We promised our grandchildren that when they each turn 13 we will take each on a special birthday trip anywhere he or she chooses in the continental United States— excluding Alaska—as a gift for reaching such an advanced age. We quickly learned that we had to specify that the offer also excludes Hawaii…and Paris.
It’s the chance for my wife, the Beautiful AP, and me to have some alone time with each one before he or she gets to the eye-rolling “not-these-two-old-farts-again” stage of hanging with Grand AP and Grandpa Scobe.
[We have our friends Jerry “Stickman” and his lovely wife Tres to thank for with this idea as they have some ten thousand grandkids.]
Day One: Tuesday
So it was now John’s turn for this trip. In point of fact, we only have two grandkids, John and Danielle, and this would be our first time spending alone-time with John who is known as Johnny Scobes by his friends and teammates. The “Scobe” name has now lasted through four generations of Scobletes!
[John’s Journal: I had chosen to go to Los Angeles but we’re going to San Francisco. So much for my choice and Grandpa Scobe’s veto.]
Grand AP and I had a whole list of activities and places to see in San Francisco and we had bought tickets to the San Francisco Symphony for our final night.
“He’s going to hate it,” said AP.
“We’ll have him trapped,” I said.
Izzy, the driver whose company I have used for over a dozen years, picked us up at 7:15 AM and we were off to New York’s Kennedy Airport. Izzy is a story teller—he relates his life and ideas to you as he drives. On the trip to Kennedy we learned where his two daughters live; the roads near his second home in Florida, as said home is on the beach and how many hours he plans to work down there. Also that the home has a good crosscurrent of air.
We were flying first class on Delta. I was interested to see how John would like that experience. I have stopped using economy. It’s torture.
Now, Delta has two types of first class cabins—the old ones which are essentially larger seats; and the newer ones which have totally private seats that can recline into a bed, large individual television screens, great earphones and superior meals and drinks.
We always use carry-on, no matter how long we’ll be away, and this trip was no exception. The first snag we hit was that John’s suitcase could not be opened. The suitcase had exhausted its life cycle and was stuffed with so much stuff that no amount of tugging could open the zippers without ripping the entire case.
We decided to wait to open the suitcase until after we checked in at Kennedy Airport and then we’d buy a new one. Yes, that was a small problem but kind of typical of John’s cavalier attitude towards anything that he didn’t really consider all that important. How hard is it to pack carry-on for a three-day trip?
[John’s Journal: So I over packed. But I told them my mom and sister had done the packing. I think I got away with that.]
We got to the airport early. You can’t miss a flight by being early except that Jerry “Stickman” missed one of his flights when he arrived early and fell asleep in the lounge and snored through all boarding announcements as his plane then sailed the blue skies while he slept soundly in his seat.
When John and AP bought the carry-on suitcase (I stayed in the lounge to relax), John came back with it.
“Guess how much it cost?” he asked.
“A hundred dollars?”
“Nope,” he said. “Four hundred dollars.”
“Yep,” said John.
[John’s Journal: I fooled Grandpa Scobe about the price of the luggage. It was only sixty dollars. He looked relieved when I told him the truth.]
We boarded the plane in the very first boarding group and John’s eyes lit up when he saw the accommodations. It was the new first class! Grand AP showed him everything that he needed to know about his remote, his headsets, and how to call the flight attendant for drinks and snacks. We all settled in for the flight, which was well over five hours long.
Newlyweds who were seated apart asked me to change my seat so they could sit together. So I moved. Sometime in the future their request might be the opposite, “Would you change seats with me? I don’t want to sit next to my husband.”
Instead of an aisle seat, my preference, I now had a window seat next to a guy who got quite buzzed on the flight. That’s what I got for being nice to the newlyweds. I wish I weren’t that nice. I could smell my stewed seatmate’s breath the whole flight.
[John’s Journal: I’ve got to tell my parents that first class is how we must always travel. It should be the “Scobe Way.”]
I was really disappointed in breakfast. I ordered French toast and it was soggy and tasted like a leftover from two weeks ago. I ate about ten percent of it before I gave up. The other choices seemed to be just as unappetizing as AP and John didn’t finish their meals either. That’s the first time I had food on Delta that I didn’t like.
[John’s Journal: Breakfast sucked.]
