One of the things I really enjoy about being a Big Brother is that I have an excuse to do things I might not otherwise get to do. Sometimes it’s as simple as going to kids movies, like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and, later this year, Alvin and the Chipmunks. Sometimes it is something more touristy. Either way it is new to Lil’B (formerly known as “Little”) and it is fun for me.
This week, I decided to take Lil’B to the Cable Car Museum in San Francisco. From my first experience on a San Francisco cable car, I have loved them. If you’re lucky enough to get to “hang on”, a San Francisco tradition of standing on the step of the cable car and holding on to the poles (sometimes for dear life), it’s one of the best ways to see the sites of The City, and every trip, as the cable car passes by the Cable Car Museum I think to myself, “I’ve really got to get in there.”
I picked Lil’B up at 11:30 in the morning and we went to Boston Market to get some lunch and while we were eating it occurred to me that I had to buy cat food and the store I have to get it from would close before I got back across the bay. I told Lil’B we had to make a detour and we headed off to the pet food store. I had opened the last can of food that morning and if I came home empty handed Mischa wasn’t going to let me in the house.
With the cats ransom demand in tow, we headed to the BART station for our ride into The City.
By the way: For those who do not know, there are, apparently, three separate “the city”s. There is “the city”. This is how anyone who lives near but not in an urban metropolis refers to said metropolis. There is “The City” which as anyone who’s anyone knows, is San Francisco. And then there’s “THE City”, New York City.
Anyway, Lil’B told me he had never been on BART. Hard to imagine a kid growing up in the Bay Area has never been on BART but that’s what he told me, never been on BART, never been on a cable car, so this outing was full of new experiences for him. I purchased the BART tickets and showed him how to use his to get through the turnstiles.
The previous week, Lil’B pointed out an Oakland Police SUV in a parking lot as we drove by and I took advantage of the opportunity to ask him some probing questions about how he feels about the police. I found out that Police are not his “friends” because “they’re adults and I’m little” and he’s been taught not to talk to strangers. This is good advice for sure, but I assured him that policemen were his friends and if he was ever lost or in trouble and he saw a policeman he could trust them to help him. I gathered from this, though, that Lil’B has some apprehension about strange adults and it showed on our outing.
Riding BART on a Sunday afternoon, there is no guarantee of finding a seat and when we first boarded the train there was one open seat available. I offered it to Lil’B and at first he did not want to sit down. There was a woman sitting in the seat next to it and I suspected he was nervous about sitting next to a stranger. I assured him, I’d be right there with him and he finally sat down. Very quickly after that a seat adjacent to him became available and I sat down as well.
Once we arrived in The City, the plan was to take the cable car from the Powell street end of the line and ride it to the Cable Car Museum, which also happens to be the “barn” where they park the cable cars overnight, but when we arrived at the “turnaround” (they literally turn the cable cars around on giant turntables) the line was out of control. It would have taken hours to get on a cable car, so we started walking toward the museum, toward a very steep hill, while I tried to think of an alternative method of travel. I saw one of the cable car operators sitting on a cable car waiting his turn to go down the way and pick up passengers, so I stopped and asked him, “Short of taking a cable car, what’s the best way to get to the Cable Car Museum?”
“Taking a cable car,” he answered. My face smiled, but my brain was rolling its eyes.
“But there’s a huge line,” I said as I gestured back down the hill, “That’ll take three hours.”
“No it won’t,” he told me, “walk up to O’Farrell and get on at the first stop.”
Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that? We didn’t get to ride on the section of cable car with the outward facing seats and the “hangers on”, and we didn’t get to sit down, but at least we got on and made our way to the museum.
The Cable Car Museum is a free attraction in the center of the routes, which doubles, as I mentioned, as the over-night storage facility for the cars.
It is also the source of the power for all the cables that run underground and power the four cable car routes. In other words, the machinery that powers the movement of the cables is all right there, out in the open in the museum and it is very loud.
There is about 800 square feet of museum, which is not guided and requires a lot of reading, and not a whole lot of meaningful pictures to look at. We walked in and Lil’B trotted off, with me following behind, making his way…to the gift shop.
