After visiting Fisherman’s Wharf for some authentic Boudin sourdough, we made our way along the water to Gheribelli Square for a tour of their modest chocolate shop. Dasad poked his head into a gourmet cupcake place, buying three small cakes for about twelve bucks. Frankly I doubted the value of a four dollar dessert, which my mouth could consume easily in two bites, but my friend assured me it was worth the price.
“You don’t know, because you haven’t tasted. If you did, you would know.”
“If knowing means shelling out four bucks for a lousy cupcake,” I remarked, “then ignorance is bliss, man. I’ll take my watered down iced tea and sugar substitute any day.”
He placed the box on the sidewalk, removing one of the small cakes and placed it atop the lid. Then adjusting his camera, he proceeded to subject the poor dessert to a mid-street photoshoot. Jay and I stood back and watched. He said nothing for the next several minutes, snapping shot after shot, moving only to adjust the perspective or catch the fading daylight. In my whimsy and boredom, I imagined his interior dialogue similar to a Vogue photographer, demanding and masochistic:
“Fabulous! Now growl for me baby. Yeaah! Like an animal. Strike the sexy pose. Beautiful! Beat me. Whip me! You make me want to come over there and tear into you. Incredible!”
Others scurried quickly by, possibly sensing the intensity of the shoot and the risk a rogue shadow or misplaced foot might incur. Most however fled in fear, frightened that the Asian man with the cupcake might accost them with a few 8x10s and a dozen wallets.
We walked down to the waterfront then, near the Maritime National Historic Park, where swimmers weaved laps in the man-made lagoon between colored buoys; ferries, tugboats and century-old clippers bobbed up and down nearby, reminding the athletes why mankind never evolved fins. Accustomed to the murky corpse-laden waves of the Inner Harbor, watching the divers spit water in and out of their mouths made me sick, and we decided to continue our tour along a concrete walkway that extended out into the bay, forming the north-western edge of the lagoon. Most of the path appeared damaged, cracked and crumbling into the sea, and thus barricaded for repairs.
“Watch how you’re holding the box, Jay!” Dasad shouted as I stared across the sun-drenched fog at the Golden Gate Bridge. “You’ll smear the icing!”
“Huh,” Jay shrugged. “I wasn’t tilting it or anything.”
“There’s a right way and a wrong way. I thought it was common sense. Look half the chocolate is on the box.”
“The heat probably had something to do with it, man,” I said. “You can’t expect to carry that stuff around without messing them up a little. Why don’t we just eat them now?”
Dasad said nothing – I took that to mean ‘No’ – but took control of the box as we continued our walk around the Maritime Park.
By now, long time readers should be accustomed to my frequent use of hyperbole, such that my friend often criticizes (i.e. mocks) my reliance on (i.e. addiction to) superlatives:
- ‘Dasad, come play Arkham Asylum. It’s the best game I’ve ever played, ever,’
- ‘Hey Dasad, did you click on that Youtube link, I sent you? Wasn’t that AMV the greatest thing you’ve ever seen in your whole entire life?’
- ‘Mankind, only really needs three things: iced tea, books, and a store to purchase both. Everything else can pretty much be jettisoned into the sun.’
Thus, I suppose that my opinion carries little weight in the eyes of true cynics, yet I assure you that staring at the city from the mouth of the bay ranks as one of the most beautiful sights on our trip. San Francisco seems to roll, undulating as it approaches the water like an ocean current, dragging its inhabitants — not unwillingly — towards the shore and out to sea. Of all the cities this country bumpkin has visited in his short life, most thick with smog, murder, refuse, and hobos (I’m looking at you Denver), San Francisco alone captured my heart.
While my friend snapped a few shots of Alcatraz, I noticed the fog had lifted around the Golden Gate Bridge. Sailboats gliding across the foreground made for some nice shots, and turning, my feet accidentally kicked Dasad’s cupcake box, sending it skidding a few feet and into a shallow pothole. Oops! Grimacing, I forced my eyes upward, but he hadn’t noticed (or decided to say nothing). Jay had though and made for the railing to laugh. How the collision would damage the integrity of the cake, I can’t say, but to be careful I gave the box a wide berth and made for the rail.
After a few hours, we left the waterside and drove eastward towards the baseball stadium to meet up with Dasad and Jay’s cousins, who live in town. The couple who I will – with their forgiveness – name George and Alice for the sake of anonymity were quite kind and offered to take us out for dinner. We admitted not having visited Chinatown yet, but upon hearing that our raison d’etre in California was to sample authentic Japanese cuisine, we drove off towards Japantown.
