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Walk the Talk

November 23, 2014

I like the rain. I tell people that. When I was a student, I would get off the bus before it reached my stop sometimes, just to walk. The rain didn’t deter me and if time and circumstances permitted, it attracted me. It still does.

With the drought in Northern California, opportunities to walk in the rain don’t come along too often. So I was happy to see last week that rain was in the Saturday forecast. I had planned to attend the San Francisco car show and the rain would make the day even better. I also wanted to get to North Beach and to a shop or two in Union Square.

I woke up at my usual “are you kidding me?” early hour yesterday, since there’s only so much a body can do to adjust from a workday sleep schedule. I was happy to hear the rain pounding the window and the sound of a car driving over the wet pavement. This was exactly what I had wanted. I laid there thinking that I could get up as if it were a workday, get a jump on things and be in San Francisco to watch it wake up to the rain. I could find a good cup of steaming black joe and see the skies wash away the urban grime. It was a very pleasant thought as I rolled over and dozed off. After a long workweek, good sense and the body’s stubborn instinct to protect itself took over.

As it goes, I got all the extra sleep that I needed and was still up just after daylight. And there was still a steady rain coming down. After a short while, all systems were go and I was ready to leave. The plan was to drive the Volvo over to the BART station and take the train. This was a full-on walk in the rain program and without a car in the City, I wouldn’t be able to cheat myself of the reason I was going over there. But a very odd thing happened. For the very first time since 1993, when a loose connection to the battery stalled the car, the engine did not turn over on the first turn of the key. This just never happens. It was as discordant as it comes – so unexpected that it stopped me for a moment. Imagine the feeling you’d get if your family greeted you at the breakfast table speaking in a foreign language they didn’t know at the dinner table last night. Think of turning on your TV to see John Boehner and Mitch McConnell on Fox News telling the cameras that the country deserves some legislative progress and have rounded up unanimous consent on an issue (anything, your choice) that is consistent with the Democrats’ votes.

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The Crosses of Lafayette for those who died in Afghanistan and Iraq. Photo taken from the train station platform.

It was very odd, to say the least. Of course, this mechanical work of wonder built in Gothenburg 28 years ago had no idea that I was headed off to the auto show to scout new commute cars. Right? It’s inanimate, for goodness sake. Was this a payback for my curiosity? A price to pay in a relationship when surrender of allegiance and commitment to one another went the other direction? After a deep breath and a chuckle to myself, I gave it another try. Begrudgingly and with a bit of exasperation, the Volvo started. Just to make sure, there was no residual resistance or remaining frustration, I turned off the engine and then restarted it. I did this three or four times, just to make sure all was good. Each time, the Volvo increasingly sounded like everything was back to normal. All forgotten. With that behind me, I was on the road driving through the pouring rain to the BART station.

The train cars were surprisingly full. Although it wasn’t early in the morning anymore, it was early for a Saturday morning. Nobody was soaked to the skin, but there was a lot of water dripping off umbrellas, clothing and shoes. I had the sense that most of the people there got around like this everyday and that perhaps I was one of the few there that had the idea that an urban hike in the rain was special. I had my nose in an interesting article the entire trip and just as I finished, the train reached the end of the transbay tube. I disembarked from the Powell Street station, umbrella at the ready, coat zipped up and ready for my walk in the rain up to the shop near Union Square. Much to my surprise and even chagrin, there was no rain! Everything was wet and there were puddles everywhere, but the skies had cleared and the temperature was very pleasant. The drought struck again. I spent 45 minutes or so with the very congenial, but hung over, hipster kid at the retail store taking care of things. He told me that after ruining a pair of expensive leather shoes in a short walk home from his shift last Thursday, he was bound not to repeat the mistake and clicked for an Uber car yesterday morning. So yes, there had been plenty of rain but because I slept in, I missed it!

