Sunday, February 24, 2008

Parking Smart in San Francisco

As you all know, Max is working as a home health care nurse while we are here. Simply put, that means she visits people in their homes that need some type of medical care, but who are unable to go to a doctor's office. So Max is driving all over this city visiting people in their homes. But before she can actually go into their homes, she has to first find a place to park her car.

Before I started this job I would not have listed "parallel parking" as a job strength- but let me tell you I can get into those tight places. And spot a parking spot- I've developed a built in radar for parking spots.

In San Francisco finding a parking place is part luck and part art. This is a metropolitan city with a fairly high population density of people who all have cars. Consequently, parking on the street near your own home is always very difficult to find. To complicate matters, the San Francisco meter maids have no sympathy. So if your car is just an inch beyond the legal space, or if your wheels are not appropriately turned into the curb on a hill, or if the curb isn't painted a "no parking color" and the sign that says it is restricted is hidden behind a tree, that's just too bad. The city of San Francisco enjoys tremendous revenue from parking tickets. It is so well known that there were even an articles written up about it in the New York Times and USA Today. San Francisco brings in about $87 million per year just in parking tickets.

Max has contributed to that amount, at least a little. She has received three tickets so far and I actually got one on one of my rental cars. We did get a little satisfaction by protesting one ticket and actually got it reversed, but that means we still paid 3 in only 4 months in San Francisco. We have never gotten one in our whole time in Cincinnati. One parking ticket was because I was parking in the driveway of a patient (with her permission)- but I was "blocking" the sidewalk- $135! This one Don wrote a very eloquent letter and it was dismissed. Then I paid $35 - I didn't have my wheels facing the right way on a hill- and another was in a school bus zone- all signs were totally concealed by bushes and trees - $75 for that one. Don's was for parking during street cleaning- those are killers. So not only must I find an "empty" spot- it can't "hang over" a driveway- or be during street cleaning hours (every street in San Fran is cleaned at least weekly- Someone told me that San Fran is NYC with a Midwestern mother- "cleanliness is next to godliness" motto.

So how can you improve your odds in finding a parking space in this city? One way is to have a car so small that it fits into a space that no other car can fit into. That "smallest car" just went on sale in San Francisco on January 15. It is called the Smart ForTwo car and it is built and sold by Mercedes. I've been seeing them in Europe for quite a while, and Max and I saw them in Canada three years ago in Vancouver. When we found out that they were going to begin selling them in the U.S. we signed up for one and put our name on the waiting list. Unfortunately, our turn to get one was scheduled for November 2008. Nonetheless we visited the show room to get a closer look.

While talking to the sales folks, we were told that we could sign up to get one that somone else ordered, but turned down and that might put us higher on the list. So we did and told them that we would take whatever model or color became available.

Last Thursday I got a phone call that someone whose order came in had turned it down, and therefore one was available. They said if I was interested I needed to come in to get it. I made an appointment to go in the next day to buy it. Unfortunately, it was their top of the line convertible model, not what we wanted at all, but after considering waiting until November, I decided we would take it. I hadn't told Max about it since I didn't want her to be disappointed if it didn't work out. After working out the paper work and doing a test drive, they told me that they had made an error in the price and it was really $2000 more than they had quoted me. So they decided to give me the option of taking the convertible that I didn't want for $2000 more than I had planned to pay or taking one of their demonstrators that had 1000 miles on it, but was $5000 less and was exactly what we wanted. Needless to say, I came home with the demo.

That was Friday night and Max had done 7 visits that day, two more than normal. She didn't get home until about 8:15 and came in all upset. She asked if I knew that someone had parked a new Smart car right in front of our apartment. She was so upset because she had been wanting one since we signed up for one, and now someone else had bought one and parked it right in front of our apartment, almost as though they were taunting us.
I was "yak, yak, yaking" to Brandy on the phone as I drove home from work. And there it was- my dream car sitting in front of my apartment. I told Brandy- "You're not going to believe this- but the car I want is sitting in front of my apartment- And it's not mine!!!" If that isn't painful- I said "Couldn't they have parked in front of someone's apartment who didn't want one?" I just walked into the bedroom and got the key and gave it to her. The expression was priceless. And the scream of : "It's my Smart Car?" made it worth every penny.

