Once in the City by the Bay, we grabbed an Uber and checked into Hotel Zephyr in the historic Fisherman’s Wharf District. Billed as “shipyard chic” it turned out to be one of those hotels that looks trendy and fun online, with shuffleboard, firepits, and a S’morez (their spelling, not mine) Happy Hour, but is disappointing in real time. The rooms were noisy-between the constant traffic and groaning water pipes-and the staff members indifferent at best. My burning question of the day continues to be “Why do all the West Coast hotels I’ve stayed in have such bad coffee?” Isn’t that area supposed to be revered for their beans?
Our friend Fred arrived in the lobby and we set off in high spirits. After giving us a brisk guided walking tour of the area, including Chinatown, some local landmarks, and the iconic independent City Lights Booksellers and Publishers.
We ended up at Tommaso’s, a north Beach favorite for over 80 years. Dress and seating are casual, the atmosphere relaxed and comfortable. Since we had a lot to catch up on, we chose one of their cutout booths and ordered wine. My spaghetti with marinara sauce and homemade meatballs, that rivaled our old Italian neighbor Rose’s family recipe, were excellent. Judie and Fred were equally pleased with their eggplant and seafood dishes. Pleasantly full, we parted ways, agreeing to get an early start the next morning.
First stop was another oldie-but-goodie, the Eagle Café on Pier 39. Welcoming visitors, locals, military (active and veterans), and longshoremen since the 1920’s, the inside walls are covered with memorabilia. We ate on the deck so as to savor the bright sunshine and the view, along with their classic breakfast items, “healthier” selections, and really good coffee. Meandering around the Pier afterwards, we made sure to stop and check out the seals, many of whom were really hamming it up for the tourists and their cameras.
Fred has always had a love of learning so our final stop of the day was The Exploratorium, founded in 1969. With an admission charge of $29.95 per adult, Judie and I exchanged apprehensive looks, but it turned out to be totally worth it.
Finding the words to describe this place eluded me, so I turned to their website which calls it “…a public learning laboratory exploring the world through science, art, and human perception.” The brainchild of Dr. Frank Oppenheimer, the Exploratorium provides interactive exhibits and experiences that provoke curiosity, challenge perceptions, beliefs, and biases, and raises individual and community awareness about issues like inclusion, sustainability, and possibilities for collaboration. The most noticeable thing about the Exploratorium is how engaged everyone is there. All around you people are touching, laughing, questioning, and puzzling, basically doing everything but fooling around on their phones. It was quite refreshing!
I could write pages about what I saw and felt there but, in the interest of time, I’ll just share a few things about my favorite exhibit on the 2020 Census. “Self, Made-Who Counts”, which focuses on how Americans are identified by others and how they identify themselves. In a series of fascinating interviews, participants of all ages, genders, races, and religions in the San Francisco area are asked “How do you identify yourself, what box do you check on the census, and how do you feel about it?” Their answers were surprising, thoughtful, and compelling, often challenging how I had expected that particular person would respond, or who I had blithely assumed they were before they even opened their mouth to speak.
The exhibit also revealed that how you choose to see, or label, yourself can be immensely important on a variety of levels, many of which I, as a white female, had never even considered before. It brough to mind an article I had written about a man from Burma (aka Myanmar) and asked him which of these he identified as. Though normally soft-spoken, he emphatically told me “neither”, that he was an “ethnic Karen”. The unexpected answer remained with me, less for the terms used than for the emotional importance they obviously held for this individual.
Watching the video quickly dispelled any erroneous beliefs I’d had, that the Census wasn’t really all that important in the scheme of things. I could have spent all day there but, unfortunately, we had a plane to catch!