My wife and I were on a cruise with our next port being San Francisco. We had 8 hours. What do we do? Where do we go? How do we make use of our time in a fun and memorable way? Well, I had a cell phone so let’s just look up to see what’s promising. Besides we can save some money singing happily all the way home. So what if we get lost and get some extra exercise? I’m good with that. Who knows what joy that extra money will bring. As I was contemplating my perfect San Francisco solution, I got interrupted by guess who. My dear wife, Wease. Money does not rule her plans. Fun and memories count most. She see’s a hop on hop off tour of the city. She likes it. I give a bit of opposition to the cost. She reminds me why I want to see it her way. I cave. We bought the tour on a double-decker bus. It has a guide to point out what we are seeing. Good thing, I would have just thought I was looking at a bunch of old buildings with an occasional park or scenic view thrown in. Cities aren’t really my thing.
So this is where I start the journey to learn the San Francisco things that I didn’t know I didn’t know. We found our bus and on we went. Met the guide and found a seat on the first deck. Oops, big mistake! We couldn’t see everything our guide talked about. The top deck would have been far better. Even so, this is my list of 4 of the many bits of information I was glad to get. Wease really did have a better sense of what would make good memories.
We are on the bus our guide is pointing out what was interesting about building architecture, statues, and city cultural districts. We came to Union Park and in the center of the park is a tall monument to honor Admiral George Dewey, in commemoration of the victory in the Battle of Manila Bay, during the Spanish-American War. Of course, that didn’t get my attention, but the story about the model used for the statue at the top of the monument did. The model was Alma de Bretteville Spreckels who married sugar magnate Adolph B. Spreckels since she wanted to find herself a rich man. She is credited with saying “I’d rather be an old man’s darling that a young man’s slave”.
When the guide pointed out The Stinking Rose Located in North Beach, San Francisco’s renowned Little Italy, he got my attention again. Garlic is known universally as “the stinking rose”, the term reportedly going back to Greek and Roman times. But why? The “stinking” part is obvious, but why “rose”? Anyway The Stinking Rose is famous for adding garlic to everything including wine and ice cream. Garlic is OK but ice cream? They are serious, serving over 3,000 pounds of the pungent herb each month.
A favorite story given by our guide introduced me to Joshua Norton who came to San Francisco in 1849 with about $40,000 that he turned into a fortune of $250,000 (about $7.6 million today), from the commodity markets and real estate. He saw what he thought was an opportunity in 1852, when China, facing a severe famine, placed a ban on the export of rice, causing the price of rice in San Francisco to skyrocket from four to thirty-six cents per pound. When he heard the Glyde, a ship returning from Peru was carrying 200,000 pounds of rice, he bought the entire shipment for $25,000 (or twelve and a half cents per pound), hoping to make it big. Our guide pointed out that shortly after he signed the contract, several other shiploads of rice arrived from Peru, causing the price of rice to plummet to three cents a pound. His rice risk caused him to lose his real estate holdings and to go broke. He disappeared until 1859 when he proclaimed himself “Norton I, Emperor of the United States” and he later added the secondary title of “Protector of Mexico”.
What got me was that he had no formal political power. Nevertheless, the people of San Francisco honored his currency, issued in his name, at the establishments he frequented. Many citizens of San Francisco celebrated his regal presence and his proclamations. He made numerous decrees including a call for a bridge connecting San Francisco to Oakland, and a corresponding tunnel to be built under San Francisco Bay. He had inklings of good judgment when long after his death, similar projects were completed in the form of the Transbay Tube and the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, At his death, January 8, 1880, nearly 30,000 people packed the streets of San Francisco for his funeral. Our guide performs as Emperor Norton in the streets on weekends.
Another site that grabbed my attention was the Academy of Art University – Automobile Museum. One of the most prized vehicles on display is the Tucker 48. Formerly owned by George Lucas, a producer of the 1988 film “Tucker: The Man and His Dream”.
Introduced in 1947 by Preston Tucker, only 51 such models were made; the car on display at the Automobile Museum is production car #1003, the third car off the production line. I even went home to learn more about the Tucker 48. The attached video is for those of you, like me, who want to know more.
The tour had a lot more points of interest worth remembering. At the tour’s end, we said goodbye to our guide with a hearty thanks. He offered his card promoting his services. Oops, I didn’t take it. The next day we decided we wanted more and took the bus tour riding on the upper deck to get what we missed. We learned that all guides are not created equal. We wished we had the first guides’ card but as I said, oops.
A few of my takeaways are 1) you never know everything about a destination, 2) a guide can enrich your traveling experience and 2) you need to know how to pick a quality guide.
See Ya Makin Memories!
Image 1: By xyz, see here:
Watch full video here: