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Jack Smith

Still in S.F., Going Down to the Sea in Sips

June 28, 1989|Jack Smith

We had breakfast served in our room in San Francisco on Sunday. We heard church bells, probably from Grace Cathedral, nearby on Nob Hill. I am always surprised, when we travel, to hear church bells. One rarely hears church bells in Los Angeles.

With our friends Rita and Morry Pynoos we drove down to Ghirardelli Square to mingle with the tourists. The old chocolate factory has been turned into one of the most profligate tourist traps in the world. Tourists grazed in and out of the shops and up and down the brick steps like sheep. Except for those tending the stores I doubted that there was a local in sight.

The weather was San Francisco's finest. A light, cool breeze, sea-scented, under a flawless blue sky. The bay was dark blue. Sailboats skittered over it, part of the show. After exploring the various ramparts of the square we walked into a restaurant called Maxwell for lunch. It was crowded. A disproportionate number of older men seemed to be among the patrons. We had been so concerned with our own anniversary that we had forgotten it was Father's Day.

We were seated at a table near a big window overlooking the bay. It is almost impossible to escape that enchanting view. Sailboats, islands, blue water, ferries, the bridge, the opposite shore, seafood restaurants as far as the eye can see.

I astonished everyone by ordering vodka on the rocks. "Are you out of your mind?" my wife said, knowing I had drunk nothing but white wine for at least 10 years. I explained that Herb Caen seemed to be holding up well on vodka, and I thought I'd give it a try. My wife, not surprising me, ordered vodka, too. She hates to let me get ahead of her.

It was a buffet. I got in line behind an elderly man and a younger woman whom I took for his daughter. When I say elderly I mean he was older than I am. Obviously she was taking him out for Father's Day. He was slightly stooped and shaky. They came to the tray of eggs Benedict. There was only one egg left. He was waving a large spoon over it, threatening to put it on his plate. His daughter was admonishing him not to. Obviously he was not supposed to eat eggs. I'm not either, but I had determined to have eggs Benedict, for Father's Day.

I watched the drama ahead of me with anxiety. "Don't do it, Papa," the woman said. The old man said, "I'm gonna do it." He scooped up the remaining egg and sauce and put it on his plate. That left me with no egg. Oh, well, I still had my vodka.

We drove back to the airport, left our rental car at Avis and took an Avis shuttle bus to United Airlines. We were more than an hour early for our flight back to Los Angeles. No matter how smart, efficient and modern they may be, there are no more dreary places on earth than airports. I thought of going to the bar for another vodka but decided to have one on the airplane instead. After all, I wasn't driving.

Every seat in the plane was taken, six abreast. Carry-on baggage was stuffed into every possible crevice. I was claustrophobic. We were half an hour late getting into the air. No sooner were we airborne than the attendants began the ritual of serving drinks. Two of them, a man and a woman, began hustling down the aisle with a cart, front to back. We were near the back of the compartment. Calculating their progress against the remaining flight time, I concluded with dismay that they would never reach us before they had to prepare for landing. Suddenly a female attendant appeared from behind us and asked if we'd like anything to drink.

"Can I have a vodka on ice?" I asked. "Sure," she said. My wife ordered one, too. "Make mine a double," I said, getting back the upper hand.

We landed without incident and arrived home fatigued but happy. It had been a splendid anniversary, and Father's Day was an unexpected bonus.

By the way, I have given up vodka. It was merely a momentary mania. Herb Caen is of sterner stuff than I am. A man who can play first base at 73 can drink whatever he wants to.

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