I love San Francisco, it’s an interesting place. It’s said that you can travel the entire world without ever leaving the city limits, which is essentially true, given our diverse citizenry.
As a tour guide, who roams the city streets on a daily basis in a big ol’ tour bus, I see a lot of interesting things.
I was assigned to a charter tour once, which consisted of middle schoolers. An entire bus full of 12-14 year olds with five adult chaperones in charge.
As we rolled down the main drag in town – Market Street – a young lady of about twelve tugged on my shirtsleeve and said, “Mister, can I ask you a question?”
“Why, of course you can, sweetheart, what is it?”
She pointed to the corner on the right.
“Why is there a statue of a naked man on that corner?”
“Oh, honey, uh…” I wasn’t sure how to explain this, so I just came right out with it. “That’s not a statue.”
At that very moment, as if on cue in a movie scene, the crosswalk light turned green and the flesh-and-blood statue strolled across Market in front of the bus, his little ‘doingy down under’ going “bouncy-bouncy-bouncy.”
A collective chorus of “OOOOHHHHHHAAAA!!!” rose up as a cacophony from all the tweens who were horrified at what they’d just witnessed. Well, the girls, anyway. Most of the boys seemed to think they’d just seen “the coolest thing EVER!”
I see a lot of strange and wondrous things from the top of the tour bus, but sometimes I’ll be off duty and happen upon something weird going down.
A story a lot of tour guides like to tell is about the two peregrine falcons that are in charge of keeping the pigeon population down in the Civic Center area. Can’t have those fecking pigeons pooping on city hall, now can we?
The city brought in some professional “falconeers” who installed a breeding pair near SF City Hall. The falcon is a natural predator of the pigeon, a species of bird that falcons refer to as ‘lunch.’
I live three blocks from Civic Center, and one day I stepped off a city bus and walked toward my apartment. As I approached a corner, I noticed a flock of about twenty pigeons roosting on a fence, bobbing their little heads while cooing and pooping, basically just doing what pigeons do.
It kind of startled me when they all suddenly took flight right in front of me, whooshing up into the air as if a dog had run up on them, barking like a maniac.
But there was no dog. Instead, I heard a screech, and a falcon came whooshing in with its talons spread in full attack mode. One little hapless Pigeon was kind of a straggler and had been the last one off the fence, so that’s who became lunch. The falcon grabbed it mid-air, about thirty feet in front of me, with a tiny cloud of pin feathers flying as the falcon swooped in and *BAM,* then flew off with a dangling little creature who was suddenly having a very terrible day.
I looked around and, although there were about eight people in my vicinity, no one had witnessed this but me.
I was simply astounded at what I’d just seen. The timing was a perfect brew and would probably never occur right in front of me again.
Speaking of pigeons, every now and then I have to eat crow, but it’s not so bad. About three days after I witnessed the falcon incident, I was giving a tour and telling everyone on the bus about it.
These tour buses are the open top kind, and I’m up front with a microphone in hand. We were downtown, near city hall, and I had just been telling everyone how rare it is to spot one of the peregrine falcons – let alone see one snatch a pigeon out of mid-air right in front of you.
A guy sitting about five rows back on the bus raised his hand and said, “Hey, Dave, you say it’s rare to spot the falcons downtown?”
“Yeah, they’re quite elusive, their nest is on a ledge about nine stories up and you can’t see it from the street.”
We were sitting in traffic, waiting for a signal change so we could make a right turn, and smart-alecky guest guy points up to the second story ledge of a building right in front of us and says, “Well, is that one?”
I turned to look and, sure enough, there was a falcon sitting on that ledge. He (or she?) was just kind of watching us, or rather me, and I felt like it was thinking, “Are you still talking about me having lunch the other day? Get over it, human, I’m not going around telling other falcons about that pizza you had on Friday.”
Your typical run-of-the-mill falcon / Photo by C. Stone on Pexels.com
I’ve lived in places where things seldom change and a stroll to the market is usually without surprises, but not in this city. The swirling whirlwind of humanity puts on a constant show, making for something worth telling at the end of any given day.
Spiderman is climbing the lamp post down in Fisherman’s Wharf again. Anything to up the tips tourists toss into his red bucket with the web design on it.
Kenny the Klown is another Fisherman’s Wharf street performer, who stopped me one day as I was walking by and said, “Hey Dave, guess what? I bought a bubble machine off of Amazon, it’ll be here Wednesday!” So now, as of that Wednesday about two years ago, we always know how to find Kenny the Klown, you just follow the stream of bubbles that are floating down Jefferson Street.
Kenny makes a good living twisting up balloon animals for the kiddies and collecting tips from the parents. For a 5-year-old he’ll be happy to twist together a little balloon doggie or kitty cat. If you’re 50 years old, he’ll make you a balloon Ferrari. Tip him a little more for that, gentlemen.
A drunken woman boards a city bus and continuously announces to all the other riders two things: She turned 54 as of that day, because it was her birthday, and she had “fell into the ocean, so that’s why I’m all wet.” We were nowhere near the ocean.
A man on a bicycle zips through the walking crowd downtown, weaving quickly through a sea of suits and briefcases, but he makes contact with a man in a crosswalk who didn’t get out of the way fast enough.
A shout accompanied by a flying briefcase, and crosswalk guy sprawled face down, as the bicycle flipped over end, ejecting the rider onto his head.
Bike guy and crosswalk guy both sprung to their feet, and I waited for the inevitable curse words, but was pleasantly surprised when bike guy loudly apologized with, “I’m sorry bro!” and crosswalk guy, retrieving his briefcase, laughed and said, “No worries man, shit happens!”
I’m heading off to work soon, where I’ll be spinning around the city on an open-top bus once again. I wonder what will go down today?
I’m sure to witness at least one arrest, a slew of pretty girls, someone without pants (or anything else, the weather is nice right now) and at least five people who will stumble in front of our bus in a wavering daze.
It’s always a show here. Intermission is my lunch time.
I think today I’ll do pizza again.
MARCH OF 2020 NOTE: It’s a different city now. We’re in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak, and although we know it will end someday, as of this writing we don’t have a clue when. We have no idea how it’s going to go, but we hope for the best. San Francisco is literally a ghost town, the tour company shut down worldwide and only ‘essential’ businesses are allowed to operate.
Since falcons were mentioned above, if anyone is looking for some riveting entertainment I highly recommend the LIVE FALCON CAM at the PG&E building here in San Francisco.