It’s Super Bowl week. America’s most popular, yet unrecognized holiday. This is Thanksgiving with a better football game. If congress would finally pass a law, giving us Monday morning off – I’d be willing to say goodbye to Valentine’s and Labor Day forever. The NFL put together a week of interactive events and attractions, all intended to draw people into San Francisco. Being a Raider fan, I have no dog in this Super Bowl fight, but would love to watch the Broncos lose another one.
So with a wild hair, and nothing to do on Wednesday, I made a lone wolf journey into the city. The ACE commuter train would be my vehicle of choice. For those that are unaware, you can hop on the ACE train at the end of Yosemite Avenue here in Manteca, and be in downtown SF in roughly an hour and forty five minutes. Knowing with certainty that I’d be imbibing a drink or six, this option was both safe and sane – or so I was to believe.
We departed Manteca at 7 a.m., an extremely comfortable journey through the Altamont’s back passes. I highly recommend the trip on scenery alone. The unaffected lush green hills and cattle grazing, give a glimpse as to what this area looked like years ago – before that large ugly highway littered with windmills decided to settle.
Arriving in Pleasanton, we board for a short bus ride to the BART station. This is where my “Country Boy in the City” genes kick in, and begin the adventure. The Bay Area has always been a puzzle to me — one that I’ve never taken the time to figure out. And why? I never go there alone, and am comfortable relying on the navigating prowess of friends and family. On this day, when I needed my Ferdinand Magellan like skills to kick in, my compass was being guided by the cast of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
I’d been people gazing, and found a dude that looked just like me from 1996. I daydreamed, thinking of how much I missed my feathered hair days, and the music of that era. Bus riders departed at various stops in front of large Tech companies. Parts of Pleasanton I’d never seen, but was certain these were the people that made sure my cell phone played music. Kudos. The human flora and fauna in this concrete jungle all look the same to me. So when me and my 1996 look alike were the only 2 left on the bus, I assumed he must be headed to the BART as well. The bus stopped, and his exit was followed by this country bumpkin. I was head down taking inventory of my belongings unaware that I was following him up the walkway of a random building. And there was not a BART station in sight.
So there I am. It’s 8 a.m. on the streets of Pleasanton equipped with nothing but a cell phone and a small backpack, loaded with 2 sleeves of Ritz crackers and a few tangerines. I realize most people at this point would be able to whip out their phone, and the problem would be solved. I’ve stated on many occasions that I take a strange pride in the fact that I’m not tech-capable. This was not one of those times. Usually in these instances I walk up to the first human I see, and like a lost child, I ask which way I should go. But in the Industrial Tech building area of back Pleasanton, there was not a person to be found.
The Wal-Mart sign high in the distance was my only hope. The greeter gave me directions, and I made the 15 minute walk to BART.
The hustle and bustle of the BART station, is a polar opposite in comparison to the ACE. Like jumping from a Jimmy Stewart movie, and landing on the screen of Bruce Willis flick. Keep your head on a swivel. BART grants the zenith of all people gazing arenas. Yuppies in suits, Transients half asleep, Hipsters talking of beard cream – and yet somehow, I feel they are all peering back – as if I’m the strange one.
Landing at the Market Street stop, I make my way up the stairs to Weirdo Central, like a fish out of water. I may as well be wearing overalls with a hay bale backpack. There is a heavy police presence due to the Super Bowl. Yet they all seem unconcerned with the man passed out, or the nearly nude woman selling hemp trinkets. I approach an officer for directions to the Moscone Center.
Remember the Polaner All Fruit Spread commercial from the late 80s? The one in which the gentleman at the swank dinner party asks “Can you please pass the jelly?” in his most Hee-Haw dialect. This is how I feel asking any question, to anyone in this city. They give me a look like I’m some rube, that just got off a bus and train he had no business taking. (They may have a point there, but common courtesy shouldn’t be a luxury afforded only to those residing west of the Altamont.)
I pressed on with hunger in my belly. This adventure into such a metropolitan hub, was worthy of me splurging on breakfast. And when those golden arches came into view, I assumed a McMuffin in this neck of the woods would come with kale – or some other unnecessary tasteless veggie.
I sat and ate my #3, and watched as the first official crazy person of the day entered the joint — filthy trench coat, a few garbage bags containing his wares – and jabbering a torrent of sweet nonsense for all to hear. He got into line, and most the SF commoners kept head down, as if old “looney tunes” was not even in the room. I sensed that this only galvanized his desire and need to fill the room with his loud jibberish. It was finally his turn to order, when a customer already eating asked the counter lady for some ketchup. Her decision to hand this person a few packets, sent him into a rage. “How dare you let someone cut past me in line!” (It was much more colorful than that, but Dennis Wyatt won’t let me cuss in the paper....yet.)
