious to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, so we decide to head to Muir Woods.  It is north of the city near the coast.  As we
approach the bridge I am filled with awe and wonder and I simply have to take pictures.  I get out my camera, load it, adjust the aperture,
and start taking photos like an underpaid paparazzi photographer, did I mention that I am driving.  Mom is steering from shotgun as we hit
fifty-miles per hour trying to keep up with traffic.  You cannot even see the top of the bridge due to the ever-accumulating fog.  And not
having a center barrier is doing wonders for her nerves.  The Golden Gate is spectacular and it feels as if I'm Lewis or Clark now.  But I'm
just Joe Commuter.
  A half-hour out of the city we are in the midst of forest.  This is no ordinary forest it is the world-famous Great Redwood Forest.  Here
may be the most awe-inspiring place on the planet.  These colossal stands of trees go on for as far and as high as you can fathom.  
Redwoods are the skyscrapers of nature.  Their dizzying height is matched only by their age, some over 2000 years old.  Taller than the
sequoias, but not as wide, their majesty is only matched by their serenity.  Coming from southern Arizona where the trees are nothing
more than overgrown shrubbery my neck cranes to the point that my skull is touching my spine and I contemplate hugging them.  Mom
and I walk amongst them for over three hours.  It truly is a magical place.  Not a Disneyland kind of magical but more of a Merlin kind of
magical.  I shoot photo after photo but they are all just a waste of film.  Ansel Adams with an IMAX camera couldn't capture these and give
them justice.  We later hear that they filmed the Ewok scenes of "Star Wars" here and fittingly, "Vertigo."  Mom and I agree that this was
the highlight of our trip.
  Next we take a road trip through the cow pastures of the peninsula of Point Reyes.  The farthest extending point of the California
coastline.  The winding roads wind through the wind.  It takes a full forty-five minutes to get to this isthmus of wonder.  We park and
make our way through the gale force winds to get to the lookout point, which overlooks the
lighthouse.  The wind blows at a constant forty
miles per hours and has been clocked as high as 110 mph.  I hold onto my brand new hat that my Mommy bought for me and absorb the
brilliance of the view.  We are surrounded on three sides by the ocean on a cliff 200 feet above.  The vastness of the ocean is
staggering.  We can see the curvature of the earth from here.  I can almost see Jack Lord standing in his condo on Maui.  Whales would
look as if they were minnows from here.  Speaking of minnows, I think I found the S.S. Minnow!
  We arrive back in San Fran to another weather change.  Fog, no fog, cold, warm, windy you never know, every three minutes it's
different.  We pay the outrageous fee of  $5.00 to cross the Golden Gate from the north.  It's free going out of the city.  We decide to
bounce around the local hot spots around our hotel.  We go to a Japanese restaurant called "Sake it to Me," or something like that.  I
order noodles and my first taste of Sake.  It comes in a thimble and it is hot.  I can smell the alcohol even before it gets to my lips.  
"Bonzai Mom!"  Your son won't be sober after this!  I gulp it down like a shot and this is a big mistake.  A few of these and I'll be
kamikaze-ing onto the floor.  Now I'm trying to eat the noodles with chopsticks and Mom tears them off me saying, "Give me those before
you poke your eye out!"
  The next day after a cold compress, aspirin and a puke, I'm ready for breakfast.  It's off to Mel's again and still there is no Flo or Arnold.  
We drive downtown, pay $4.00 for ten minutes of parking and try to find the world-famous Ansel Adams Museum.  After wandering the city
until long after our meter expired we find that it no longer exists...if he only had captured those Redwoods.  Anyway, we decide it is time to
see the beacon of the city, the San Francisco-famous
Coit Tower.  Built by a local female eccentric, who had the hots for fireman, it is
shaped like fire hose nozzle and skies about 200 feet above the city on Telegraph Hill.  It looks more like a phallic symbol and I think Coit
is short for coitus but I don't mention this to Mom.
  After admiring the 1930's era murals that champion the virtues of communism on the inside base over the tower, we take the elevator to
the top.  From there you can see a 360° view of the entire city and bay.  There's the world-famous Prudential Tower, the world-famous
Oakland Bay Bridge, the world-famous Cannery Row, the world-famous Nepenthe Gay Bath House!  Oops, did I just say that out loud?  
Time to go.
  Next stop, Haight-Ashbury!  Mom and I try to score a lid on the way down but to no avail.  We park in the vicinity and walk to the
world-famous corner where the whole hippie movement started.  Hippies, Yippies, Dippies and Trippies are still wondering this Mecca for
spiritual disenfranchisement.  Mom gets into the spirit by flashing peace signs and I have to stop her because she doesn't realize that that
is the gang sign for the Fourth Street Crips now.  We wonder around the head shops and the tie-dye shirt shops where everything is now
made by a sweatshop in Malaysia.  This place has really lost its spirit.  Sure there a lot of weirdoes still hanging around but standing
directly on the on the world-famous corner is none other than the
world-famous Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream store.  I have a Cherry Garcia just
to get into the spirit of things.  We stop at a nearby java café and I have a frappacino just to get out of the spirit of things.  Mom has a
green tea and like the bohemians that we are we discuss beat poets, nuclear disarmament and what I need for Christmas.
