Bright and early this morning, I head to the Powell cable car turntable for a ride to Fisherman’s Wharf. Cable cars are an institution in SF. They were invented as a way to brave the steep hills of the city, after a old mustachioed dude got kinda tired of seeing carriages turned over and horses killed in tragic accident after tragic accident. People at the time would just shrug their shoulders, say it couldn’t be helped, and buy a new horse. Stupid rich fucks.
Of course, public transportation evolved with the times into BART, bus, tram/bus combos and metro/tram combos (it’s all very complicated and weird, but it works), yet the few lines of cable cars remaining are one of the true (and truly joyful) experiences of San Francisco, with their retro look and scenic routes.
Being a landmark of the city, a ride costs an arm and there are hour-long lines at every terminus. But I came prepared, with my music and my book and just a little sunshine. Even though I got there early, I end up queuing for over an hour. Finally, it’s my turn, I get a prime spot: a standing position at the front of the car on the right side, the most perfect, scariest place to be.
Off we go, one meter, five meters, ten me– police tape is rolled down in front of us, barring the road. Okay. Back to the stop. Oooookay. After a ten minute wait wondering what’s happening, watching police cruisers block ever street ahead of us, a police dude comes charging in, asking us to step out of the car and back toward the end of the street.
Someone called the police on a suspicious package, at the other end of our street. Two blocks have been closed down, and we are waiting for the bomb squad to show up. The bomb squad. The same police dude is trying to contain the crowd and get us to step back. Only problem: he’s being a dick about it. Kids are crying. This day is starting out great. From where I’m sitting, I can see a clandestine sticker on a lamppost: “There are no terrorists. We are being manipulated with fear.”
Five minutes later comes the verdict: false alarm. We run to reclaim our spots on the cable car. Off we go. Everyone in the car is really excited and takes the incident in stride. “I’ll bet you’ve never had a cable car ride quite like that”, jokes a lady with the driver, who rolls his eyes. It’s his first day on the job. He drops a little bit of a beat with the bell to get us going, all the way to the top of Nob Hill.
Listen, forget the Bamboo train and Bokor Mountain without brakes. This is the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done. I can’t believe they allow children on this thing. Cars are missing us by a hair, the turns are sharp, the slopes are steep, it’s scary, exhilarating, wonderful. The weather is beautiful, gracing us with sunny glimpses of the city. I love you San Francisco I love you I love you.
At one point, the car is blocked by a dude who’s in the middle of the street, trying to fit of his family’s luggage into the trunk of his car. When he finally succeeds after five minutes of really, really trying, the whole cable car, driver included, erupts in cheers. The dude flips us off as he speeds away.
We cross hills and streets my feet remember well from my second day here, until we get to Lombard St and its breathtaking views of the bay. A billion pictures are taken as we squeal away at the driver’s exhortation: “Be careful! Steep hill, bad brakes!” Is this public transportation or a show? It doesn’t matter.
We get to Fisherman’s Wharf and step off. I am but a shiver, frozen to death on the alter of excitement.What’s next?