“Sir, you need to leave.....” was met with him slapping her face from across the counter, knocking her glasses to the ground. I stood from my perch, but noticed the rest of the room just stood with heads down. Is this common place? Am I out of line to think this dude needs a swift kick in the seat?!...He spun and started swinging his “suitcases” at everyone — “I’ll kill everyone in here!”
I’m by no means a hero, but the fact that this dude weighed $1.25 if he was carrying a bag of potatoes in his shorts – let me know I’d probably be able to handle the situation. “Sir, If you would kindly leave....” I said with stern tone, (Once again, these were not the words I used)..and as he sized me up, BAM!..The woman that had been behind the counter, had come out from behind it, and caught him with a haymaker to the jaw. He went down, and rose only to run to the street yelling “Assault Assault!”...The many uniformed police took action – and me and my McMuffined belly were down the road.
I wasn’t a block along, when I noticed a panhandler with a sign that read “Why lie? I’m a heroin addict, and need $ to avoid puking my brains out.” An equal level of curiosity and disgust hit me. It was cheeky way of humanizing his unfortunate situation with a bit of humor. And once again I took stock of the fact that nobody seemed to care – much less hand him a few bucks. I was a block down the street when, I spun and headed back to him. (Mostly for purposes of this column.) I intended to appease my conscience, however upon approach, I noticed him talking with another vagrant, and noticed something odd – the very lucid look in his eyes.
For a man advertising being in the throes of addiction, he sure kept eye contact and spoke the King’s English extremely well. “Hey bro, I got $5 for you – but you gotta let me take a pic of you and that sign” I said. He suddenly became sheepish “Ah man that’s a little embarrassing.” he answered.
REALLY?? “Dude, you’re standing in the middle of SF, with a sign intending to mock your supposed heroin addiction – and me taking a picture is the embarrassing part?!...You even on heroin?” I hit him with. And a stupid little smirk came across his face, “I’ve tried it, c’mon man, I’m just trying to make a few bucks.” In a nutshell, he was attempting to take advantage of the influx of tourists during Super Bowl week. I think he thought exposing the fact he’s a BS artist would diffuse the situation, and I’d hand him the $5 I’d been holding openly the entire time.
I held my phone up to take a pic — “If you want the $5, hold the sign and smile”...and he did. The transaction of a lifetime was made, and I headed to the Moscone Center.
The security force and police presence was doubled there. A line of people waiting to be searched and metal detected wrapped around the corner. But boy was it worth it. The Moscone Center was covered wall to wall with the coolest sports memorabilia and nostalgic NFL items ever. A row of every great players jersey’s for sale. It was a million square feet of football lover’s heaven. And in one section I found Press Row. Every sports talk radio show and station in America had set up camp – and were doing there shows live. I instantly knew one thing. I had to get in there.
Press Row was sectioned off from most people, and without a press pass and accreditation, you were forced to watch from behind a barrier. Nothing a little guile and charm on my part couldn’t fix. I focused on the slow corner of the room, and began chatting up a Staff/Security guard. Barbara was probably in her early 50s. A couple of gentleman carrying large cameras walked up. I said “Hi”, and shortly after a man inside the barriers gave “the wave”, the signal to Barbara to let the cameraman in. I didn’t hesitate, I walked in with them. Afterall Barbara had heard my say “Hi” — the international sign that we are together.
And I was in!!
I kept a low profile, as I was without one of those fancy passes being worn around the neck. I was ten feet from Jim Rome as he interviewed Cowboy great Michael Irvin on his show. I watched as my favorite Sports Show Host Gary Radnich did his thing.
And then it happened. Through a door I stood right next to, in walked all time Raider great Jerry Rice. (Yes, I know Niner fans – don’t get your red and gold panties in a wad.) He was doing an interview within a few feet of me. And during a break I got to shake his hand. All while being very cognizant of the fact that I did not belong in there, and should probably head for safe ground ASAP. And like karma, I was stopped as I attempted to exit Press Row. Not because I was without a press pass, but because I had my small back pack on. The small thin strapped carry bag had managed to escape security’s eye when I’d entered the building.
“Sir please come with us”...and I was escorted to a table in the security section. “How’d you get in with that backpack?!” they questioned. I was honest, “I don’t know, I just walked in.”...Then it got serious, “Sir, please open the backpack and show us the content”.
….and in step with the fictional likes of Die Hard’s Hans Gruber or a Bond villain – my nefarious plot was foiled. I was forced to lay my two sleeves of Ritz crackers and tangerines on the table. The head security guard tossed them in the trash, and with a disgusted shake of his head, (Much like the one I’d given the McDonald’s loony, and the heroin fakey) he said “You gotta go man.”
….and I decided I’d had enough. Took BART back to Pleasanton. And hopped on the first ACE train back to Manteca.
Have a great Super Bowl Weekend folks.
“It’s not Where ya do, It’s What ya do.”