Here is a picture of Max in front of her new car that she can park in the tinest of places.

Today was my first day to drive my BEAUTIFUL NEW CAR to work (this is the first car I've every just fallen head over heels in love with- someplace in my file of pictures I actually have pictures of the SMART car when I first saw it in Vancouver- I made Don stop so we could photograph it!)

But I have to tell you- you drive this around town and even though you're small you're certainly not invisible! A guy in a souped up corvette challenged me at a stop light (trust me- you don't beat anybody with a 3 cylinder motor- Don tells me that the motor in Uncle Sam's motorcycle is more powerful)- But I do think the guy was threatened- we are CUTE! And the time I'm saving in parking I'm spending answering questions about the SMART when I am parked. But I think the best was when I was headed back to work at the end of my day to drop off some papers. A homeless guy pushing a loaded shopping cart crossed the street in front and gave me a big smile and a thumbs up- he motioned for me to roll down my window to talk which I did- it was just that sort of day- He wanted to tell me what a fantastic car- and wanted to know who made it- Mercedes- But certainly not at Mercedes prices- he liked that!

So I'm having fun- and we- the little guy and me- are learning how to do the hills. And we're doing just fine!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Amy and Shawn in SF - 2

Sunday brought a new day and new opportunities for views and photography. We started with breakfast at the apartment and then headed to the Presido where there is a military cemetery. It looked like a good photo-op with all of those while headstones all lined up in rows against the green grass with the bay as a backdrop-

And added bonus to a day out with Amy and Don is watching them take photographs-

Next we headed into town to the base of Telegraph Hill. And since exercise was part of this whole agenda, we parked at the bottom and started climbing the stairs to the top through the gardens and houses that perch on the side of the hill. That's it just below with Coit Tower on top. The stairs we climbed are up the right side of this picture. For perspective, the hill is about as high as a 25 story building.

Every time Max and I climb these stairs, the gardens show us new life. It was obvious that Spring had started in SF and these trees were displaying it in full bloom against the blue sky.

At the top we all went up to the top of Coit Tower to see the 360 degree panorama of the city that this tower offers.

From Telegraph Hill we finally ventured into the one area that Shawn requested, China Town.
I "go" to Chinatown a couple of times a week- I have a patient there- a 90+ woman who is very lovingly cared for by her daughter and granddaughter. I might also add that she is sharper than a lot of 20 somethings I have met- amazing! So I do know Chinatown- or at least the challenges of parking, hiking in Chinatown. It was fun though to go as a "tourist" on this day- you see the world differently. Shawn had been amazingly patient while Amy, Max and I took hundreds of pictures. Shawn wanted to see Chinatown and eat in a "hole in the wall" Chinese restaurant with "ducks hanging in the window. Places like that are quite common in Chinatown and it didn't take us long to find one- actually we found more than one- not hard to do in Chinatown.

But after standing in front of the window looking at the grease dripping off of those ducks, we decided to sample Dim Sun instead and found another hole in the wall not far away. Dim Sun is a favorite for Chinese on weekends and place was packed. There were only a couple tables of people that were not Chinese. The waitresses kept bringing plates of food, but when we asked what they were, the answer usually came back in Chinese, or at least a heavily accented English that we didn't really understand. Nonetheless, we did sample several plates, some of which were pretty good, and some that weren't. I'm still not sure what one of them was. It was kind of like a gelatinous lumpy pudding with a fishy taste. That one didn't get eaten.

You don't "eat" in Chinatown for the food- it is rather the experience- the noisy, smelly, lively experience of another world- It's not hard to find better food in other neighborhoods- any other neighborhood- but there is no place that matches the frenzy of the experience!

You might guess that Lucas and I found an array of pictures to take, both of people and places.

