The walls of the subway were gritty and the tile was composed of round white pieces like golf balls and they were dotted with signs. ‘Frisco locked me into it, entranced me, the subway tunnels were the veins of it’s grimy body. The layover was fifteen hours so we decided to see fisherman’s wharf and pick up lunch there. In the subway nobody talked except some guys in snap backs and they seemed like friends. A woman came on halfway through and she plugged her ears because the sound of the subway was deafening when it was going.
The subway car hurtled through the tunnel and the tunnel screamed, it was Gabriel’s horn, to accompany the end times. There were empty square places in the subway walls like somebody’d carved them out to live in and they were illuminated by lights and as the car screeched along it was accompanied by streaking trails that the lights left in the blurry windows. The blurriness made my eyes feel blurry. As we accelerated the shriek pulsed and matched up nearly with the flashing light show but it got off by a bit and they were like clashing melodies. The man on the loudspeaker asked someone in a different car to please move his bike out of the aisle and the speaker was tinny and I could barely hear it. After the next stop he asked him again and he seemed frustrated and the guy must have moved it because it wasn’t mentioned again.
When we got off at our stop there were grubby homeless there and they shouted at us spare some change or a SMILE! Any change is good and a smile’s FREE! So Mom smiled at one and he looked at her angrily and she turned and he said she was lookin’ at him like he had two heads and she looked confused. There was an empty wine bottle laying at the top of the stairs from the subway to the street. I looked up and I hadn’t really got a good sense of scale and I thought that there were really two parts to the city, the part that was up and the part that was at street level and you couldn’t see both in one go. I was looking at a big building and I stepped on a wet piece of cardboard and I recoiled. We waited for the cable car to open up but it didn’t for a while. We moved on to another stop and one didn’t come there, either, so we walked along. It was a long walk and strait uphill and a man with a blue turtleneck and a cane and and round glasses and a bald head except on the sides told us it was a ways to the wharf uphill. Then we saw a cable car and Dad ran it down but a car nearly hit him and the security woman on the car stopped it.
We got on and we got to ride out front and the guy operating it seemed like he’d done it forever. He had a little part in between the two rows of seats in the front and he had to stand there and pull on levers so it would go. He’d stand up on a little platform and push it down with his weight and that would slow us down and sometimes he only put one foot on it. He was a skinny Asian guy and he was probably Chinese because it was real close to chinatown and he had a nice face framed by glasses. The security woman had her hair done in dreds in a ponytail and she seemed serious and capable and she came to the front and carried on nonchalantly with the driver. They talked about things I didn’t understand about the cable cars and I thought that the cable car culture was very developed and the Chinese man worked the levers expertly without thinking while he talked. His voice was friendly like his face.
We got off at the wharf and walked down the street and there were pigeons that dotted the street and ate. We went to a bit where you could see Alcatraz and I liked that. We went into a little museum of coin operated machines and got some change so we could see them go. There was one that was called Opium Den and it had a mess of hunched and haunted doll figures that moved stiffly when you put the quarter in. A serpent entered through the window and skeletons entered from the closets. It was silent but for whirring machinery. Then we put money in one with a drunk tramp that shook his bottle at the ghosts in a grave yard and another with some dirty buffalo that shook their shaggy heads at a dead Indian chief on the ground. There was one you could look into and it showed pictures of the San Francisco earthquake and there were others, too, like some little girls done up like flapper girls in headbands and all and they smiled sweetly and leaned on a railing together.
We ate at a restaurant with live music. It came out the speakers but I could see the singer from our seat. Mom and me got fish tacos and my dad got fish’nchips but they gave us two fish’nchips instead of two fish tacos. We didn’t send it back because we were hungry so me and Mom split the tacos and the fish’nchips in two so we both got half of each. We ate outside on heavy metal chairs and tables and there was a metal rail around the restaurant. On the other side of the rail pigeons walked around and I tossed one a french fry but another pigeon without any toes on one foot took it away. Mom went to wash up and Dad went to pay and I stayed. A woman wanted one of our chairs and I said that was alright because there were only three of us and four chairs. While she dragged it off Dad came back and said hold up, that’s my wife’s chair and I said about how I’d told her it was alright and he nodded and said oh, alright.
Then we went to a shop and mom got a cable car fridge magnet because the bracelet charms were overpriced and I bought some hat pins. I almost tripped on empty ground and my face went red but nobody saw. We wanted to see the Golden Gate but there wasn’t anywhere to see it and we were all tired, anyway, so we went back to the subway. We went down the steps from the street and a hobo with a long beard and a hat and a sign that essentially said gimmie change held his arms out wide and yelled I’ve been right here waiting for you! to us. My mom was nervous but I grinned and the other hobos chuckled and I wanted to give him some change but I spent it on the Opium Den.