“What better way to celebrate the New Year than by going back in time?” I thought as my plane touched down at SFO on Monday morning. “Instead of doing all the usual touristy things, I’ll take a Gold Rush tour!”
I’ve always pictured Old San Francisco as a wild Western town. My mental image of it was a cross between Puccini’s opera, Girl of the Golden West, and that scene from Seabiscuit where Charles Howard tries to open a bicycle shop on Van Ness Avenue.
I couldn’t check into my hotel right away, so there was time to indulge this fantasy. And with visions of cowboys in my head, I rolled my little pink suitcase down Market Street, in search of the Old West.
Thus began a comedy of errors. First, I attempted to download an audio guide to the Gold Rush, but it would not play on my iPhone. So I hunted down the Wells Fargo Museum, which turned out to be closed for New Year’s. Then I searched for the famous Belli building, only to discover that it was invisible under its scaffolding. I did manage to find the old headquarters of the Pony Express, but in the absence of any ponies, it just wasn’t that exciting. Finally, I spotted something quintessentially Western: a saloon!
Curious, I peered inside. There were a bunch of guys at the bar drinking whiskey. But as soon as my shadow fell across the threshold, everyone stopped talking. I guess they don’t serve a lot of blonde girls with bright pink suitcases? By this time, I was tired and hungry, and I felt like a bedraggled 49er! So I pulled up my sleeves and sidled up to the bar. But when I asked for a menu, it became clear that this was not the kind of saloon where a tourist can get lunch. One bearded fellow gestured at the TV and said meekly, “we don’t actually have food but we can change the channel to the Food Network if you want.”
So I gave up and indulged in a more typical San Francisco experience: a bowl of clam chowder and a loaf of sourdough at the Fog City Diner. By this time, I had hiked all over the historic Jackson Square district, as well as Nob Hill, Chinatown, Little Italy, the Financial District and Fisherman’s Wharf, while enjoying spectacular views of the Bay Bridge. So I was ready to call it a day.
But my journey isn’t over yet. I did not actually come to San Francisco to learn about the Wild West. The Bay Area is home to many fine opera companies and I am here to audition for one of them. Maybe I’ll strike gold, after all?