Alpineing in San Francisco

by - Kirk Patrick Wheeler, Series V, Richmond, CA
- as appeared on the "Alpine e-mail List" on 10/6/99

I work in the San Francisco Financial District.  Over the last six months of
rebuilding my car I've been forced to ride BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)
into the city from the North Bay.  Mass transit can really get you down on
some days.

Now with the car up and running properly again, I can finally take it all
the way into the City now and again (and again, and again...).  Today was a
particularly stellar day and I just have to share. . .

MORNING:  Get on the road about 6:45.  Too late really, traffic is already
backing up.  Morning is gorgeous though.  Pinkish over the Berkeley hills as
I cruise along about 45 mph across from the Bay Meadows race track.  Bit
overcast, car is running great.  Faint glow of the gauges keep me company in
my solitude amongst throngs of people alone in their own vehicles.  When
gaps appear, a slight pressure on the accelerator and the Alpine jumps
forward to take advantage, but not too much.  No crazies on the road this
morning, just regular folks going to work.

Backup is pretty bad getting out of "the maze" and into the Bay Bridge toll
plaza.  Car in front of me has trouble at the toll gate, when I get there I
give the lady a big smile and a friendly hello.  Must have been the first
one of the day because I startle her so much she almost drops my toll.  She
recovers and gives me a big smile and a friendly "Hey" back as I merge back
into the masses of vehicles.

Still very slow up the metering lights.  We all creep forward and I am glad
for the electric fan.  I used to dread this part, as the temperature was
always too high for comfort and there was no room for boilovers unless I
wanted to be in the traffic report on the radio for the next two hours.
Temperature stays down as I get up the light.  Slight fantasy here, the
lights are staged and we all creep up and when our green comes it is like
the checkered flag goes down.  We're off and all jockeying for position to
be in the correct lane when they neck down onto the Bay Bridge.

My light comes and I shoot for the far right hand lane.  This will get me an
unobstructed view over the edge of the bridge.  From here I can watch the
Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island, Treasure Island and its marina, Alcatraz
(of course), the boat traffic on the Bay, but most importantly I can see the
City and the towering buildings that seem so far below me from the bridge.
I get beat out of my lane by a bimbo box (slang, only slightly pejorative,
for those dastardly minivans that make the rest of the road invisible from a
low Alpine when they are in front of you).  That's OK.  A quick slalom
around a slow moving dump truck and a tanker rig and I'm in where I wanted
to be.  Front end and steering are tight and place me exactly where I want
to be.  Plenty of power when I want to get positioned just so.  Brakes are
perfect and light for any fine adjustments.  Lots of room in front and no
obstructions to my view, perfect.  Pace is around 40-50 mph, perfect for an
Alpine with no overdrive.  I huumm across the Bay and enjoy the view as the
sun rises behind me to light up the City and the Golden Gate.

Get off the bridge, around a turn or two and duck into a garage a coupla
blocks from work.  Walk into the office with a smile on my face and no-one
knows why.

Lunch rolls around and the sky is slightly overcast and a bit cool.  Perfect
San Francisco weather.  A certain redhead in my office (whom Karen, my
beloved spouse, has met and approved as a luncheon partner) can arrange a
longish lunch.  We walk to the garage and put the top down.  Car is still
slightly warm from the morning run and it starts running perfectly
immediately, no warming up needed.

Pop over the hill to where they are building the new Baseball Stadium on the
waterfront.  Mountains of steel and rebar.  Roads are all torn up, but
Alpine doesn't mind at all.  Quick and hard left at the stadium and we're
driving along the waterfront.  It's been gentrified recently, but there are
still a few old dives left over.  Red's is one of my favorites, cheep,
honest, no pretensions, everything comes with a beer.  Hamburger and a beer,
hotdog and a beer, chilidog and a beer, and the beer is any kind you want as
long as its regular Budweiser in a long neck bottle.  Its too soon for lunch
so we keep going.

Cruise along the waterfront and past the Ferry Terminal and Pier One.  They
are rebuilding it all and doing a very nice job of it.  Reminds me of the
farewell party the City had for Herb Caen when he left us, slight sadness
here.  We keep going all the way until we reach Pier 39.  I usually detour
around this as it is always a mess.  But hey, its not a weekend, we brave it
and are rewarded handsomely.  Drive right on through Pier 39, get to gawk at
the tourists and be gawked back at.  Pier 39 is something I enjoy in very
small doses, this is about perfect.

