The Last Trip

Kristin K. Fouquet

© Copyright 2003 by Kristin K. Fouquet
Photo of a dragon mask in China Town.

When my husband found out that he had to take a week of training in San Francisco, his first concern was, would it be safe to take me, nearly seven months pregnant with our first child. After getting the medical green light, we were both excited to take one last trip before becoming parents.

Having been to San Francisco three times prior, we didn’t feel the pressure of trying to see everything in the three days and seven nights that he wouldn’t be in class. We were just resigned to spend our time leisurely in the beautiful city we had come to love almost as much as our home, New Orleans.

The Hotels

In an attempt at frugality, my husband booked us at an inexpensive hotel a few blocks off of Union Square in the theater district. The Union Square Plaza was described as unpretentious; this proved to be a bit of an understatement.

The room was not air-conditioned, which is not that unheard of in San Francisco. Unfortunately for us, the city was experiencing an unseasonable hot spell. Good thing we packed all those sweaters and jackets. Being on the seventh floor, we were grateful to be able to open the two windows and alleviate some of the room’s stuffiness. However, as we retired early on our first night due to extreme exhaustion, rest would not come.

Typically early evening on a Saturday night, we would be out, but after a long day of traveling and sightseeing, we were back in the room. The Union Square Plaza is conveniently located across from the Curran Theatre and The Graduate, starring Jerry Hall, was playing its last weekend there. As my husband turned up the volume for the movie he was watching, I became curious at what seemed to be much more than average street noise.

In front of the theater below, demonstrators had assembled to protest against the show’s star. As I later learned, Jerry Hall is a featured model for a Swedish clothing line named H&M, which is apparently known to have unfavorable conditions for their workers in Indonesia and New Jersey. The demonstration was illustrated with signs depicting a photo of Jerry Hall and the label, “The New Face of Sweatshops”. Even a Jerry Hall look-alike was on the scene, bowing to what were supposed to be sweat-soaked rags. Amused, I took photographs as the protestors broke into what sounded like a high school cheer: J-E-R-R-Y...You Ain’t Got No Alibi...You Know It...Uh, Huh...You Know It.

Hours after the cheering and chanting had stopped, we were stirred from our slumber by acappella singing. The quartet below was quite talented but our tired ears did not welcome their barbershop melodies. My husband promptly closed the windows and came back to bed.

It is common for pregnant women to have sensitive nasal passages that are easily stopped up. Less than an hour after the windows were closed, I snuck out of bed and cracked one of them. However, minutes later, drunken cackling from the street got him up again to shut out the noise, along with my coveted fresh air. So, the struggle began and hours of a restless night ensued as I battled for relief from the stale tomb and he fought for a hot but quiet room. Something had to give.

Very early the next morning, my weary husband made an immediate reservation at another hotel for our remaining six nights. I gave a weak smile and diverted my eyes in embarrassment as I passed the hotel clerk, Sid, and left the Union Square Plaza. I waited outside on the curb with the bags as my husband checked us out and then went to get the rental car. As I waited, I noticed that Sid had stepped out to smoke a cigarette. Feeling self-conscious, I rooted in my bag for nothing in particular and wondered if he thought I was a high-maintenance woman for wanting to leave his modest hotel.

My husband later said that Sid was completely unfazed by our seemingly rash decision to switch hotels. I guess it happens all the time. In all fairness, the Union Square Plaza is not a complete dive; one could even call it quaint. If you are not seven months pregnant with a light sleeper for a husband, it’s not a bad deal. The room was clean, very cheap, had its own bathroom, and daily maid service. Perhaps, if we were younger and back in our Bohemian days, we may have happily toughed it out.

Only a block away but worlds apart, we checked into the Handlery Hotel. The BBC was in town and filming in the hotel, our first hint that things would be different there. All my guilt from deserting the Union Square Plaza was washed away when I saw our room.

Our previous hotel room was so bare bones that it didn’t even include an alarm clock and the sink was situated across the room from the bed. This new room had all the bathroom fixtures in the bathroom along with a dressing area, king size pillow-top poster bed, balcony with a great view, coffee maker with complimentary coffee and tea, desk, sofa, table and chairs, refrigerator, make-up mirror, soft terrycloth robes, a safe, an alarm clock, and central air and heat.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” I said and hugged my husband. “I read that they have a heated pool and a sauna.”

The idea of floating my swollen belly sounded like heaven, so we ran out and bought swimsuits. Gratefully, we were able to find a maternity swimsuit on sale. With the additional investment of some flip-flops, we grabbed our towels and proceeded cheerfully to the bright blue swimming pool. The sun was shining, the temperature warm; but when we New Orleanians put our toes in the still water, it was freezing. Determined, I went in as far as my thighs.

