July 22, 2014

The Escape

The Golden Gate Bridge lived up to its reputation the afternoon I needed to see it: a spectacular, majestic monument against the sunlit horizon of the city skyline. It took my breath away. The harbor was alive with boats, their white sails contrasting with the deep blue bay. I strolled Fisherman’s Wharf, and in particular, the famous Pier 39, with all of its shops and restaurants.

There was the street fare, dancers and musicians, children on roller skates, elderly couples just enjoying the view. Angel Island was in the near distance and, on occasion, a jet airliner passed overhead.

I was envious to think that most people have such relaxing afternoons. Seems I’m always in front of the computer (as I am writing this), keeping abreast of the news, writing my legislators, and often forgetting the world out there is anything but the realm of cyberspace.

It was refreshing to feel the salty air, to hear the bells of trolleys in the railed streets. San Francisco, in a way, is little piece of New York City, alive with the unusual.

I would treat myself to lunch in an outdoor restaurant overlooking the Bay; I’d go shopping later before taking the long crawl home, and consider the afternoon a sorely-needed, definitely-hit-the-spot experience. A mini-vacation, if you will, from the everyday bombardment of animal exploitation and activist alerts.

But I spent a good hour reading the posted menus on restaurant doors: crab, lobster, sailfish, shrimp, and names defining other sea creatures I’d never even heard of before. I was lucky to find an Italian restaurant on the Wharf but its fare was mainly steak and veal, turning me off completely to whatever pasta may have been buried in the fine print. I passed food vendors selling hotdogs and ice cream. I passed the crab boiling pots on the sidewalks, the lobster steamers, the prawn crunchers. What a life: to eat anything you wanted and not give a damn about how it died.

I heard the sea lions long before I saw them. Crowds had gathered at the west side of Pier 39 to watch the cumbersome animals emerge from the sea onto docks reserved especially for them. By now I was a bit sarcastic. When I read the sign that explained how the seals had taken over the Pier but were allowed to stay at the request of tourists, I got snide about half-truths. Somewhere on that sign, I thought, the battle it took activists to rescue the sea lions from government guns should have at least been mentioned.

Humans are fascinated by animals. Carousels and posters and images on tee-shirts, stuffed animals and statuettes, feeding pigeons and sea lions, buying books and toys, puzzles and games, all filled with animals, real and imagined. And yet so few of them have any inkling whatsoever that they’re wading neck-deep in animal exploitation and misery caused by their own hands.

Boy, did I need a vacation from The Escape.

I hadn’t felt that alone in the world since I couldn’t remember.

Back to my truck I went, longing for the computer screen and my fellow comrades. San Francisco, enlightened? Hardly. I passed Safeway and hunger drove me inside (so much for that quaint, romantic lunch on a sunny dock overlooking the blue harbor and its sailboats). I bought an apple, a jar of green olives, some sourdough bread, and sun-dried tomatoes. I’d eat in the truck on my way home, and say goodbye to an otherwise waste of a day.

At the counter, the female cashier asked me if I was a vegetarian. She said she noticed I didn’t have any meat in my stash, and was just curious; it was something she often noticed.

“I’m a vegetarian, too,” she said after I nodded. “I can’t believe what we do to animals. When people ask me where they can find the meat section, I point them to the back and tell them the morgue is thataway.”

I couldn’t speak for a moment. I just stared at her and bit my lip.

“Are you all right?” she asked, somewhat puzzled.

I smiled at her. “I am now.”

I had just escaped The Escape.

We’re out there, aren’t we, in little pockets here and there, in the middle of it all, doing our own work, some of us in quieter ways? That’s why I’d come to San Francisco: for the reminder.

“The morgue is thataway.” Ha!

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