When we landed early afternoon, we had a car service take us to our hotel, the Marriot Marquis. I wanted John to enjoy this trip and experience what I considered to be the finer things in life. Grand AP and I would enjoy taking him to the symphony, whether he liked the experience or not. Bad experiences can often become good experiences in retrospect.
We were on the 33rd floor in a corner room. You could see the city and the San Francisco Bay from our windows.
[John’s Journal: We had a cool suite with giant television sets in each room. Grand AP and Grandpa Scobe are not big on watching television during the day or of “constantly” looking at your phones. They are old fashioned in many ways.]
I was disappointed in our hotel. No elevator went from the lobby floor to the higher floors. If you had a floor above 18, you had to switch elevators on floor two or four to take another elevator. The higher floor elevators were down a hall where you had to make various turns. You followed red tape on the floor to figure out where you were supposed to go. It was maddening.
[John’s Journal: You never knew where you were in that hotel. There were always guests wandering around with confused looks on their faces. The lobby was white, white walls, white floors; it was like Antarctica. If you asked a worker how to get somewhere they would say, “Behind the white wall.” Couldn’t they see that every damn wall was white?]
After lunch in the rather high-priced restaurant at the Marriott Marquis, we headed for the Cable Car Museum and then the piers. That’s when they became noticeable. the hordes of the homeless, everywhere in the city—not just in some godforsaken out-of-the-way neighborhood but everywhere; in front of the banks, the restaurants, the stores, the department stores; the office buildings. Some slept on the sidewalks; some in the alleys, some in doorways. Some of them howled their objections to life’s “slings and arrows of their outrageous fortune,” although the rest of didn’t want to hear them.
[John’s Journal: There were a lot of homeless in the city. It was like being back in New York, only maybe worse. Where’d they all come from? Were they all born in San Francisco?]
The Cable Car museum was interesting. It had great information about the earthquake of 1906, which destroyed the city. The amount of work keeping those cable cars moving in those years must have been enormous. Today they are a fun ride up and down a few breathtaking hills.
[John’s Journal: The Cable Car Museum was okay but the pictures of the earthquake were amazing. Even the young people looked old in those photos. When did young people start looking young like they do now?]
At the beach area from where you could see Alcatraz, there were children playing in the sand; dogs romping; joggers happily jogging; people playing touch football; babies being wheeled in carriages; and swimmers swimming in the Bay area that had been fixed with barriers so the waves wouldn’t drag the hardy swimmers out to their deaths in the Pacific ocean. Of course, the children, the dogs, the joggers, the football players, the baby wheelers, had to do their things around the homeless sprawled out here and there.
[John’s Journal: The Bay was nice and a lot of people were swimming. As far as I could see, the swimmers did not have any homeless swimming with them in the Bay, unless there were bodies floating nearby.]
That night we went on the Haunted San Francisco ghost and murder tour near Union Square that skirted the tip of the Tenderloin District – the seedy part of town. Our tour guide, Sebastian warned us to be careful with the homeless as the sidewalk was their “living room” and we should understand that. I took that to mean, Be careful, some of these people are insane.
[John’s Journal: The ghost tour was okay but there was more about murder than about ghosts. There were a lot of weird people in San Francisco’s past.]
Day Two: Wednesday
Today was Alcatraz, one of the best tours the Beautiful AP and I have ever been on. We were excited to take John on it.
You put on the headsets and are whisked back in time for two hours. Alcatraz Island housed some of the most dangerous criminals in American history and you learn what they were really like when they were caged. For example, did you know that the “Birdman of Alcatraz,” so lovingly portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the movie, was described by the warden as “a psychopathic, suicidal mass murderer who spoke three languages”? No one turned his back on this killer of men and lover of birds.
This amazing tour starts off with a pleasant boat ride to the island and then you are in for it. If you visit San Francisco then you must go to Alcatraz and take the audio tour.
[John’s Journal: I really liked Alcatraz. The criminals looked like criminals. Maybe we are what we look like?]
Late afternoon would be our Chinatown visit and then a dinner at the highly recommended Oriental Pearl. The Marriott concierge said this was one of the two best restaurants in Chinatown.
Over the years in four separate visits to San Francisco’s Chinatown I found that I was not a fan. I found the area to be grimy, rundown and ragged. But Chinatown is a big tourist destination and we felt that John would enjoy entering this world.