“Yeah, so the mall extends throughout the both these blocks,” George said, parking beneath an extensive shopping complex that spanned nearly two blocks, connected through various bridges and outside auditoriums. “The food here is great, if you know where to go. Otherwise it gets a bit touristy, though never as bad as Chinatown.”
We emerged into the mall, decorated with banzai trees and small ponds with trickling waterfalls. Several of the signs and notices taped on store windows were written entirely in Japanese. I recognized a few characters, but not enough to piece together the advertisement. Still pretty awesome for an otaku, obsessed with Japanese culture. They even had a taiyaki stand and a noodle shop and a . . .
“Jay. Jay!” I whispered. “Look an anime shop!”
One of the local stores befitted their window display with Gundams, figures of sword hacking female ninjas, and Pokemon cards. Further down the corridor, we passed a bookstore stacked with Japanese novels, magazines, and row upon row of un-translated manga. Then atop the land-bridge connecting the next block’s shopping center, we passed a small sushi café, which entertained guests with Miyazaki films from hanging television screens: Kiki’s Delivery Service and Howl’s Moving Castle. Just below shelves of translated Naruto and One Piece manga to peruse while dining, with cat-eared waitresses balancing orders in frill-laden dresses.
“Dude, I’ve died and gone to heaven. This is where geeks go, when they’ve been good and refuse to download fan subs. I’m sure of it.”
Jay elbowed me and pointed to several kids, feasting on fruit-wrapped crepes. Whipped cream and chocolate left their marks on their faces, but no one seemed to mind.
“Are crepes even Japanese?” Dasad asked.
“Who cares,” Jay said, nearly licking his lips. “They look delicious.”
“Look downstairs.” My two companions gazed where I gestured franticly. “A noodle shop. Like in Naruto! We can get some honest to goodness Japanese ramen.”
“And strawberry ice-cream crepes with bananas!”
“And anime and ninja-girl figures!”
“Yeah,” Dasad sighed. “Too bad we’re leaving tomorrow. Shame really.”
The realization undermined our enthusiasm a bit, much like a torpedo beneath a merchant vessel. Jay and I began to pout, when Dasad’s cousin pointed out a flyer taped on the window of the restaurant. In bright colors and English text, we read that tomorrow Japantown would hold a Kawaii! Festival, featuring live Japanese J-pop bands, the grand opening of a museum to Japanese pop culture, and a loli fashion show.
“Hmmm . . . maybe we could stay for another afternoon,” Dasad mused poring over the leaflet.
“What changed your mind?” I asked with a smile. “The museum opening or the nubile goth fashion show, young girls in frills and lace?”
He would never say, citing something about needing to taste authentic ramen and bubble tea, but both Jay and I suspected otherwise. The dirty old man.
For dinner, we ate a hibachi-style restaurant, equipped with gas-powered grills in the middle of our table, where we cooked our meals ourselves. Back home, I was more accustomed to the teppanyaki Japanese steakhouses, where chefs wheel in their carts full of raw chicken and shrimp to our table, whirling their knives and ignite billowing holocausts that left my uncle petrified and missing an eyebrow last June. Here in San Francisco, we ordered a vast array of raw meats bathed in various sauces to be grilled ourselves over tabletop hibachis. The concept at first struck me as rather lazy (‘So we’re paying you for the honor of cooking our own food?’) but proved rather fun in the end.
We left the restaurant long after closing, our bellies full and absent of – noticeable – E. coli poisoning (Wahoo!). The waiters waved us off, eager I’m sure to finish cleaning our late night feast and tuck in themselves. For our part, the hour was late, and we planned to visit one or two wineries before returning to the city; and so after many thanks to Dasad’s cousins for the tour and the excellent meal, we returned to our hotel.
Dasad opened the cupcake box then, and we held off sleep for one last midnight snack. My friend reveled in their taste and exquisite flavor, decadent chocolate and smooth icing. I downed mine in two bites, relishing the delicious flavor of four whole dollars sliding down my gullet.
My dreams that night were filled with exploits of zombies (a house favorite in my nocturnal theater) rampaging through the local malls, where I whittled away my hours slaying undead hordes and perusing shelves stocked with anime and video games. A vision! I prayed so.
Tomorrow: Japantown, Disneyland and our day of rest.