Friday, July 31, 2009

California Collision: Fisherman's Wharf

In 1932, an unknown 17 year-old, Joe DiMaggio, played in his first baseball game for the San Francisco Seals. He was the son of a fisherman, one of hundreds who left San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf every morning, and with good fortune, returned with a boat full of fish.

Hence the name, Fisherman's Wharf. A few fishing boats still call the Wharf home, but now it serves as one of the must-see tourist attractions in the City by the Bay.

The Wharf is part Key West, part Boston's Quincy Market, part Niagara Falls (sans the falls), part Chicago's Navy Pier. Oh, Times Square, too. If you like T-shirt shops, wax museums, Ripley's Believe It Or Not emporiums, overpriced restaurants, and street peformers, then Fishermans Wharf is for you.

Speaking of restaurants, for years the Yankee Clipper and his brother Tom owned an Italian restaurant there, Joe DiMaggio's Grotto.

The Wharf's street performers are what pulled me there, but I came away disappointed. A friend of mine--whose wife is a regular reader of this blog--played guitar for a few weeks on the Wharf, and told me about some of the performers he interacted with during his stint there. One had an impeccable pirate outfit, complete with a large parrot on his shoulder. He'd pose for pictures, and if the pose-ees didn't drop cash in his kitty, he'd point his gun (a prop) at them and insult them until they paid up. Another told my friend that his wife threw him out of the house the night before, so he headed to the Wharf and set up shop on the sidewalk as a balloon artist. Was this his thought process? "Well, the wife kicked me's balloon sculpture time for me." He was a pretty good one, my friend told me, so my guess is that he already knew the Wharf well.

I wasn't there long enough to find out who just got dumped, but also, many of the performers were the silent type, such as the woman on the upper right, a live mannequin. Hey, at least mimes (I hate 'em, by the way) move around a bit. The silver guys on the left danced to Michael Jackson songs playing on a boom box. They didn't talk either. Oh, I almost forgot, the wax museum moved its wax-o Jacko out front, next to the ticket booth, which meant I could snap the picture on the right without having to pay. Alas, the museum didn't have anyone pointing a gun at me. There were a few cards next to Jackson's statue expressing remorse. It didn't occur to me at the time to look for cash inside the cards.

I saw a few artists, including the man on the left who I assume created those neon skeleton thingees. Yes, there was one of those spray-paint artists. But very few musicians.

All in all, the street performers were pretty lame. The whole lot of them. And I was there on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, and the Wharf was packed with tourists--I wasn't there on an "off day."

I covered the sea lions in an earlier post, but for the last twenty years, a colony of several hundred of sea lions have called the Pier 39 section of Fisherman's Wharf home. They are the primary fishers there now.

Sea lions: That's something Key West doesn't have. But at least when I was there ten years ago, the town had great street performers.

Related post:

Sunday night at the Michael Jackson home in Gary

Earlier California Collision posts:

Harvey Milk's Camera Shop
San Francisco's Union Square
The Painted Ladies
San Francisco and the military
Mission San Francisco de Asís
San Francisco's sea lions
San Francisco's blues mural
San Francisco: Cable cars

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