I asked John why there were so many Chinese in San Francisco. John was unaware of the history of Chinese immigration to San Francisco; he thought some had just showed up one day and others followed. We explained the horrors of forced labor on the railroads.
Our first stop was the Golden Gate Cookie Factory. That sounded interesting as this factory was where fortune cookies were created. That had to be fun to see, right?
We walked into this crummy store and once we got about nine feet inside that was the end of the “self-guided tour.” There were two women loading the cookies with fortunes and some guy wandering around the place. Factory? How could this dirty store be called a factory? Of course, the conditions of the place did not stop us from buying a bag full of fortune cookie slices. John loved them. They were delicious.
[John’s Journal: If Chinatown was my room, my mother would be yelling at me all day to clean it up.]
After walking the littered streets we found our restaurant, the Oriental Pearl. The store with the sign was closed but another sign led us to a door that signaled we were to go upstairs. Well, at least we would sample Chinatown’s best! Even bad places have good places, right?
I noticed that the rug on the staircase was frayed. I hoped from a lot of foot traffic. Upstairs the restaurant looked okay and there were several tables with diners.
We were seated next to a slightly opened window that had no screens. We checked the fraying cardboard menu. I turned to the page with drinks.
“I’ll have a Macallan please,” I said.
“That last page in the menu we don’t have,” said the waitress. I then noticed that the menu was stained and falling apart in the middle. It was a very old menu; maybe as old as Chinatown itself.
We ordered two glasses of wine and John ordered lemonade. The wine glasses were small, I mean, really small. The lemonade had a slight greenish color. John took a sip of it, put it down and chugged some water.
“Oh, god!” he said. “The water is making me sick. I feel a big lump of phlegm in my throat. I gotta spit! Grand AP, is it okay if I spit out the window?”
“No, no,” said AP. “Run to the bathroom over there!” and she pointed.
“Taste my water,” said John.
I took a little sip. Oh, Jesus! It stuck to my tongue and the back of my mouth. It tasted like – I don’t know what the hell it tasted like.
“Take a taste of this,” I said to AP.
“You crazy?” she said. “You’ve already said it tastes terrible. I don’t need to taste it. We need to complain about this water.”
The food arrived as John returned. It looked disgusting. The white rice was a greyish color. I had ordered lemon chicken and I cut a piece. It was – can you say this about chicken?—mangy. I spat it out of my mouth. John took a taste of his and looked at us. “I’m going to throw up if I eat this.”
“Let’s leave,” said AP.
I called the waitress over. “We’re leaving,” I said. “This food is disgusting. We’ll pay for our drinks but we are leaving.” The waitress nodded. Strangely, she didn’t seem at all surprised.
[John’s Journal: The food in Chinatown was worse than on the plane!]
Back at the Marriott Marquis, we went to the 39th floor to the View lounge for some drinks. The view was spectacular and the drinks tasted like real drinks. I will never go back to Chinatown again.
When our appetites returned, we had a bite to eat at the hotel’s restaurant. John ordered only French fries.
[John’s Journal: I’ve never gotten sick eating French fries.]
Third Day: Thursday
We found a good diner for breakfast, Mel’s, a block from the Marriott. We had paid $34 per person for a buffet breakfast at Marriot’s B-55 the day before. That’s a ridiculous price for some eggs, fruit and toast. Mel’s was a throwback to the 1950s and ‘60s and the breakfast was delicious and reasonably priced.
We walked to pick up the Cable Cars a few blocks away and we enjoyed our trip up and down the hills. If you have never been to San Francisco you can’t imagine how hilly the city is and the cable cars are a great way to get the feel of what it must have been like over a hundred years ago.
You can sit on the cars or you can hang off them on the sides. The Beautiful AP and John hung off them, but I sat.
[John’s Journal: The cable cars were fun.]
We did some more touring of Fisherman’s Wharf.
After that we went on a great boat trip Bridge to Bridge on the Red and White line. It went from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge and back to the pier. The day was warm and it was perfect for a boat ride in the beautiful Bay.
Many folks that visit San Francisco think the Golden Gate Bridge should be gold in color. Not so. The “golden gates” are the mountains on either side of the Bay which the Bridge connects and that is where the Bridge gets its name, not from its color.
