Sunday, May 18, 2014

Table for One

Alice faced the quandary head on:  What do you do when you have 50,000 free miles on Alaska Air that will soon expire?  She hates to waste anything, so of course she scheduled a round trip from Seattle to San Francisco … leaving on Mother’s Day when most people were enjoying a Mother’s Day brunch.
First class round trip on Alaska, Sunday morning to Wednesday evening.  Total cost to fly:  $5 in tax.   Alice saw that as a good omen.  She always paid attention to omens and signs of all kinds, lest she miss something she was meant to see.

The weather was lovely, the flight smooth and pleasant … made even better by the First Class Attendant, Paul, who was a hoot.  Alice and Paul clicked right away.  He lived in Palm Spring, was handsome and funny, and made great screwdrivers.  They swapped recipes.  She gave him three of her magazines.  And he gave her a big hug when she got off the plane.

Then she was off to see Boston, the scruffy little bunny at the Santa Cruz Rabbit Haven Bunny Rescue place.  Alice thought she was meant to rescue him, although another rabbit was the last thing she needed now.  Nonetheless, if Boston was trying to communicate to her – “BL Please come get me” – well, she just had to go to him and figure out the details later.
As luck would have it, Boston had been adopted three hours before she arrived … which was a really good thing all the way around.  Alice did hold some bunnies at the Bunny Open House, soaking up all that good bunny energy (along with plenty of bunny fur), and also met Heather the Mother Theresa of Rescued Rabbits. Heather sent her on her way ...  rabbit-less ... but with a hug, special gift candle, and a lovely red rose.

It was Boston’s location that led her to pick a hotel in Santa Cruz for two nights.  Alice had not been to Santa Cruz for 50 years.  Using Expedia for the first time ever, she booked two nights at The Santa Cruz Dream Inn – a Joie de Vivre Hotel.

Since Alice had taken Latin in High School, she figured “Joie de Vivre” was French that meant something like enjoying a life filled with pleasure. And she was right!  Her stay was perfect beyond words.

Fifty years ago, Alice did all the rides at the Boardwalk.  But this time, she enjoyed her king room with a balcony that looked out over the beach and water … and the soft bed where she slept for 12 hours upon arrival.
Perhaps this is the time to mention that Alice did this entire trip by herself.  No husband, daughter, relative or friend to accompany her.  This was the first time she had traveled alone since she drove from Chicago to Guemes Island, WA, by herself  24 years earlier.  24 years makes a difference in how well body parts work, especially feet, knees and legs.  But with her magical cane, Alice was fearless.

Once they spotted the cane, people offered to help her in one way or another throughout the entire trip.  Alice was deeply touched by all the kindness in the world.  The magical cane got her tables by the window when she dined; assistance with her luggage; and special treatment no matter where she went. 

Much of the time in the airports Alice simply dragged it along behind her when she was pulling her suitcase on wheels and carrying the extra bag of “must have” items.  But sometimes the cane was indispensable, allowing her to feel safe when setting off to see and do pleasurable things.  Alice had always been a bit of a Hedonist.

The one thing that did make a huge difference in the ease of traveling “alone” was her scheduling all her road trips (from the airport to Santa Cruz, SC to San Francisco, SF to the airport) with Shuttle Captain, the Anjorin Town Car Service -- (831) 431-7556.   The vehicles are black town cars; her driver, Derek, a very cool gentleman who loved Brazilian music.  Derek met her at the gate when she arrived in San Francisco and from then on she was in his care.
If Alice ever traveled to a place that was not served by the Shuttle Captain, she’d call UBER, which also has a fleet of town cars … but she doubted they would have handsome drivers who made her feel very special and played Brazilian music.  She actually ordered a Brazilian CD when she got home.

Santa Cruz was pure delight, plus she was able to easily walk the half-mile long Wharf located right next to the hotel.  A most generous gentleman let Alice use one of his spinning rods to fish for Halibut off the pier.  He rigged up her line with an obviously resistible lure, because she didn’t even get a nudge.  But it was great fun, and what a thrill it would have been to hook at 40-pound Halibut!

Any resemblance to the famous former governor is purely coincidental.

With Halibut on her mind, Alice had the same menu item at the same restaurant for both lunch and dinner.  Perfectly grilled Halibut with a to-die-for beurre blance sauce.  The FireFish Grill is definitely on her list of must-go-to places.

Tip for women traveling alone:  make friends with the manager; always ask for a window table; and leave a big tip.
The piece de resistance of the Santa Cruz venture was being able to walk barefoot on the beach and even wade into the water.  For that Alice thanked The Big Kahuna and Santos at Verizon Wireless, who (together) healed her foot, enabling her to once again walk barefoot and feel the sand and the water beneath her feet.

The next morning, graced once again by glorious weather, Alice and Derek were zooming up Hwy 1 on the way to San Francisco.  The road hugs the spectacular California Coastline, so the trip was pure delight for both of them … with the ever-present Latin music enhancing the drive.  So many untouched places; a joy to behold.

Then, as if by magic, the town car came up over a rise and San Francisco --that magical City by the Bay -- lay before them glistening in all her splendor.  After getting a room upgrade at the Fisherman’s Wharf Holiday Inn Express and checking her bags, Derek dropped Alice off at the corner of Jefferson and Taylor … right in the heart of Fishman’s Wharf.