“No way,” my husband declared. I had to agree; I was shivering.

Defeated, we slid our feet back into the new shoes and flip-flopped sadly back to our room. He made the best of the situation, taking advantage of the sauna. I settled for a warm bath.

Even without the pool, the Handlery Hotel would serve as my sanctuary after some unsavory events in the days to come.

The Festivals

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival was taking place during our weekend there. We hoofed it down to Ghirardelli Square but just missed the festivities by a few minutes. Yet, our attempt was not completely futile, as we did make it to the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain for some much-needed chocolate refreshment. He had a raspberry chocolate sundae and I opted for the chocolate malt. We were not disappointed.

In Chinatown, the streets were blocked off and packed with people for the annual Autumn Moon Festival. This festival is the second largest in the Chinese community, next to the New Year. We picked up some moon cakes, took in Chinese Opera, listened to Cantonese instruments, and watched the White Crane Dragon Parade dance by to the beat of booming drums. For our soon-to-be born darling daughter, we bought a cobalt blue brocade Chinese suit with matching Mary Jane style slippers. It’s so adorable; I could just weep.

Museums and Exhibits

In a cultural Mecca like San Francisco, there are many museums but I managed to only visit a few in my short time there.

Fun is perhaps the best way to describe the Musée Mécanique. It is one of the largest privately owned collections of antique coin-operated mechanical instruments. There are over 160 machines, dating back from the 1880’s to the present. The admission is always free but you must supply your own change for the machines.

On a trip to the city two years ago, we had discovered this mechanical museum at its old location at the Cliff House. Situated on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, we had to take two buses to get there but it was well worth the journey. I read that when the Cliff House was being renovated, the museum was forced to move. After hearing that the collection didn’t have a home for some time, we were thrilled to find it at its new location on Fisherman’s Wharf.

With my coin purse in hand, we had our fortune read, listened to the mechanical music, watched dioramas come to life, viewed old stereoscopes, and documented our visit in black and white at the photo booth.

I was on my own for the trip to the San Francisco Public Library. There on the sixth floor was an exhibit “Elder Arts 2003”, which showcased the works of the elderly living in long-term care facilities. It was part of the Art With Elders program that sets up art classes in these facilities. The artwork ranged from very good to childlike and the subject matter usually reflected on the past. It was quite moving and the art was enhanced greatly by the accompanying bios and photographs of the elder artists.

The Fort Mason Center was my next stop for art. Housed within the center are several galleries, museums, and theaters. The Mexican Museum was the main draw for me but unfortunately, it was closed for a special event. I headed over to the next building and visited the Museo Italo-Americano, which displayed a couple of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s prints among paintings, sculptures, and photographs by other Italian-Americans.

On our final day, we went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. A photography exhibit of Reagan Louie’s work entitled “Sex Work in Asia” was extremely provocative. It reminded me of the photographs of Storyville prostitutes in New Orleans by E. J. Bellocq, although historically and culturally dissimilar. Paintings of Dali and Matisse in the permanent collection along with some visiting work of Chagall were also a treat for the eyes.

Local Color

As my husband and I were passing through Union Square on our way back to the hotel, we caught an interesting sight. Across the street, were two ladies standing in front of the St. Francis hotel. They were older than middle-aged and they were identical. Twins wearing matching wigs, suits, sandals, mink coats, rhinestone earrings, and bright yellow felt hats with polka-dotted feathers. They were truly a sight to behold. Seeing a photo opportunity, we quickly crossed the street and I asked if I could take their picture.

The twins were most accommodating, not only by allowing me to capture their image but also by acting as ambassadors for their beloved San Francisco, all for the promise of a copy of the photo. We learned that the twins were local celebrities who have appeared in movies and television commercials. After handing me a business card reading The San Francisco Twins, with their names and address, they praised their fine city.

“It has natural air-conditioning,” boasted one.

“San Francisco is paradise number one,” added the other.

Trouble in Paradise

Being native to a city plagued with violent crime, corruption, poverty, and poor education, I feel quite hypocritical for pointing out the flaws in another city. Yet with any trip to San Francisco, one would have to be completely oblivious to oversee the severe problem of homelessness.

This has been a problem for decades but seems to have increased dramatically in recent years. In October of 2002, a homeless count put the number at 8,640 in the city. In such a rich metropolis, the juxtaposition between wealth and poverty is disheartening. When the dot-com boom bottomed out, former vice-presidents found themselves working as bus boys to stay afloat in this expensive city. With many overqualified people filling unskilled positions, the uneducated were left with very few opportunities. Also, San Francisco offers many generous social programs, which attract the homeless from other areas.

