On Black Friday, San Francisco felt, well, BACK! Our Board chair Carmen Clark and I attended the kickoff for Union Square’s “Winter Wanderland”, with a European-style holiday market in Hallidie Plaza featuring live entertainment, with Union Square itself brighter than ever with the big Macy’s tree, the ice rink, and entertainment. Folks were enjoying it, as were the many SFPD officers very evident this holiday season.
And it got better. Walking up Powell, we saw cable car gripman Derek Johnson and conductor Cassandra Griffin on Car 9 (in its 1927 Market Street Railway “White Front” livery, dontcha know) about to go onto the ‘table. We hitched a ride to Aquatic Park, passing some of the many decorated cable cars brightening the streets and chatting up visitors from near and far. The sun had just set but the glow remained.
At Aquatic Park, we thought about one of those yummy Ghirardelli hot fudge sundaes, but we hadn’t eaten, and had promised John Konstin Jr., we’d dine at his John’s Grill on Ellis, a truly historic SF restaurant (ask Sam Spade!-history buffs, if you click only one link in this post, make it this one).
To get there, a three block walk to the F-line terminal, where our chariot awaited: Car 1006, a torpedo, the favorite PCC type of Carmen’s late husband and my close friend, Cameron Beach. I told Carmen how Cam and I had compared notes about riding as kids. When the torpedos were single-ended back in the day, we both went straight to the back to try to claim the rear operator’s seat, which was then open to passengers. Usually, another kid had gotten there first. Cam and I finally met a half-century after those childhoods and we laughed at how similar our Muni experiences had been.
A huge crowd joined us at Pier 39, and we rumbled downtown with a swinging load of happy riders. Carmen was giving riding advice to a European family. Past our San Francisco Railway Museum, where the indispensable Alison Cant was still there after hours, then off at Ellis and a great dinner at John’s Grill (pro tip: try the Chicken Jerusalem or Petrale Sole). As we walked to the Powell Street Muni Metro Station, we noticed that the wait for a cable car was minimal, and almost went again!
If you’re reading this in, or anywhere near, San Francisco, you owe it to yourself to see the City at holiday time. Day or night, weekday or weekend (and if you come on a weekend, don’t forget to take your free demonstration ride on the brand new Central Subway between Chinatown and (almost) Caltrain. (Full-time through service down the T-line starts January 7.)
Heartfelt recommendation from a native San Franciscan: you need to be here this holiday season. So many good restaurants, things to see and do, small businesses to browse and buy from. And don’t let that hot fudge sundae at Ghirardelli melt.
Yes, things have changed since I was a kid and breathlessly watched Santa arrive at The Emporium on the (specially reinforced) roof of a cable car. But it’s still San Francisco, and to quote the late great Herb Caen, “God, I love this town.”
Please help us keep the cable cars and streetcars on track with a special donation for Giving Tuesday! Thanks.
— Words and photos by Rick Laubscher, Market Street Railway president