From Pier 39 we head over to the Marina Green and the San Francisco Yacht Club and the wave organ.  The Marina Green give a fabulous view of the Bay and out the Golden Gate Bridge.  Lots of pretty people come here to walk their dogs and fly their kites or practice their rollerblading (or all
three).  No kites today, the rest is as usual.  Drive around the corner and
along the yacht club.  Lots of very pretty boats.  Out at the very end of
the spit is San Francisco's famous wave organ.  A while back one of our
artist buried a bunch of pipes in the rocks along the Bay and as the waves
and tides surge, the pipes give off a moaning symphony that can be quite
eerie.  We get there to find they've blocked off the access road and you can
only walk out. That's OK, the view back at the Gate is still spectacular,
even if it doesn't frame my Alpine in the picture.

Back on the road we pass by the Palace of Fine Arts.  This is the last piece
left over from the 19odd San Francisco Expo held slightly after the 1906
quake and re-established San Francisco as a recovered City.  Head up to
Chestnut Street.  This is a favorite hangout of the young divorcee.
Weekends on Chestnut Street are hectic with more spandex and bare flesh per
square inch than anything else I've seen North of LA.  Late Lunch on a
Tuesday it's quiet.  None of the restaurants we want are open.  Keep going
and finally find a nice quiet French crepe place.  To get there we have to
head a little into Pacific Heights.  I LOVE my Alpine on the hills of SF.
First gear across the intersection, slide into second just as you reach the
incline, floor the gas and with a mighty roar it accelerates strait up into
the sky.  Put the clutch in and hit the brake just as you reach the stop
sign and get ready to do it again.  We're laughing like a coupla kids.  Hey,
we are a coupla kids.  The visitors can keep the cable cars, let me have my

After lunch we head up Lombard Street.  This leads us to heading DOWN
Lombard Street with its twisty turns and red brick.  Lots of tourists
walking along with cameras.  We smile as we make it into a few people's
vacation photos.  I can see the slide show now, "Red Alpine negotiating the
turns of Lombard Street."  Glad my brakes are in good shape as the only way
to do Lombard is slowly with lots of brake.

From here I would have liked to head for the Coit Tower.  Coit Tower stands
above the City and provides fabulous views.  Also, around the base is a
rather fabulous mural depicting life in San Francisco a few years back.  To
get an idea of how long ago, it depicts San Jose as a place of Peach and
Apricot orchards.  No silicon yet.  To get to Coit Tower you have to go
through North Beach, the home of the Beatniks, in front of some rather
fabulous old Italianate churches and up a long twisty road that circles
around the hill.  Oh, well, next time.

Instead we head straight back to the office through China Town.  China Town
is the only place where I feel that the Alpine is not a small vehicle. It is
just right.  It squeezes between parked delivery vans that have other cars
stopped dead.  It is almost like you are walking amongst the throng of
people.  Still, very glad to have that electric fan.

Down to the bottom of China Town and enter the Financial District at the
foot of the TransAmerica Pyramid building.  As we slide through the
'canyons' the sun disappears, we look up and can see the tops of the
buildings as they reach up into the sky above us in the artificial twilight.
We're late, I drop my friend off in front of our building and am off to the
garage to leave the Alpine.

Back to the office, late for a meeting, and a big smile on my face.  Second
time that day.  People don't understand.  Rumors of Prozac are starting,
naah, just a good day with an Alpine in San Francisco.

Garage has lost my Alpine.  Cannot remember where they put it after lunch.
Finally find it tucked into a back corner looking sweet as can be and
winking at us all for having had so much fun at our expense.  Back across
the Bay Bridge, across the lower deck this time, not as good a view.  I had
not noticed, but when my friend exited the car at our building, she had left
the metal buckle of the seat belt hanging out the door.  As I am concerned
about the banging I hear and the damage doubtlessly being done to the paint,
I exit onto Yerba Buena Island halfway across the Bay Bridge.  The Highway
Patrol who was pulling over the bimbo box in front of me thought I was
following him.  After assuring him I was in need of no assistance, tucking
the buckle back inside the car, I am off again.  Almost.  Getting back on to
the Bay Bridge mid span is not for the faint of heart.  No matter how Alpine
does on the hills of SF, it is still less than 45 mph most areas with
four-way stops.  Here it is 60+ and no place to gather momentum.  It is a
stop sign right on the edge of the traveled way.  With a motorcycle cop
behind me, no way to cheat.  I wait for an opening and floor it.  I don't
like to drive this way, but Alpine does not seem to mind.  It responds
immediately and by the time I shift from third to fourth I've caught the car
beside me and by the time my adrenaline dies down, I'm off the bridge.  Rest
of the ride home is quiet.  Sun is setting as I pull into the driveway and
realize I forgot to buy ice.  Oh, well, back out we go again.   Oh, darn!

Return to Mrs. Wheeler's home page.