Cable Cars and Chez Panisse, January 2, 2014

Cable car rules and regs

Cable car rules and regs

Thursday’s theme song was the jingle from the old Rice-a-Roni ads: “Rice-a-roni, the San Francisco treat. Rice-a-roni, the flavor can’t be beat.” It wasn’t so much the flavor that jogged my memory (I haven’t had rice in ages), it was the clanging of the cable car bells that made me think of the ads – and I heard a lot of clanging, because the kids and I stood in line for an hour waiting to get on one of the cars.

Ordinarily I am not enthusiastic about standing still to wait to go somewhere; I’d rather walk. But the three of us wanted to ride a cable car and it became apparent very quickly that catching one near our hotel, at Bush and Powell, was going to be impossible; by the time the cars reached our corner, they were full and either weren’t stopping or were only taking on a few passengers who then had to stand in the covered compartment, where the views are obstructed.

It was a beautiful, sunny morning, and I had a great big book to read (great as in huge and interesting – “The Goldfinch,” the deservingly lauded new novel by Donna Tartt), so I didn’t mind standing still, and the kids were soaking up the atmosphere and playing Sudoku on their cell phones. So no one complained about having to wait.

Also, the wait paid off: we got excellent seats, although Elizabeth decided almost immediately she wanted to stand, so she hung onto a pole the whole way.

Elizabeth riding the cable car

Elizabeth riding the cable car

Noah joined her later in the ride, when a pole opened up.

Noah riding the cable car

Noah riding the cable car

There were two little kids holding onto the poles in front of me – they couldn’t have been more than nine years old – and the driver had to keep telling them to hold on with both hands. I fully expected them to go flying off onto the road and be splattered all over the pavement. I think the driver did, too. I finally asked him, “Where are their parents?” and he rolled his eyes and pointed to the other side of the cable car. Good grief! Maybe the mom and dad wanted to lose their kids. I suppose falling off the side of a cable car would be an effective way to rid yourself of unwanted offspring.

The kids and I were traveling solo. Both Dave and Miles came down with a hideous stomach something – either food poisoning or a flu. I think it was the latter – we all ate the same thing last night and neither E nor N nor I got sick. Also, I prefer to think it was the latter because I really don’t want to come down with what they had. It was awful. They both stayed in their respective rooms all day.

The cable car we took from Powell Street dropped us off near Ghirardelli Square, so we wandered over there, dutifully accepted our free chocolate samples, purchased other flavors, looked at a few other stores in the area.

Elizabeth outside "her" store at Ghirardelli Square

Elizabeth outside “her” store at Ghirardelli Square

We then headed to Lombard Street and the Crooked Street, which really is very crooked.

Crooked street from the top

Crooked street from the top

 

Crooked Street from the distance -- you can see the crooked part in the very top of the photo

Crooked Street from the distance — you can see the crooked part in the very top of the photo

From there we walked to North Beach, where we asked some construction workers for advice about where to eat. We were directed to a great little out-of-the-way neighborhood sandwich shop, Francisco’s (or Freddy’s, depending on who you ask). All the sandwiches and salads were under $10. Beer was only $3! (I didn’t have one, but I was impressed.) The food was terrific and the atmosphere was very pleasant.

After lunch, we walked up to the Coit Tower, which we discovered is closed for renovations until spring. So we headed back toward home.

We passed this intersection -- I believe it's near Columbus and Stockton -- on our walk. Isn't it cool?

We passed this intersection — I believe it’s near Columbus and Stockton — on our walk. Isn’t it cool?

Isn't this pretty? It's a block from our hotel.

Isn’t this pretty? It’s a block from our hotel.

We discovered some great stores on Grant Street, and then wandered through Chinatown en route to the hotel, where I was really afraid we might discover that Dave and Miles had succumbed to whatever ailed them. Both of them were feeling slightly better (i.e., they hadn’t thrown up since morning), but neither wanted to join us for our dinner at Chez Panisse.

So – Elizabeth, Noah and I were off again. Chez Panisse, the famed restaurant that is credited with starting the locavore/slow food movement, is in Berkeley. The downstairs restaurant offers only a pre-fixe meal that ranges in price from $85 to $150 depending on the night of the week. We opted for the café upstairs, which has a wider selection and is more reasonably priced. Noah had lamb, I had pasta with wild mushrooms, and Elizabeth had the best chicken she’s ever eaten – a deboned leg and thigh cooked on a grill while being squashed under a piece of cast iron. We’ll be trying that recipe when we get home. It was pretty amazing.

Next up: a visit with my freshman year roommate from Syracuse, Jean Ginn, who happens to be in SF with her husband (my other freshman year roommate), Bob.

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