Upon leaving the store, I packed my jacket in the backpack and I never touched the umbrella that stowed away in there. I had a very nice walk. The weather was San Francisco glorious and I didn’t think about the lost walk in the rain again. As locals will tell you, anyone wanting to make good time, may want to avoid Chinatown during peak Saturday hours. The sidewalks are full of vegetable and seafood for sell and the people selling and buying them. There are other shops of all sorts of stuff also attracting crowds. But there it was as I left Union Square. It was my direct path to North Beach and I chose to go through the heart of it. It was fine. It slowed me up a bit, but I wasn’t in any particular hurry. I just wanted to get to North Beach to see how things are going over there these days. Here’s some of what I saw.

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Molinari’s cannot be beat. This is old-time SF. The family’s been in the business since 1896. I’ve been going there since 1980. The only instruction I give the guys behind the counter is to please make me a sandwich. They can decide for me. It’s a foolproof method.

 

 

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The center door of the Catholic church which sits kitty-corner from Molinari’s. Since there aren’t many tables at the deli, I used to enjoy my sandwiches from the steps here. It’s now gated off, so I found a sunny spot on Green Street, one block north.

 

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Jasper Street, an alley off of Green Street. When I first moved to San Francisco and was learning about the history of North Beach, I introduced myself to Dante Benedetti, who owned New Pisa, an Italian restaurant around the corner from this alley. Dante was more than happy to tell me about it. He was friends with everyone. His parents moved here from Italy. He was born and raised in this alley. Nobody locked their doors and everyone watched out for their neighbors.

 

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Dante loved baseball. He grew up with the DiMaggio brothers and learned to play the game in the playgrounds and in the City’s horse fields, which were empty when the horses were out on deliveries. Joltin’ Joe owned his own restaurant in the neighborhood. Both are from another SF era, not to be seen again. When The University of San Francisco couldn’t afford a baseball coach, Dante volunteered to coach. The school’s lawyers wouldn’t allow free labor, so Dante took $1 per year for 29 years. Here is a very well-maintained mural in the alley that was painted to remember Dante.

 

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A place across the street from Dante’s alley that sells used records, musical instruments, and recording and stereo equipment,

 

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All the records are downstairs in the dark room at the bottom of these narrow and very old stairs.

 

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The pricing scheme is pretty easy to understand. It’s posted right here over a 35-year old poster from Dylan and The Band’s Basement Tapes LP.

 

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Here you go. Looking for anything in particular? Good luck.

 

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One street over is Cafe Trieste, another SF institution. It was a popular coffee shop for the Beatniks in the 1950s and 1960s. This is where you’d find Ginsberg, McClure, Kerouac, Ferlinghetti and the others. Other than some new espresso machines and the substitution of an ATM machine for the pay phone seen here on the left, I don’t think there have been many changes to the joint. I noticed that there wasn’t a single hipster in the place. I had an excellent cappuccino here. I almost ordered a second cup.

 

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It seems Bill Cosby is everywhere these days.

 

And with that, I was off to the auto show. I retraced my steps through the heart of Chinatown then crossed through the Financial District. I was able to hoof it at a pretty good pace, since it is relatively quiet area during the weekend. I could tell as soon as I walked into the auto show that I had made a mistake. If you’re ever interested in investigating a new car purchase, a pretty serious investment these days, don’t waste your time at the auto show. There are lots of cars, to be sure. However, with all the other manufactured commotion, such as ESPN-type heavy beat Muzak bouncing around the hall and the manufacturers’ representatives parading around makeshift stages located beside the cars with wireless microphones to highlight the features of their cars, you can’t hear yourself think. Maybe that’s the idea. The whole scene is part Disneyland and part shopping mall (redundant, I know). Worse than any show room I’ve ever been. It was heavy with little kids running around from car to car to jump in the front seat, move a bunch of dials and buttons, climbing through to the back seat and then bolting out to the next shiny car. Parents kept up with them to perform their own version of the same. Thinking about it after I had arrived, I’m not sure why I had expected anything different. Anyway, I was able to see and sit in many of the hybrid electric cars that I’ve read about as potential alternatives to my Volvo.

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I checked out the new Volvos. I had to. If you want a Volvo built in Sweden, you may have to move quickly. It’s only a matter of time before those shipped to America will be built in their China factories.

