Looking for a gift in the big city, unreported crime? A racial incident?

In my continual quest to buy a late present for my six-year-old grandson — well actually I had only made an attempt once before — I wandered through San Francisco’s Chinatown but found nothing, and that is to say that does not mean there was nothing, but nothing caught my eye. Actually I was just looking for a toy cable car. They had them, but they all seemed to be the same, cheap and flimsy — well cheap would have been okay, but flimsy not so much. If he is like I was as a kid (and then let’s hope not) he’d crush the thing in no time.

I tried ordering a toy truck via Amazon. What I got was something cheap and flimsy. I crushed it just trying to get it out of the package.

Actually he’s more into Lego sets, and he’s really good at building things. Ahhh, an eye for how to put things together, shapes and sizes, how things work. They say he has my looks. Fortunately he seems to have some hand/eye coordination and problem-solving skills at a young age, not like me.

But I just wanted to get him something simple, something for a little kid his age, and something for a little guy who probably has more stuff than he knows what to do with. If he tells his kids that as a little one he had to do without he will be a liar.

Look as I did I just could not find what I wanted.

In my quest Chinatown did not seem to me what it once was. Somehow the allure, the imagination, the mystery was gone. I told that to my next oldest brother. He said that’s what they said when he was a kid. In fact, he said, “Chinatown never was what it used to be”.

A tip: if you have never gone to San Francisco, by all means do go to Chinatown. You’ll enjoy it I’m sure, actually still lots to do and experience. But get off the main street, Grant Avenue, sometimes. Probably more interesting local color there.

And it is the big city, always something unexpected going on:

My sister and I were walking along Grant Avenue when a tall and skinny young Asian man came running by in what appeared to be a panic. I did not think much of it at the time, other than to wonder what his hurry was. But right after that we witnessed a rather large black man breaking into an upstairs window from a fire escape. This was in broad daylight. People were gawking at the spectacle. My sister wondered if he had “lost his key”. A group of elderly Chinese people were among the gawkers. One woman suggested someone call 9-1-1. Don’t know if anyone did. We left the area. This was in broad daylight in the middle of the afternoon. I’m curious. What was that all about? How would I find out? This is the big city. I doubt the local news covers such things, if there even was something to cover. All the witnesses but no apparent action did hauntingly remind me of the infamous Kitty Genovese case in New York all those years ago when a young woman was attacked and murdered and supposedly witnesses in a neighborhood cowered behind their own apartment windows and did not even report anything.

Another tip when visiting the city: go to all the touristy places for sure, but also get away from those places and just see the city. It is beautiful and enchanting. And parts of it are dirty and smelly. It’s a big city.

We also strolled through a part of town that was redeveloped with shopping centers and on a Sunday was deserted. My sister said at the time it was thought it would revive the area. And then when they cleaned up the Old Ferry Building people said it was a waste of time and money. The place was packed yesterday.

And we went to maybe the most touristy of all place, Pier 39. That is the one place I would advise you just don’t bother with. I mean why would you spend the money to go to the big city just to buy a T-shirt? Or to look at gaudie, cheap (but expensively-priced) merchandise? It’s at one end of Fisherman’s Wharf. I think in total Fisherman’s Wharf is still worth going to, even though over the decades of my adulthood (I am almost 66) it has been transformed from a quaint fishing port into a carnival, because if you look hard enough, some of the old flavor is still there.

Also, it’s fun to ride the old streetcars. I used to ride what I called “old streetcars” (not to be confused with cable cars, which are even more fun). I rode the old boxy kind with my mom. We lived in the Sunset District of San Francisco across the street from the Pacific Ocean, and on occasions mom would take me in hand (I was really young when we left the city to live elsewhere) and we would board the street car and go under the Twin Peaks through one of two tunnels and come out into the daylight again on Market Street (nowadays the tunnel continues down Market). I recall the old street car making a hum, mum, mum sound, and it swaying from side to side if we happened to sit in the back. Oh, and I recall the change machine you dropped your fare into and the clanking of the coins as they swirled around and hit the sides of the glass globe.

Then these old boxy street cars, with their dark green paint, were replaced with more streamlined-looking cars which still had the dark green paint, and in turn they were replaced by even more streamlined cars and the paint scheme was changed to something somehow not as appealing I thought. But nowadays while there are the modern cars, the city has also purchased old ones from cities around the country, such as New Orleans. Maybe they even have a streetcar named Desire. Anyway I think the old ones are fun to ride on a look at.

But it is the city, and things happen. My sister and I were tired from walking around, and we boarded one of those old street cars to get back to her car, which she parks at the other end of the line (finding parking when you get downtown is difficult and can be expensive of course). We were at Pier 39 (why did we go there? to look for the toy cable car. But same cheap stuff). We needed to get back to Pier 1 or just past to board the other street car back to the other side of the mountain (remember Twin Peaks). At one stop a large black man got on. The car was crowded. The slightly-built Asian driver directed the man to go further back in the car — I don’t think we’re talking about to the back of the bus as it were, but maybe far back enough that he was not hovering over the much smaller driver (motorman?). The man refused to budge. The Asian driver refused to move the car any further till he did. It was a standoff. We got off the car and walked the rest of the way. I did eventually see that car move. Don’t know how it was resolved.

So we had what might have been a racial incident. But like I commented to my sister: I would have just complied with the driver. I mean he is the captain of the ship. On the other hand, I see the black guy’s point maybe. I think he thought he was being asked to move simply because of who he was — but I am not at all sure that was the case. But if the driver does not want you hovering over him, then why not just move a few steps back? Can’t we all just get along?

But while we are on the subject: while we were on foot, waiting at a traffic light, a convertible with a black couple (and the race may not really be important here) was sitting at a light with extremely loud rap music playing. And I use the term “music” liberally. It was annoying. I mean I love the sights and sounds of the city — except that. And I think the occupants of these vehicles know it is annoying. But they have an attitude they want to inflict upon the rest of us.

I’m planning to go to a conventional toy store in a neighboring city today and get something for the grandson. Maybe a good old Tonka Toy truck. Do they still have them? You know, the kind made of metal and sturdy as a real truck was when I was young — when everything, including real vehicles, was made of steel. I drive a big truck myself these days, but it’s mostly fiberglass. If those things catch on fire they just melt to the ground.

I usually shop at home. Shop locally. But the one toy store we had they closed.

Maybe kids don’t play with toys so much these days.

Too busy on their computers.


Just to let you know, I finally bought a Tonka Toy, a big metal dump truck, at Talbot’s Toyland in San Mateo, Ca. Of course it was made in China.

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