But my favorite was at the edge of Chinatown- where east meets west- or rather where Chinatown connects the beginning of "beat"- North Beach- the birthplace of the beatniks!
And at this corner of the world a woman is hanging her "wash" out to dry!

And we just photograph it!

From China Town, we drive up to Nob Hill and visited Grace Cathedral, the large French Gothic Episcopal church that Max and I attend. I should have had a tripod for this shot, since it was pretty dark in the church, but even though it's a bit fuzzy, you can get some idea of the inside of this place.

After a few more pictures we headed off to one of the many French bakeries that dot the neighborhoods in SF for some coffee and a quick snack and then finally back to our apartment.
Don didn't want to stop at the French Bakery (and we all know how persistent Don can be when he doesn't want to do something- we also know how futile his protests are when I do want to do something). See Don thinks you stop at cafes, coffeehouses, restaurants because you are hungry! But it has not much at all to do with hunger- but rather the stopping- the pausing- the sitting outside a cafe on a busy San Francisco street. I love the stopping! The sitting! The pauses! Everything zooms so quickly by I am almost always looking for one excuse or another to stop- and rest- and talk- or think- or read...

But before dinner we decided there was one more photo-op that Lucas needed to see, so we all drove down to the Palace of Fine Arts, an amazing structure that was originally build for a World's Fair, and was then restored into a park.

After a walk around the palace and numerous pictures, we headed for one of our favorite Mexican restaurant for dinner.

It was the end of another busy day and we when we got home it was time for Lucas and Shawn to pack for their early departure the next morning. Thank you Amy and Shawn for sharing this adventure with us! We can't wait for another.

Amy and Shawn in SF -1

This last week end we had a wonderful visit from Amy and Shawn. Amy is my brother Bill's daughter and Shawn is her husband. Her birthday was on Friday, February 16, so we got to celebrate with her. They arrived on Friday afternoon after spending Thursday skiing near Lake Tahoe. Amy, who prefers to be called "Lucas" and will be in the rest of this post, is an avid photographer, currently shooting for fun and to learn, but hoping to work it into a career. She has some great photography equipment which she brought with her, so a good part of their visit here was to see the wonders of the Bay Area, and take lots of pictures. We did both and packed more into two and half days than you can imagine. Also, my apologizes to those of you who also read Lucas' blog. Some of these pictures were also posted on her blog, but they were such good pictures it won't hurt you to look at them twice.

First, THANK YOU BILL! (and you too Elaine) You have the most wonderful daughters and I can't begin to describe the joy they bring to the lives of Don and me. I love Kelly and her tribe so much that sometimes I forget that she's a niece not another daughter. And now we have Amy and Shawn as well. They bring such pleasure- and of course we had none of the work of raising them to such fine adults- we just get to enjoy!
But enough of that- and on to the adventure with the BIRTHDAY GIRL!

We started off with a birthday dinner for Lucas at one of Max and my favorites restaurants here in SF. We went to the Cliff House which sits, where else, but on a cliff overlooking the Pacific.

We were hoping for a great sunset, but clouds spoiled that just before the sun sat. Nonetheless, dinner was wonderful topped off by a shared dessert with a birthday candle to blow out.

Can you believe these absolutely gorgeous BRUSSEL SPROUTS?! Don doesn't like brussel sprouts- so if they're on the menu when we're out to dinner you can bet I order them. And this presentation is fantastic. Brussel sprouts in a balsalmic reduction topped with a fried, poached egg. I tried this at home (I gave Don spinach instead of brussel sprouts- don't want to press my luck and have him start to beg to eat out more often)- but I didn't get the egg right- so I'll try, try again I'm sure.

Saturday was a bit more ambitious. Lucas has been focused on healthy living in an effort to lose weight and just feel a better, so we wanted to include lots of excercise in the day. We started off by leaving early for Muir Woods, my favorite place out here. Not only is it great exercise walking the trails through those magnificient trees, it is also a spectacular site for taking pictures. We hiked up one of the less traveled trails up to the top of the mountain,

and since we stopped a lot to take pictures, we didn't get there until after 11:00.

To say we "stopped a lot" for pictures is really an understatement. We stopped so often I never even got short of breathe until the last "push" to the top. But the stopping let us look more closely- nothing blurred together- And Shawn is wonderful company - while Amy and Don talk (and talk and talk) photography- so I was really lucky on that count.

But that was great because at the top of the coastal ridge is the Mountain Home Inn which has a wonderful deck overlooking the North Bay. Lunch started at 11:30, so we sat on the deck with some drinks, enjoying the sun and the view until they started serving lunch.

After a wonderful lunch-

This was my lunch- not Don's- but who would have guessed- they had brussel sprouts! This time with lentils accompanying salmon. It was my lucky day!

We hike back down to the valley, taking a different route. The total hike was only about 4 miles,

On the way we saw a whole tree stump of lady bugs- and this of course gave rise to even more photography- I'm practicing using the "macro" setting on my new little "blog" camera- all the better to photograph food- or bugs!

But it was early when we finished, and we had more to do. Here are some of the more interesting pictures from the woods. Lucas took all of these so you can see that her desire to be a professional has real merit and promise.

OK, so Lucas didn't take this one, I did. But I used her camera and she did the posing.

Lucas did take the rest of these. I particularly like this one. It was a telephoto shot with a long exposure using a tripod.

This was a very interesting phenomenon that we found in Muir Woods. There was a swarm of Lady Bugs that were congregated on this post. It was quite a lady bug convention. There were also hundreds of others in the general area, but this post was absolutely covered with them. Lucas got this great picture using her macro lens.

From Muir Woods we drove up to an overlook on the cliffs above the Pacific, and we all exercised our shutter fingers while taking in the fantastic view. The first picture is the trail out to the overlook.
These two are the views we had looking north up the coast,

and south towards San Francisco.

From the overlook we drove down to Muir Beach and hiked down the coast a little to the rocky shore line. It was warm and sunny and the waves were pounding against the rocks. You might guess that more pictures were taken. These few are acually ones that I took. But I was having some trouble with my camera, so these are the only ones in this post from my camera.

Shawn, on the other hand, didn't have a camera, but did find his own way to enjoy the sun and the sound of the surf on the rocks.

And Lucas found a way to get his attention when it was time to leave.

From Muir Beach we drove back over the coastal ridge and then down into Sausalito where we went to one of our other favorite restaurants, Horizons, that sits on the water with great views of the bay, the Bay Bridge, and San Francisco. Still more photos were taken.

Finally after dinner we drove back up the hill, past the highway to the Marin Headlands. There is a high area above the Golden Gate Bridge that looks down on the bridge and the city beyond. It was dark - I sat this "photo shoot" out in the car". Not only was it dark but it was also cold and windy- and I was very full from dinner- and exhausted from the day- so I just leaned the car seat back and "rested" while Don and Amy and Shawn raced to the top for more wonderful views of this most fantastic of cities- and the scene was illuminated below us by the lights of the bridge and the cars driving on it. Lucas took some amazing pictures of the bridge using a long exposure and an eight inch wooden fence post for a tripod.

It had been a pretty good day for exercise, enjoying the out of doors, sightseeing, and photography. Back at the apartment, we uploaded pictures to my computer and admired our work over a glass of wine. The results included the good, the bad, and the wonderful that I have included in this post.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Few Days in New York


Last week I had to go to New York City for a conference. I must say that being in New York was somewhat of a chilling experience. People in San Francisco talk about how awful the winter is if the temperature drops below the usual 50 degrees. Anything in the 40's is hard winter. So it was actually pretty good for me to spend some time in the northeast just to bring me back to reality. And I did get a good dose of reality when I took a walk during a break in my meeting. I forgot to take a scarf or hat with me, and my walk against a 20 mph wind when the temperature was only 18 degrees was about as much reality as I needed.

On the upside was the fact that I also got to spend some time with Matthew and Sharon who we have not seen since they got married in Hawaii after visiting us here in San Francisco. We had a great meal with them and Joe Dougherty, Claire Delaney's brother who lives in the City. Joe took us to one of his favorite places, and since it was his birthday, we were treated royally. The food and wines were absolutely wonderful as we sat through a great dinner.