 

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I heard the words of a friend I spoke with on the phone while walking through Chinatown, “Whatever you do, buy something cool,” when I saw the Jaguar display. It doesn’t really match my idea of a commute car, but it did cross my mind. I think I sat in this car longer than any of the others.

 

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The Cadillac hybrid, which does come closer to the commute car, since I could run it on battery power for 35 miles or so before relying on the gas engine. Consistent with GM’s typical practice, this car is built around a lower-priced nameplate, in this instance, the Chevy Volt, which runs about half the price as the Cadillac. The fit and finish is prettier and all that, but some of the guts are from the same Chevy design and factories.

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And here’s the car I’ll use for tomorrow’s Monday morning commute. Today’s odometer reading is 428,762 miles. Repair cost since the last “Check the Glove Box” post: $206.24 for an oil change, vacuum hose replacement, adjustment to the ignition timing and the best of all, getting rid of the squeak from the clutch pedal.

 

23 Comments
  1. Wow! I’m happy your Volvo didn’t get really upset. I know they are really warm-hearted cars, forgiving and all that. Yours might be built by my aunt who worked at that very factory at the time, 28 years ago. Nice day out you had!

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    • I absolutely love the story about your aunt!

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      • She worked there over 30 years and retired about 8 years ago. She was a QA manager of some kind, and still lives in Gothenburg. I’ll tell her about your Volvo when I talk to her next and she’ll be delighted!

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  2. I’d love to have a nose through all those old records… 🙂

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  3. Oh, so much to say about this post! First of all, I was puzzled by your equation of your Volvo not starting up being like waking up in the morning and finding the family speaking a different language at the breakfast table. This happens to me ALL THE TIME! :-0
    But seriously, you healed a bit of a heartsick hole in my heart with your (not rainy) walk around ‘the city,’ and your phabulous photos. Thanks. I was last at Café Trieste about 2 months ago. Can’t wait to return for a visit in December.

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    • I guess family breakfasts can sputter sometimes.

      It’s nice that you’ll be able to return next month. I hope that you enjoy yourself while out here. Cafe Trieste coffee will taste just as you remember it. If you haven’t been, check out the mural for Dante Benedetti, On north side of Green Street, a half bock east of Columbus. On Japser Alley. I don’t remember seeing any Jasper tree. Just look for the sign.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sounds like a fun day, even without the rain.

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  5. I really loved reading about your love for rain. and even though it had mostly stopped by the time you got there, I’m glad you saw puddles.
    Your description of your reaction to the car not starting was great, too. So glad your mechanical work of wonder got your where you needed to go once again.

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    • Well, thank you Laurie. I know you get hit with the rain a lot, or maybe since you are so active outdoors, it just seems so. I do like the rain. I suppose I could grow tired of it just like anyone else after a while.

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  6. 428,762 miles??? I’d say your beloved Volvo is entitled to a Saturday morning stutter – it’s earned it 😉 Lovely story about your lovely city, Bruce. I hadn’t remembered (or perhaps I just hadn’t learned) that you live in the SF Bay area. Such an amazing city, with or without the rain. Your pictures of remembered places and the stories behind them are a beautiful tribute to the place you call home!

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  7. I enjoyed joining you for your exploration of the city, thanks for bringing us along. I, too, love the rain, probably due to spending 7 years in Eureka and now 7 years in Portland. It grows on you. Such a neat story of Dante, and what a great old record shop. And I just love Jaguars. 🙂

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    • Well then, it seems you should have had your walking shoes on and been in SF with me that day. (Maybe your could have brought some of that Pacific NW rain with you.)

      Like

  8. cool post, I lovee the rain, although its loud, its soo serene isnt it, having a stroll in the rain really gives you time to reflect and think deep thoughts 🙂 Im instantly in a good mood when i wake to the sound of raindrops hitting my window

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  9. Some great pictures here. I love the rain too, especially in the summer. It’s nice for going out for a run, and gets you some funny looks from drivers 🙂

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  10. no puddle to see..no raindrops to find..missed it all..

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Next time we’re up in SF, I really want to stop by Cafe Trieste and soak up the literary air.

    Like

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