Crab was the first order of business in that historic spot, so Alice ordered one hot cracked crab with butter.  Words fail to describe the buttery sweetness of that king of all seafood:  fresh, hot Dungeness Crab (pictured above).

A wonderful part of the Fisherman’s Wharf experience is the musicians who play on the street corners.  That afternoon it was Allen Fredrick, who played the guitar and harmonica, sang and had some keyboards going in the background …  (  When the crab was gone and the fingers licked clean of butter, Alice decided to stay and enjoy the music with a fellow musician, David (Da-veed), who was singin’ and clappin’ and havin' all sorts of fun.  So the two of them spent the next two hours on that iconic corner saturated with the tunes and the pure joy of life. 
After diddling around a bit, she checked into her hotel room (nice!) with a view and windows that opened to let in the city sounds, eventually dressing for dinner.  Tonight it had to be Alioto’s that played such an important role in her memories.

When she was young and they brought family from “Back East” to The City, her folks would alternate between Alioto’s and Grotto No. 9 for the San Francisco meal.  So of course Alice told the maitre d that she had been here 60 years ago.  He was delighted, and selected a big comfy booth one row back from the window because it had less glare.

It was a lovely spot with a great view.  Alice had a Sapphire Martini, of course, some of that fabulous San Francisco bread (gluten-free be damned), and asked if one of the owners was on the premises.  It turned out that Richard Alioto was there, so he came by her table and they chatted about life the last 60 years.  Alice told him she was so happy there were some special things in life that didn’t change; then asked if he thought she could get a few more shrimp for her wonderful Shrimp Louie.
“Of course,” he said with a flourish of his arm, “I can take care of that right now.”
And did he ever!  The waiter returned with a huge plate of shrimp which completely covered any lettuce left on her plate … eyeing Alice with a skeptical look.  But she surprised him and ate every last one!
She encountered Richard again as she was leaving, telling him how delightful her meal was and that he really did look like a Mafia guy (which of course he is … but who cares?)  He laughed, shook her hand again, and wished her well.
Tip to women traveling alone:  You probably couldn’t do many of these things if you had to drag a man or companion around.  It is so much more fun when there is only one person who matters:  YOU!

On her leisurely walk back to the hotel, Alice bought a couple of things.  The Asian saleswoman said, “You are from the UK, right?”  Alice said no, that she was from the US.  The woman repeated herself, insisting that Alice was not fat enough or loud enough to be from the US!
On that happy note … Day 3 was coming to an end.  Another perfect day in what is a very safe part of the city.  The Holiday Inn Express is 2 blocks from the action, level walking, nice people everywhere.

The Last Day began by sharing the Holiday Inn’s complimentary breakfast with Seth Holmes, a young man Alice “adopted” back in 2003.  She is so proud of Seth.  He not only has his Ph.D. in Anthropology but is also an M.D. and an Associate Professor at UC Berkeley.  His book, “Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies” is fascinating.  Plus one whole page in the Summary is about Alice.
Then it was time to meet her first love in high school and his wife.  She had not seen Jim in more than 50 years, which explains why she didn’t recognize him.  He looked like Hemingway.

Jim decided they should have lunch at Scoma’s … boasting San Francisco’s finest seafood.  (He had Alice at “seafood.”)
And she enjoyed the best crab Louie of her life.

It was great fun getting to know the old beau and his lovely wife as they are today.  She invited them to come up her way and she would treat them to lunch at Mt. Ts:  breaded and fried Road Kill with the best sausage gravy anywhere. 

After an elegant chocolate dessert, they bid farewell and parted company near Jefferson and Taylor.

Another musician was really rockin’ with Otis Redding’s rendition of “Dock of the Bay” when Alice nabbed a seat at a small corner table in the shady outside area of Grotto No. 9 … another place on Memory Lane.  She spent the rest of the afternoon there, listening to the ever so talented Les Edwins
Before too long, Alice had joined a happy, fun couple at the next table, and invited her driver, Derek, and Les to join them for a farewell drink.  It was a great last afternoon filled with fun and good music; fascinating stories and good people.

Finally Derek said it was time to go, so they hugged everyone and wished them well.  Then swung by the hotel, grabbed her luggage, and made it in plenty of time … listening to the mellow tunes of Antonio Carlos Jobim on the way.
Tip to women traveling alone:  Few if any of the events of the Fantastically Fun Last Day would have happened if someone else has been tagging along.  Trust me.

After another enjoyable Alaska flight home, Alice picked up one last piece of wisdom for women of a certain age traveling alone:  if you want better service by hotel shuttle drivers, tell the hotel person that you are “disabled.” 

While Alice cringed at being referred to as “disabled” (which she was most certainly not!)– she realized this was a time to swallow one’s pride to prevent a 5-mile trudge through Sea-tac, escalators and elevators, cris-crossing the road while dodging vans and buses hoping to wind up in the right place.
At least she was partially consoled by her free room upgrade where she collapsed in the bed and slept until the noon shuttle took her home.  (If you're keeping track, this is the second free hotel room upgrade for Alice ... and at the first hotel she asked for a special room, which upgraded her at no charge onto the 7th floor.)  ...   "Ask and ye shall receive" is Alice's motto in life.

Tip for women traveling alone:  It’s simply more fun!







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