Sunday, March 23, 2008

Will turns 30

If you don't want to read my diatribe, feel free to jump ahead to the pictures...

Will's 30th Birthday 2008-03-23

At long last, the proverbial cat is out of the bag. I have been planning Will's 30th birthday, which happened to fall on Easter Sunday this year, for a few months, and Will was quite surprised, and pleased!

We hop in the car around 8:30am, and I tell Will that he's driving and I'm navigating. At first he thinks we're headed for the Livermore airport. He then experiences about 2 microseconds of disappointment between the time he realizes we're heading to SF (not his favorite city), and the time he guesses that our first stop is the WWII sub, USS Pampanito.

Around 9:30am, we reach the parking garage at Lower Nob Hill, conveniently staged just across the street from the Hotel Carlton, where, unbeknownst to Will, I have a reservation for that night. Much to my chagrin, it's actually a vallet parking garage, and the attendant asks in broken English how long we'll be staying. So much for my planned moment of surprise later that afternoon when we head back to the car and I casually reach into the trunk to pull out our concealed overnight bags. Instead, the surprise is un-romantically pried from my lips during an awkward attempt to penetrate the language barrier.

The next leg of our journey is an exhilarating cable car ride down the Powell & Hyde line to the waterfront. This being my first time ever on a cable car, I'm certainly caught off guard by the gruff gripman, who vaguely gestures Will and I onto opposite sides of the crowded car, not seeming to notice or care that twice I attempt to thrust our fare into his hand. After a block, the gripman stops the car and asks if I want to move to the opposite side where Will is, as if to fill some phantom vacancy that was made in the past 30 seconds. I hastily oblige. The car is so crowded that I find myself in close quarters with an apparent 20-something D&D fanatic, attempting to chat me up whilst I hang on for dear life as the car plummets toward the oblivion of the Hyde Street pier. Meanwhile Will, hanging on a few bars over, enjoys leaning dangerously close to oncoming cable cars.

The USS Pampanito is a spectacularly restored WWII submarine, and Will and I both thoroughly enjoy the tour (check out the photo album, below). We are glad to have purchased the audio tour for an additional $2 apiece, as it offers lively commentary from crewmen themselves, as well as tantalizing factiods about the ship and its voyages.

Once through with the tour, we have only an hour until lunch, so we decide to tour the nearby USS Jeremiah O'Brien, a WWII liberty ship. The engine room is the most spectacular part of the tour, staffed by docent with encyclopedic knowledge pertaining to every aspect of the ship. Apparently, the ship was featured in the movie Titanic, and the producers went to great lengths to doctor the images of the O'Brien's steam engines to look just like those of the Titanic.

Now we're ready for lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe on Pier 39, where we meet our friend Steve. Will spends part of his birthday lunch trying to prove to me that the inane 80s song, Pop Goes the World, is not a fantastical fabrication. After an arduous search, our waitress finds a colleague who believes the song is "vaguely familiar."

Lunch is over around 2:30pm. At this point I'm thinking - OK, we have half an hour before the shuttle picks us up. How am I going to kill this time? (Little does Will know that we are about to be whisked away to the SFO airport for a Helicopter Tour.) Apparently, everything that everyone has ever said about Pier 39 is true. It is a cartoonishly grotesque tourist trap that real people actually living in SF wouldn't dare set foot on. It's my first, and hopefully last visit ever to Pier 39. Will, Steve and I amble around the pier, nervously cracking jokes to throw Will off the trail. Shortly before 3pm, Steve departs.

Once again, my romantic vision of Will reading the words "SF Helicopter Tours" on the door of the red shuttle as we approach does not hold water. Instead, it goes something like this: The clock strikes three, and we make a mad dash to the pick-up area, hopping onto our awaiting chariot. I can't read Will's face as we take our seat, so I rather coyly ask, "are you surprised?" He replies, "uh...yeah." I'm disappointed that he doesn't seem more excited.

Will (confused): So, the Hilton?
Julie: Huh? You think we're going to the Hilton? I guess you didn't read the side of the van when we got into the shuttle.
Will (relieved): Oh, I saw the big "H", and that the van was red, so I thought we were going to the Hilton!
Julie (to other passengers): He doesn't know where we're going!
Passenger #1: Oh, so he doesn't know about the bungee jumping, off the bridge?
Will (sarcastically): Goody!
Julie: Well, you can either look outside and read what it says on the door, or wait 'til we get there.

So, Will jumps outside the cab and re-alights with a huge grin on his face. I'm greeted with a big hug and a "thank you!" Our shuttle carries two flights worth of passengers for our aircraft, the 6-passenger Bell 407. We are escorted to the executive terminal of SFO while the shorter first flight takes off. After eagerly waiting for 15-20 minutes, we're driven right to the "landing pad" for the helicopter, which is an approximately 6' x 8' trailer that our pilot lands on, perfectly square. Fortunately my request that the birthday boy ride shotgun is granted, so Will gets the best view.

Before I know it, we're airborne. It's exhilarating, and I can see why some are addicted to flying. The day could not have been more perfect for flying, and there is nothing in sight to obstruct our view. We get a spectacular tour of South San Francisco, the coast, and at the climax of our journey, we fly under, then over the Golden Gate Bridge. We see Angel Island, Alcatraz, downtown, the Bay Bridge and Oakland from across the bay. Our flight is 90 kilometers, and it lasts for 25-30 minutes. Our pilot is friendly, and Will proceeds to grill her on her flight experience and training, as he is keenly interested in pursuing flight training himself. Speaking for myself, I'm a bit let down as the flight ends. I miss the free feeling - the ability to fly and land just about anywhere.

The shuttle drops us off a few blocks from the parking garage, so we gather our things and check into the Hotel Carlton. We head a couple of blocks over to Modern Thai restaurant, where we meet Will's sister and brother-in-law, Rebecca and Todd, as well as his long time friend Brad and girlfriend Yasko. We have a wonderful time, and the food is excellent. The wait staff even serve up Will's birthday cake, which I surreptitiously stowed in a cooler in the trunk during the day. After dinner, we hop in the car with Brad and Yasko to check out the view from Coit tower at night, but unfortunately it is closed. Will and I head over there the next morning, but by now we're a bit spoiled by the views that can be seen from a helicopter!

All-in-all, Will's 30th birthday has turned out beautifully!

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