My last night in the City I went to Matthew and Sharon's apartment in Brooklyn. Matthew gave me directions about how to get there on the subway, and so I braved the rush hour on the F Train to Brooklyn with several hundred others who shared the subway car with me. We set Mathew's camera up and did a group photo including Gigi, who I always love to see.

After a great meal at their favorite local (only 3 doors down) Moroccan restaraunt we went back to their apartment and discussed their plans for their upcoming reception to celebrate their elopment. The party will be on June 7 in New York and we will have another one a week later in Cincinnati on June 14 (both on Saturday). Matthew sent out invitations to those that we thought might be able to go to the NY party, but if you didn't get one and would like to go to the NY party, please let Matthew know as soon as possible. We didn't mean to exlude anyone. Max and I will send out our invitations to the Cincinnati reception very soon.

I took the subway back to Manhatten and as I was walking down 50th street almost to Park Ave and my hotel, the Waldorf, I met a not old, but not so young lady dressed quite well who was walking towards me. It had been a fun night and I was enjoying my walk in the cold night air. I caught her eye and said a friendly hello and she said something back that I didn't understand, so I stopped to ask what she had said. To my surprise she was asking if I wanted some company for the evening. I just smiled and said "no thanks, but thanks for asking", and continued on to my hotel. It was nice to be reminded that I was in New York.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Don is 59!

Saturday was Don's birthday- and for the next 10 days I am married to an older man- a very good looking older man- I married him for his looks- older man. You'd think this whole town was celebrating Don's b-day- the fireworks started on Thursday the 7th. But alas it's not Don at all- but rather Chinese New Year- and that is a celebration. This is the Chinese Year of the Rat- not our year- but next year will be our year- the Year of the Ox (hello to all 1949 born oxen- Steve, Gay, Ellen and Mary Ezra- next year is our year!) Appropriately we celebrated Don's b-day with another Ox-our high school friend Steve- and had Chinese Dim Sum along with a packed restaurant of Chinese families celebrating the New Year. Dim Sum is rather like Spanish Tapas- small plates to share- So it really did feel like a party.

After lunch we went to the Berkley Botanical Garden- now, that is a fantastic afternoon any day but that particular day was absolutely gorgeous, and we were in for a real treat. Steve suggested we take the docent led tour- and our docent had been volunteering at the garden for 26 years. She was a real EXPERT. And of course our Don quickly impressed her with his superior knowledge of plants, especially trees so she began to modify the generic Saturday afternoon "what will grow in my yard" tour and show us the many splendors of this 37 acre garden. We spent over 2 hours finding interesting trees and flowers- We all had a grand time! And we will be back- I can't wait to follow the garden through the seasons here in the Bay Area.
And Don is spending more time with his photography- and that is good news- especially for me- I love his pictures!

These are some shots I took with my new macro lens. I probably needed my tripod for these, but here are a few that came out fairly well.

We still had some time after the garden- so Steve took us on a tour of the UC Berkley campus- a tour that only an insider could lead. Steve actually went to UC Berkley in the 70s for a PhD in BioChem- and is back now managing their UNIX computer system (you'll have to ask Don or Steve exactly what that is- I'm still just a bit fuzzy). The campus is beautiful- not too small, not too large- but just right! We did find another "OLD MAN" to celebrate with Don-

And the "old man" with Don was found in Montana!

And finally- to anyone wondering what I got Don for his birthday- Well I know how to please!

Just what he wanted- A new (we have one though not so nice in Cincinnati) counter top large capicity Kitchen Aid mixer!

I'm not sure I have a whole lot to add to this post. I do want to mention that 59 is a prime number, so this should be a prime year for all of us Oxen who were b0rn in 1949. It's also appropriate to say that Max, in her great generous approach to birthdays, saved me the need to buy her a present, and instead got herself an ice cream maker attachment to my new mixer as well as some new cookware that I'm sure we seriously needed.