A Quick Take of The City By The Bay
by Ruby Bayan
It was my first trip to America -- a harried business trip to San Francisco, where I had to check in a hotel, meet with two clients, check out, and board another plane to Minneapolis, within a span of 24 hours. I can't remember why I agreed to the itinerary in the first place!
My departure from Manila was delayed, I had to endure a 3-hour lay-over in Japan, and the child sitting behind me all 15 hours of the long-haul flight wouldn't quit kicking the back of my seat. Jet-lagged and tormented by the 2-lb laptop I had to hand carry, I was in no mood to appreciate that I had finally set foot on the Land of Milk and Honey! All I could think about was I couldn't be late for my first client call which was just a couple of hours away.
I hurriedly picked up my bags from luggage claim, looking over my shoulder at the fierce-looking drug-sniffing dogs that roamed the San Francisco airport, and dashed to the shuttles that took me to the hotel at the Civic Center. I left my bags with the Front Desk Manager because my room wasn't ready, rushed to the restroom to freshen up and brush my teeth, and dashed to plead to the doorman to please, quickly, hail me a cab. I had less than half an hour to catch my meeting at an office close to the Fisherman's Wharf, wherever that was.
Losing another 10 minutes, a yellow taxi finally pulled over. "The Fisherman's Wharf, please," I snapped at the driver with my obviously Asian accent. The dark-skinned, rather elderly cab driver stared at me through the rear view mirror and smiled, "Good morning! Your first time in San Francisco?" He knew.
"There is a straight route from here to the Wharf," he advised, "but since this is your first time here, let's take the scenic route. We'll hit traffic down the straight route, so the fare will be about the same." Since I didn't know any better, and I certainly did not have the courage to contradict, I breathed deeply, dismissed the idea that I will most likely get ripped off, and just smiled back an "Oh, ok!"
The cab driver introduced himself (his name's Ed) and said he had driven through the streets of San Francisco for more than ten years. He went on to describe every area in the rolling terrain we drove through -- the shops, the "shouldn't-walk-around-in-this-neighborhood-alone" vicinity, and the landmarks. He pointed out that the best place to catch a Cable Car is at California Street, and that I shouldn't miss the signature stores at Union Square and the souvenir items at Chinatown.
As we drove up one hill after another, Ed excitedly pointed at historical Alcatraz (which he insisted I should visit), the marvelous Golden Gate Bridge (which he also insisted I should cross, if there's just one thing I can do in San Francisco), and the novel Coit Tower (which he insisted, again, that I check out, if only for its story -- it was built to commemorate firemen, thus designed to resemble a fire hose nozzle!). He also called my attention to the ostentatious Nob Hill, and the century-old communities where residents had to park their cars in a particular manner to keep them from accidentally rolling down the steep incline.
When we finally arrived at our destination, just in time for my meeting, I confessed to this total stranger that I had very little time in San Francisco and was leaving first thing in the morning. "That's too bad!" he exclaimed with a sincere look in his face. "But you'll be back, right?" he asked, almost pleading, as I handed him a couple of extra dollars for the fare.
I smiled at him and said, "Oh yes, definitely. Thank you, Ed, you've been a wonderful tour guide! I will come back to take a closer look at all the beautiful spots in your city!" I heaved a sigh of comfort at the thought that on my first and ridiculously brief visit to San Francisco, I had the fortuitous opportunity to not only disprove the notorious notion about city cab drivers, but also get a 20-minute express tour of this famous "City by the Bay."
As my plane flew out of San Francisco, I glanced at the spectacular red-orange Golden Gate Bridge, and said to myself, "Yes, Cabby Ed, you've given me a wonderful first impression of San Francisco and its people. I'll be back."
[First published in New2USA.com, 2000]