Giant beasts have attacked the bridge, including It Came from Beneath the Sea, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJqXEhMdlg4) the recent Godzilla monster and an X-Men villain did the Bridge in as well (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITMren3I3WM).
San Francisco has to keep repairing that bridge.
We had a great dinner at the B-55 and that is when John hit us with, “So are you taking me to a concert?” How the heck did he know that? I told no one and Alene told only some 20 colleagues at work.
“How did you know that?” I asked.
“I just guessed,” he said. Maybe I should get lottery numbers from this kid.
Then it was off to the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall for Ravel’s Pavane pour une infant défunte and Piano Concerto in G major; and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Simone Young was the conductor.
So how would this first dabbling into classical music go for our young grandson? We’d see. AP told him that his cellphone be shut and his eyes open. We assumed his ears would be open.
Of course, first we had to get there. Our Uber driver sternly told us not to walk in the Symphony Hall’s neighborhood because of all the homeless. This was the Tenderloin District and they were everywhere – everywhere. It was like a zombie apocalypse. “Do not wander from the symphony.” We saw some tents and what I took to be drug deals occurring on the sidewalks. Coming from New York this reminded me of well, of course, New York as John has already said, but also Seattle, Denver, Philadelphia, Memphis, and countless cities across our country. I just don’t remember these numbers when I was a young man, over 50 years ago. Was I that blind? Did we always have such numbers of homeless?
The Symphony Hall had uniformed security guards throughout the building and one of the ushers told AP that those were the ones you saw but there were also undercover ones everywhere as well. I guess the Symphony knew its neighborhood.
John was a good sport and he said the symphony was all right. I took that as high praise.
[John’s Journal: I did not like the Ravel. It was dull. The Scheherazade was good. I was tired throughout this and wanted to go to sleep but I had to keep my eyes open as Grand AP kept checking. She doesn’t want you to get away with anything.]
So tomorrow we would fly home.
Day Four: Friday
The car service picked us up at 6:15 AM. Our flight was at 8:30. We’d get back to New York at about 5 PM.
After a good breakfast in the airport (we weren’t taking chances with the airplane food), and a little wait, we boarded the plane. Yes, it was the new first class again. The three of us settled in for the flight.
I started watching The Carbonaro Effect, a funny hidden camera magic show, but at the half-hour mark, the pilot’s voice came over the loudspeaker: “We are turning around and going back to San Francisco. There is some smoke in the cockpit and in the economy class. We take such things seriously and we want to be cautious so we are going back to check things out.”
In a half hour we landed in San Francisco airport.
We were told we could make reservations on other flights heading to other cities if we wanted to try for transfers or we could wait in the airport for another plane, if Delta sent another plane. Thankfully, another plane did arrive and the departure was for 1 PM. We’d get into New York at around 9:15 PM or so. AP used this as a “teachable moment,” explaining to John her maxim: no day goes as planned and always take carry-on luggage.
None of the three of us were upset. Heck, we got back to the airport with no trouble. It wasn’t until we were standing in line to board the second plane that a couple of the passengers on that first plane told us that it wasn’t just smoke they saw but that the floor was rattling like crazy. That was the scariest thing of all to them.
On the flight back to New York I noticed that John watched the “R” rated movies Ted and The Hangover. I was going to tell him to go to “PG-13” films but then I figured these are his rewards for the symphony. In point of fact, he’s probably seen much more when he and his friends do “research” on the Internet.
At Kennedy Airport at 9:15 that night, Izzy was there to pick us up. When we got into the car we began to tell Izzy the story of our interrupted return journey but we didn’t get very far. Instead Izzy told us about his journey of six miles from his home to Kennedy and then how one of his regular clients had trouble on the airlines sometime in the past and that he and his wife have an agreement about when they fight and that Izzy doesn’t mind letting her win in order to establish peace in the family and that he is rapidly making friends with cops in Florida and that he made sure everyone in his development now knows that he will be happy to serve as their ride to the airport and anywhere else they wished to go for a fee of course because he doesn’t work for nothing. Izzy had six miles worth of stories.
[John’s Journal: Izzy really enjoys talking.]
All in all this was a very good trip.
[John’s Journal: All in all it was a good trip.]
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