from Sandy Needham

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

San Francisco Dispatch

My friend since age 12, Bob Dow, lives near San Francisco. He actually has two houses, now that he's married to Jo Beth. He offered the uninhabited one in Redwood City to us for our convenience, so we ended up there two nights (with fresh blackberries and peaches from down the road and apricots from his garden for breakfast!). He also invited us to a barbeque at the elegant house in Monte Sereno he shares with the stunning and brilliant Jo Beth (CEO of a tech company), daughter and comedian Monica, and young-Latino-loving mother-in-law Ethel (who has a picture of Che Guevara on her wall!). Well, Bob actually has three houses with the one in Maui. He is a retired very smart guy and a serious windsurfer.

Now we were off to San Francisco. Elise and Jake pitched in financially to upgrade from the small, inexpensive hotel we had booked to accommodate their wishes for a swimming pool (Elise) and a bed of one's own (Jake). We ended up at the Hilton near Union Square, convenient for Newton's trade show at the Moscone Center, convenient for becoming bona fide tourists of the city, well-appointed, but not one of the famous, charming old deco hotels that are typical of San Francisco, and too fancy to offer free internet in the rooms. I did appreciate the spaciousness and the dip Elise, Newton and I took in the hot tub in the cool fog of one early evening.
While Newton tended to his professional duties, I convinced Elise to become one of those tourists riding around on top of an open bus whom she usually disparages as she walks down the street in Manhattan. She and Jake and I hopped on and off around the city, enjoying the sights and the anecdotes thrown in with the info from the guides, appreciating the different styles of commentating that each subsequent bus offered. The million stories in the naked city, in the end, are an arbitrary pursuit. Elise brought her inevitable enthusiasm and her camera, after all.

We hopped off at Chinatown for brief, predictable sun glasses and souvenir shopping. Then we hopped off and walked several blocks to visit the beatnik-renowned City Lights book store. When Elise waitressed during college for Havana Central in Manhattan, the restaurant took over the east coast hangout of the famed Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, Kerouac and Cassady crowd: the West End bar by Columbia University. Some still object to its transformation into a Cuban restaurant.

We ended up near the Moscone Center on the only day that Newton's trade show (DAC - Design Automation Conference) allowed visitors such as us. There were tickets to pick up for a big party a company called Denali offers annually one evening of this show, plus Elise was excited to check out the giveaways such as Newton has brought home from industry booths over the years. Alas, the financial crisis rendered the 2009 DAC a mere shadow of its former self. The giveaways were reduced primarily to a selection of ball-point pens. We were grateful for the Heineken draft offered by one of the largest exhibitors there. Afterwards we had a Mexican dinner with the team from Newton's company - CAST - that was delicious and rowdy in a raucous little place.

I finally indulged my endless craving for Indian food by having a lunch feast with Elise and Jake at a nice Indian restaurant. Not only is this not a favorite of Newton's, there are no Indian restaurants in Natal. Elise and I hit the Haight for an afternoon...the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood which hosted the hippies' '67 Summer of Love gathering. It seems a must for the complete tourist! Good shopping. Figuring out and catching a public bus there felt ever so authentic.

The Denali DAC party was in a ballroom with open bar, hors d'oeuvres, and pretty decent live music by amateur groups within the computer-aided engineering industry. It was fun in a 90% male, 75% nerd sort of way!

Elise, Jake and I spent our last day at Fisherman's rigueur tourist fare. We took a boat trip in the bay under the Golden Gate, encircling Alcatraz. We had crab cakes and clam chowder in a sourdough bread 'bowl' for lunch. But the highlights were the dozens of lolling, drowsing, and wrestling sea lions by the pier - something one could watch for hours - and the mesmerizing jellyfish display in the Aquarium – gossamer white ones in moon-like light and huge yellow ones looking like surreal live flowers. These will remain a vision in my memory forever (or until next week, depending on the state of my memory). Watch:

We caught a streetcar back to the hotel.

We had celebrated Newton's April birthday together with a sushi dinner in Napa the week before; our last night in San Fran was a birthday dinner for Elise (August), Jake (October) and me (September) at an Italian restaurant. As you can imagine, when one lives so far away from one's children, there is much to cram into these visits!

We had some serious packing to do before parting. We had covered most everything on our Ikea, Trader Joes and Target lists; we were schlepping back an old projector from CAST to watch movies on the living room wall; we had bought my new laptop, Zone bars, shorts, dish towels, knives, a bowl, a can-opener, olive oil spray, scissors, underwear, a desk lamp, queen-size sheets, 11 books shipped to our Napa hotel from Amazon, etc., plus all those small, mysterious techy items with cords that Newton buys to plug into things. There was just one list that we had neglected: our ordinary grocery store list. Elise reminded me that the Walgreen's drug store near the hotel carried some grocery items, so I ran there literally 15 minutes before the car service was picking us up to go to the airport. We needed sponges, (I know, but they don't have the right kind in Brazil), taco seasoning envelopes, Splenda sweetener, Guilden's mustard and garlic salt. Walgreens only had a box of 200 Splenda packets and a bag with 30 sponges. I was fortunately able to open my suitcase on the sidewalk and line up 30 weightless (though slightly damp) sponges inside. The 200 Splenda packets fit in the outside zipper pocket. Everything somehow made it through the baggage and carry-on gauntlet all the way to Natal. That doesn't mean that the new laptop Newton was carrying went undetected at Customs in São Paulo. He had the receipt ready to prove he had not spent more than $500. The old projector spoke for itself. I didn't have to explain the sponges to anyone!



  1. Ah, this so reminds me of my last years living in SF. We had numerous visitors and took each and every one to most of the places you described. It brings back great memories for us. One main difference was that when we left, we didn't have to stock, up on things like sponges, but we did stock up on wine. Our little Honda Civic back seat was loaded with 5 cases of wine from our favorite winery. I must admit that I never rode one of those double decker busses, but since I worked about 3 blocks from China town in the Embarcado Center down near the Ferry Building, I walked daily at lunch time to the warf and the sea lions, or up the hill to Grace Cathedral, or down market to Union Square. And Max and I spent 7 days in that same Hilton when we first arrived waiting for our furniture to make the drive across the country. Thanks for bringing back the memories.

  2. And I forgot to comment that you saw Bob Dow. I don't suppose I've seen him since 9th grade maybe? Did he go to Central or Rogers? He and I played baseball together through elementary and junior high. Do you know what biotech he was with in San Francisco?

  3. Great descriptions of the trip! My favorite part was also going to the San Fran Bay and seeing the sea lions, boat tour and aquarium! That was so much fun! was the bday dinner (both ours and dads) and the Denali party was awesome!!!!


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