After we looked around the gift shop we went on to explore the museum, but it was pretty clear that nothing was holding his interest, however at the far end of the museum was a clearly antiquated documentary video that lasted about 15 minutes and it talked about the history of the cable car system and how it worked. I found it fascinating, Lil’B did not and as I’m writing this, I’m remembering that I wasn’t really particularly interested in history when I was a kid…teenager. I don’t think most people can have a real appreciation for history until they’ve actually experienced some of it. In other words, until you’re old enough to remember how things have changed in your own lifetime, the way things used to be isn’t really all that interesting. And unless you have a desire to know how things work, perhaps museums in general aren’t all that interesting.
Anyway, I was interested in what this video had to tell us, but it quickly became apparent that Lil’B was not into it. But here’s the cool part: he fidgeted, he squirmed, and he eventually got up and walked over to a wall where there were some pictures to look at but was still within my view, but he never complained, or whined, or asked to leave! I was just waiting for that to start and it never did.
Not long after the video was finished we left the museum, but we still had almost four hours to kill before I was supposed to take him home. I thought the museum would take all afternoon and it took about 40 minutes. What was I going to do?
We walked back to the cable car stop and boarded the next one to come by, taking us along the rest of the Powell/Hyde line and depositing us at the western edge of Fisherman’s Wharf. I decided we’d go to Pier 39 to see the Sea Lions that live there year round. We walked for what I’m sure seemed to him like forever, but he never complained or asked where we were going, or how much farther. He just kept walking with me. I assured him we really were going someplace specific and it wasn’t too much farther.
As we got closer to the pier, we began to encounter more and more tourists and at one point we encountered a woman taking pictures of her group. We were headed straight toward the gap between the camera and it’s subject and before I could say anything, Lil’B ducked right and went behind the woman with the camera.
You may be sensing a theme in what I’m saying here, which is that, I am consistently impressed with this kid. When he goes to the restroom, he washes his hands without being asked; when we’re driving in the car he doesn’t complain about how long the trip has been or where we are going; he saw the woman about to take a picture and ducked out of the way; he waited semi-patiently while I watched the video at the museum; and he never complained that the museum was boring. I admit that I don’t have much experience with kids, but I imagined that he would be more unruly and I’m consistently just so impressed that he’s not.
Anyway, I’ve gone and gotten long winded again and there’s not that much more, exciting information to tell. We got to the pier and looked at the sea lions for a long time. I was kind of bored but I was going to allow him to look for as long as he wanted. Once Lil’B had his fill of the sea lions we explored the pier, spent some time touring the arcade but not playing games (he never asked or complained) and then we watched a “street performance” at a little outdoor theater on the pier where they have juggling and “comedy”, after which we began to make our way back home.
We still had to get back to the BART station and the easiest, best way to do that is by way of the SF Muni Historic F Line, old street cars from all around the world that have been donated to The City and restored for the Market and Embarcadero Streets Metro service. Once again, though, it was Sunday and there is reduced service so the cars are fewer and farther between and very crowded when they do arrive. Lil’B handled it like a trooper though and soon we were back on BART and headed for more familiar territory.
When we got back to the car, I asked him if he had any ideas about what he wanted to do next week and he said, “Um, actually, I think we’re going to Disneyland.”
“Um, OK. I wish his mother had told me this before now, but OK.” I thought. I said, “Oh. You are? OK. Well, I guess we’ll just– Wait a minute. You say, ‘we’re going to Disney Land’ I assume you mean you’re family, right?”
He did not. I told him that sounds like fun, but unfortunately, Disneyland is really far a way, and really expensive and there’s no way we could do it in one afternoon. I don’t think that’s going to be possible.
When I returned Lil’B to his home and spoke with his mother, I mentioned that neither of us had any ideas for next week and so I’d pick him up at the regular time (2:00) unless I came up with something else. She looked at Lil’B and said something to him in Spanish and he smiled at her, then at me and then he ran outside to play. His older sister, who often translates, chuckled and said, “She told him you ought to take him to the park and help him with his homework.”
Turns out, while Lil’B is smart and does well with his school work, he doesn’t like having his mother try to help him along with his other siblings and would rather have undivided attention (wouldn’t we all?). She also doesn’t understand all of it because her English is only so-so. I told her that I’d be happy to help out if that’s what she needs.
Now our plans for Sunday are for me to pick him up at 12:00 and bring him to my house where I’ll feed him lunch and do his homework—er, rather, I’ll help him do his homework, which, since I don’t have a table should be interesting.
A table is definitely the next big purchase on my list!