Friday, July 27, 2007


Let’s end this week of summer rerun travelogues with one of my favorite destinations – the City by the Bay.

The National Association of Tax Professionals finally scheduled its annual conference in San Francisco for 2004 (the association's 25th anniversary), as I have been suggesting each year in my conference evaluation. So of course I signed up as soon as possible. This was my 15th NATP conference in 17 years of membership (I missed 2002 and 2003).

The conference was held at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero Center. However, when in town I like to stay in the Union Square/Nob Hill area, near the theatre district. For this trip I selected the Hotel Union Square, a "boutique" hotel on Powell between Ellis and O'Farrell, across from "Lori's Diner" and a clothing store called "fcuk". The hotel was not air-conditioned, but merely opening the windows a bit provided lots of cool air.

The total cost of the trip, with airfare, hotel and airport shuttles, which was booked through, was about the same as the cost of just the room would have been had I stayed at the Hyatt, even with the reduced conference rate!

Each morning of the conference I walked from Union Square to the Embarcadero Center (yes I did!), usually down Market Street, walking back the first day and taking the California Avenue cable car the second and the historic F Market streetcar the third. The Market Street route avoided the steep hills for which San Francisco is famous.

On Wednesday and Thursday, during the lunch breaks, I enjoyed free noon-time concerts in the Justin Herman Plaza in front of the Embarcadero Center and across from the "Port of San Francisco" ferry terminal. A Christian children's choir from Sacramento sang on Wednesday, and on Thursday the music was provided by a jazz combo from New York City.

I was disappointed to learn that HAIRSPRAY, which I had not yet seen in NYC, had just finished a run at the Golden Gate Theatre, replaced by MOVING OUT. The other "Broadway house" offerings were BIG RIVER (saw the original), BUDDY - THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (which I had seen on my last trip to London), THE LION KING (no thanks), and I LOVE YOU, YOU'RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE (which I had seen in New York). I passed on all of these.

Instead I chose THE FANTASTIKS (I had never seen any production other than my own in Jersey City in the 1970s - directed by and featuring Sal Piro, famous for emceeing the midnight showings of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW in the Village) at the SF Playhouse, ARE WE ALMOST THERE?, a musical revue about travel downstairs in the Shelton Theatre complex, and NUNSENSE A-MEN! (which turned out to be the original NUNSENSE in drag - appropriate for San Francisco) in another room downstairs in the Shelton Theatre. I did not have far to walk, as both theatres were on Sutter Street between Powell and Mason.

Each theatre was smaller than the last. THE FANTASTIKS had 100+ seats, ARE WE ALMOST THERE? had 75+ seats, and NUNSENSE A-MEN! had 50+ seats, all "general admission" seating.

In the past I always purchased my tickets at the box-office. This trip, for the first time ever, I took advantage of the local "half-price day-of-performance" ticket booth, called "TIX Bay Area", which was located in Union Square. Unlike the TKTS Booth in Times Square there was no long line. Tickets are one-half the box-office price plus a service charge. THE FANTASTIKS was $19.00 and ARE WE ALMOST THERE? was $15.50. Unfortunately I had to pay the $25.00 full price for NUNSENSE A-MEN! because it was not available at TIX.

I had meat-loaf and a strawberry sundae at the 50s-themed "Lori's Diner" on my first night in town, and lobster ravioli at the "Eclipse Cafe" in the lobby of the Hyatt on Thursday evening. My "pre-theatre" dinners were at the nearby "Burger King" and a street side Pizza stop.

Although the conference ran four days, I arranged it so that I was finished with all my classes by Friday afternoon. Saturday morning, after breakfast at "Lori's Diner", I headed for the cable car "queue" on Powell, which was surprisingly short, and piled on the Powell-Hyde car headed for Fisherman's Wharf. I started at Ghiradelli Square and walked through Victorian Park to The Cannery, and down Jefferson Street to Pier 39.

I roamed the crowded pier and stopped to watch a comic juggler perform on the Crystal Geyser stage. I went to visit the sea lions but was truly surprised to find, instead of hundreds of the mammals lounging on the docks of the West Marina, one lone sea lion in the water.

While I walked through some of the stores on the pier, the extent of my shopping activity was to replenish my inventory of cat-themed birthday cards at "Poster Source". I had a leisurely lunch of chowder, salad, crab cakes, and mint ice cream cake at the "Sea Lion Cafe" overlooking K-Dock (the bill included a 50 cent "minimum wage fee" charge) before riding the historic F-Line streetcar back to Powell Street.

As mentioned above, the trip was booked as a package through, as was my last visit to Frisco in 2002. Once again everything went smoothly.

For another first, on this trip, instead of taking a taxi to and from Newark Liberty Airport, I decided to drive, parking in the off-site Vista lot (I had reserved online) and being shuttled to the terminal. Upon my return, instead of having to queue up and wait for a cab, once I retrieved my checked bag I called Vista and was promptly picked up and taken to the lot, where my car was parked out front waiting for me. The entire cost for parking for six full days, including a 15% airport tax and tips, was $74.50, probably a buck or two less than I would have paid for taxis. The only downside was having to find a parking spot when I got home.

I thoroughly enjoyed the 69 and 70 degree days in San Francisco, while it was in the high 70s and low 80s in New Jersey.


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