  We make one last stop for the day and it is the Mission de la San Francisco.  Built in the 1600's it is mainly a broken down building.  
They have attached a newer church and my favorite thing, a gift shop!  In the graveyard there are a mix of Spanish and Irish immigrants
buried from seventeenth century.  It has a beautiful basilica and the clouds above create a haunting atmosphere.  I get scared and I ask
Mom if we can leave.
  That night we head to the, what else!, world-famous Ghirardelli Chocolate Square.  Another must-see it is a city square block full of
outrageous specialty stores (sweater -$499) and fabulous restaurants.  We eat at McCormick's & Zuleto's.  Situated on the bay the
upscale, swank atmosphere belies its wonderful food.  I'm right at home with my new Point Reyes hat and they scuttle us to a back table
above the bathrooms.  I order the ravioli stuffed with my favorite Dungeness crab.  Mom has something equally exotic and insists I try
everything on her plate.  I always take that as, she wants what is on my plate.  Why do women do this?  For dessert we have the
world-famous Ghirardelli Chocolate squares with caramel tucked inside.  Smmmmmack!
  You'll be glad to know there is only two days left!
  We arise at the crack of noon and head down the beach near the Golden Gate Bridge so I can add to my 104 photos that I now have of
this bridge.  We can actually see it from our hotel room but that is not good enough.  We watched fireworks shoot off over it the night
before, for no apparent reason, and that is not good enough.  By the time I'm done I want to be able to stretch my photos the whole length
of it!  How much website space will I need for that?!
  As we are walking along the beach to a good vantage point (4.5 miles away) we find that this is a Dog Beach right on the bay.  And what
do you know?!  There are
three Basenjis, like my dog, scampering right towards me!  ILMPL4EM!  (Inside Joke)  I miss my puppy so
much.  "Hey Lady, what's wrong with your dogs?  They are so well-behaved!"  I could never let my dog run around like that.  She would
have chewed that bridge to pieces by now.  I tell her to never get a cat and we leave.
  We walk across the street to the...world-famous Exploratorium.  With over 650 exhibits...uh, never mind, this email is long enough.  But
at its entrance is a colonnade that would rival anything in Rome or Athens.  Fifty-feet high Doric columns endowed with posing woman and
archways adorned with flutists and gods.  Built in 1915 to commemorate the city's rise from the ashes of
1906, its dome can be seen from
every corner of the city.  Unfortunately, I have only three photos left after all of my bridge photos.
  We pick up more film from an expensive retailer because I can find nothing suitable due to all of the Chinese restaurants in this &@*$#%
town.  And we decide to drive down US 1 to anywhere California.  After the initial swearing at traffic to get out of the city we find serenity
and bliss tooling in our rental car along the spectacular
California coast.  Miles and miles of rocky coast, cliffs and bad surfers fill our
panoramic view.  We pass Half Moon Bay,
Gregoria Beach and a thousand other beaches, coves, lagoons along our fifty-mile drive.  We
stop at one beach and it is filled with tree size driftwood that people have made into seesaw sets and bonfire material.  We are told it
floated down the ocean from the Oregon wildfires.
  Sometime during this trip we managed to get tickets to a San Francisco Giants game at the world-famous Pac Bell Park.  Mom is a big
baseball fan from way back, like 1960.  She could care less now but she indulged me.  I made her stand in line for the 400 or so tickets
left for the game.  As she worked on her ever-present crossword puzzle, I bought pins.  Pac Bell is a beautiful park right on the bay.  
Barry Bonds often homers into it.  We didn't care who won so I took photos and tried to explain to her why these guys weren't catching easy
fly balls, "They're lazy millionaires now, Mom."  We sat in the swirling cold for about four innings and then left.  The Giants won 12-4, but I
get to add Pac Bell to my list of ballparks visited!
  Our last day!  Today we ride to world-famous Alcatraz Island.  America's Devil Island, the prison of the famous, the hellhole of the
soul.  The ferry is cluttered with tourists seeking the macabre.  As we pick up our headsets to hear the stories of hell from the people who
lived it, I get a feel of fright as if the evil still lingers.  We learn that
Al Capone resided here after his conviction on tax evasion.  The
"Birdman of Alcatraz" was a two-time murderer.  And the multiple escape attempts that all ended in failure.  We walk down the main
corridor that the inmates called "Broadway."  The cells are small, lifeless, cold and hard.  As we walk the grounds I try to find the grittiest
shot which to capture its sobriety.  Mom, she's taking photos of the flowers!  Trying to capture a little beauty amongst the steel and
concrete.  This act sums up all of what my Mother is, a person who stands in reality while trying to focus on the beauty.
  We learn that the Indians captured the island, after the prison's closure, for 19 months.  The irony lies in that they were protesting their
treatment by the white-man by taking over a prison.  This was no way to end a delightful vacation.  Standing on the shores of hell,
awaiting a ferry.Â
  That night, I make her watch the Steelers lose on Monday Night Football just to complete the agony of the day.  I tell her, "I'm going to
poke my eye out!"  We leave the next morning and bid each other adieu with leaden hearts.  We see and speak to each other too few times
but every thought that I have filters through her eyes.
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