Tour Guide

I was woken at 03:30 (PST) this morning by my mobile phone ringing out the melody to “Ashes To Ashes” by former San Francisco band Faith No More.

“Hello?” I questioned, blearily.

“Is that Alan Tillich?” said a male Yorkshire accent.

“What!?” I said, two-thirds disbelief, one-third bad line.

“Is that Alan Tillich?” the Yorkshire accent said again.

“What?!” I said again, still unable to hear properly what had been said.

“Is that Alan Tillich?” he repeated a third time, not really taking on board that he had clearly dialed a wrong number.

This time I heard clearly what he’d said. “NO!” I exclaimed. And then followed it helpfully with “It’s three o’clock in the morning!”

It was now clearly his turn to say ‘what’.

“What?!” he said.

“It is three o’clock in the morning!” I repeated.

“What!?” he said again.

“I’m in San Francisco,” I clarified. “It is three o’clock in the morning!”

“Oh. Sorry.” he offered, and hung up.

I went back to bed and reviewed our conversation. I realised that I had just paid 45p/minute to tell Alan Tillich’s friend what time it currently was in California. You don’t get many nights like that.

Later the same morning Jane and I stepped out into the sunshine and made our way back down to 1300 Columbus Avenue, to meet up with Jane’s folks at their (an) hotel. I’d offered to be their basic tour guide for the day; having visited SF before. And to be fair, I think I did an okay job.

Following a rather poor start (we only got as far as the coffee shop across the road from the hotel) we took a cable car from the Hyde Street terminus (where they turn the cable cars around by hand on a turntable) to somewhere a couple of blocks from Grace Cathedral, the magnificent gothic-looking (poured concrete) Anglican cathedral on the top of Nob Hill. We spent quite some time there, looking around the building, lighting candles, and lastly Peter and Dorothy walked the Labyrinth. Jane and I, meanwhile, sat on the font steps and waited for them; it felt like we were waiting for our kids who were still playing at the religious play park.

From Grace Cathedral China Town is only a short hop, skip and a knee-racking steep-hill descent. We did the tourist-y thing and walked the length of Grant Street, straight through the heart of China Town. The smell; the colours; the remarkably different architecture. We picked up a number of gifts for people back home, and I found somewhere that sold Chinese Mah Jong cards.

By this time we were getting tired and in need of some sustenance, so our visit to Coit Tower was postponed to another day and skirting Telegraph Hill we made our way to Fisherman’s Wharf, and back to base camp, the Holiday Inn. Peter and Dorothy made their way back there before us (Peter had only arrived in the USA last night and was getting tired); Jane and I wandered around the tourist-tastic Pier 39 where I picked up (and bought) a mid-grey SF 49ers fleece top, Jane bought a fabulous red hat (not SF 49ers) and we discovered where the sea lions were hanging out. Well, you do when you’re on holiday, don’t you.

Choosing the path of least resistance we dined at the hotel before Jane and emerged into a now rain-drenched San Francisco and hailed a cab. Any romantic idea of a long walk back to Pacific Heights, or a ride on the MUNI streetcars was dampened, and instead we had to endure the manic driving of a taxi driver who spent a heart-stopping moment fishing in his coat pocket for a ringing mobile (cell) phone. The minutes after he had found it were no less fraught as he demonstrated his inabillty to carry out two complex tasks simultaneously: steer and speak into a cell phone. The wheel-spins were many, but to be fair I don’t think that had anything to do with him speaking into his cell phone: I think he was just a shit driver!

Tomorrow we fly to Seattle to meet up with more family, this time on the Lothian side, and Mark T. Powell (exNYCgb) and his family. According to Dave Gorman Sea-Tac airport is the most cinnamon-est in the world; we’ll let you know if we agree.

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Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 52 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Enneagram type FOUR and introvert (INFP), I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, play mahjong, write, draw and laugh… Scrum master at Safeguard Global; latterly at Sky and Vision/Cegedim. Former web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and previously warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall.