Not everyone knows that the full San Francisco Experience is incomplete without a ride on the F-line trolley car down Market Street. Some time ago a really smart person decided to import a bunch of old streetcars from interesting cities like Milan and Philadelphia, spiff them up with new paint but otherwise leave them as in days of old, and run them along the Embarcadero and up Market. It’s the Market Street experience that counts; skip the Fisherman’s Wharf part and the tourists.
Plus, if you’re of a certain age, or a devotee of old movies, it’s hard to ride the F car without hearing Judy Garland singing Clang, clang, clang went the trolley somewhere in the background. Seventy-five cents for geezers and Judy Garland in the background, what’s not to love about the F-line?
So the other day I needed to go downtown from the Castro, and decided to hop an F-line car. The day is immediately brighter. I claim a spot on one of the wooden slat seats by the window and call a friend back east on my cellphone.
Within a few blocks the F-line clientele grows: we’re talking street people, transgenders, chess players, bag ladies and folks of multiple ethnicities that make up San Francisco’s ever-changing and always fascinating scene. It’s a scene seen most clearly from the F car. And occasionally within the F car. On this particular day this particular car quickly reached capacity-standing-room-only.
As we drew near Fifth Street, where the sidewalk chess games and opportunities for panhandling are centered and others of us had meetings or shopping in mind, a giant surge toward the rear exit door began. We were suddenly sardine’d in the aisles, mushed into one another to the distress of only a few. The rest of us just kept staring ahead toward the stop and minding our own business. I hung up my phone.
From the back of the car there had been occasional exclamations and oaths, which were generally ignored. It’s the better part of wisdom to ignore the shouters of oaths and obscenities in the back of the F car. But a few yards from the stop a very large gentleman, who was the source of the shouting, hauled off and wallopped a very large lady nearby. It was the sound one hears from the front row of a boxing match (where I did sit one time in my youth, lasting about 5 minutes before I burst into tears and had to dash out in shame and horror) — a dull THWOOP! with a simultaneous crracck that had to have been jawbone.
We surged, as one captive mass, in the general direction away from the altercation. The lady in question — no one could tell whether they were otherwise attached to one another, or if she just happened to be in the line of his ire — emitted an Oompff, followed by a few oaths of her own, but thanks to the sardine-like nature of the crowd, she stayed upright. A hush of wonder then fell over us all.
As we began our counter-sway, the trolley driver finally came to a full stop and opened the door, spilling us into the sunshine of Market Street. People smiled at one another as we disembarked, shaking our collective heads,
several asking if everyone was okay. The puncher and the punchee went their separate directions. Judy Garland was nowhere to be seen, but the song lingered on.