A significant number of them make attempts at entertainment in exchange for money and some simply panhandle. Unfortunately, there are other homeless people who suffer from extreme mental illness and have lost all socialization.

I later discovered another disturbing fact. Among many of the homeless, there is an apparent disdain for pregnant women and people with children. These people are labeled “breeders” and are looked upon as being irresponsible and selfish for bringing more people into an already overpopulated and desperate society. From their homeless perspective, more people - less for them.

Being seven months pregnant and a breeder, I experienced a bit of unpleasantness. On the day that I walked to the library, a homeless man followed me screaming, “Do you see the way I’m looking at you? Do you see it? It’s sick, isn’t it? Sick, Disgusting, Sick!” Yes, I thought, It is. Please stop. To my relief, he stopped harassing me after about the distance of a city block.

As unsettling as that was for me, I ventured out alone again to Fort Mason. Afraid to take a bumpy ride on a cable car in my condition, I walked to catch an F-line streetcar on Market Street. As the streetcar approached, a homeless woman gave me a sudden roundhouse kick to my left shin. In total shock, I could only respond, “Damn”. Her deranged gaze told me to board the streetcar and not look back. She didn’t follow me.

For the last day my husband was in class, I imposed solitary confinement on myself and spent the day in the hotel. Pregnancy is a time of vulnerability even if you aren’t the target of hatred.

I read in a San Francisco newspaper that last March, a pregnant woman in her third trimester was followed as she was walking home. The man forced his way into her apartment, beat her up, and covered her in paint. When her husband returned home and found her on the floor, he rushed her to the hospital. Fortunately, the baby was delivered immediately and mother and child survived. Considering her story, I feel very lucky.

Food and Drink

Unless afflicted with morning sickness, pregnant women like to eat. San Francisco offers delicious and diverse cuisine.

It might make us sound like stereotypical tourists, but usually the first thing we do is head down to Fisherman’s Wharf in search of fresh Dungeness crabs. Although the Crab Station is good, we’ve gone to Fisherman’s Grotto the last couple of times. These crustaceans are simply cooked and served with lemon and cocktail sauce, making them a delicate diversion from the spicy boiled blue crabs we have at home.

Being a fan of Dashiell Hammet, I was overjoyed to finally eat at John’s Grill, a favorite restaurant for the writer and his character Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. I truly enjoyed my filet mignon, which was expertly cooked and considerably less expensive than its counterpart at nearby steak restaurants. However, I must admit that I was disappointed to learn that they no longer sell the Maltese Falcon replicas, because I really wanted one.
Dim Sum is a delicacy we really can’t get in New Orleans, so that was definitely on the to-eat list. We got our fill at Yank Sing. This new discovery was elegant with white tablecloths and beautiful floral arrangements. The dumplings were wonderful. Yummy ingredients included lobster, sea bass and shrimp. My husband loved the steamed pork buns. My favorite in taste was the lobster and cheese dumpling but for presentation, the shrimp dumpling folded to look like a goldfish with spots of sauce for eyes won me over.Kristin chows down on Dim Sum.
North Beach is San Francisco’s Little Italy. I love Italian food, so we ventured to that neighborhood twice for dinner. Volare Trattoria was the first excellent experience. There, my husband went for the traditional spaghetti and meatballs and I had the spinach and ricotta ravioli with porcini cream sauce. The ingredients were all fresh and the pastas homemade.

Secondly, we went to Mona Lisa where the ambiance was very romantic. We started with the simple but good Tomatoes Caprese, a salad of fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and basil ribbons. Then I had the Napoletana, a pizza topped with garlic, tomatoes, and oregano. My husband had the Calabrese, the same but with the addition of sausage.

Normally, I would include a section about the wonderful California wines that are unavailable back home or other local libations but my condition prohibits such consumption. My husband enjoyed some local beer but with the exception of regional sparkling mineral water and Shirley Temples, I have nothing to report.

Going Home

Our last day was wonderfully bittersweet. We walked through Chinatown again, took a bay cruise, and toured the Museum of Modern Art. There was a feeling of melancholy to leave a city where we’ve had so many good memories. Yet, this time was more difficult because of my pregnancy. We were happy to have taken this trip together but also happy to be going home.
Photo of Kristin and her darlin' husband.As we were flying back to Louis Armstrong Airport, I gazed out the window at the big puffy cumulus clouds and thought about this last trip. I smiled because it really wasn’t the last trip. The next trip, regardless of the destination, will be insurmountably better because I’ll be seeing it all through my daughter’s eyes.

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