Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dropping in on some old friends

Like most wandering folk, I have certain cities where I have absolute non-negotiable must-do's.  Sometimes it is a restaurant that I crave, a bar where I always have a good time or a museum that consistently surprises me. Other times, it is much louder and dynamic than that.  Such is the case with San Francisco.

Every since I first visited in my early teens, Fisherman's Wharf has held a compelling fascination for me.  And it shouldn't. It is unapologetically touristy, has an abhorrent collection of chain restaurants and souvenir stores, shares none of the abundant charm possessed by its host city and is often overrun  by clowns and the metallic statue people that I always feel a yearning desire to knock over.
But they have something that the average touristy hellscape does not.  They have sea lions.  Loads of them.  Free to come and go as they please, raucous, playful, always entertaining sea lions.  

They have been coming to visit since an earthquake in 1989 and although their numbers ebb and flow based on available food sources, there are always at least a few of them on hand, sunning, barking loudly and generally overflowing in their adorableness.

I suspect what draws me back time and again is the very easily anthropomorphized interplay amongst them.  It is a age old story that plays on an infinite loop.  Sea lion goes for swim.  Sea lion tires of swimming in what I imagine is some pretty frigid water (although it is probably the perfect temperature for them) and tries to return to one of the floating docks.  Sea lion's friends, both large and small, are total dicks about it and do their best to keep him from gaining any real estate.

"Go away, you little whiskered bastard!" "Noooooo!"

They will bark, push and bully the newcomer until one of two things happens.  Either the interloper will give up and return to the water, only to resume the game on another dock or some other determined pinniped will come along to absorb all the attention away from sea lion #1.

There are exceptions, however, for some of the beefier males.  The others might throw out a little sideways bark to try to save face but no one is trying to push Tubby back into the water.

Making the entire enterprise even funnier, is the fact that at certain times,  such as, let's say, the morning of Jan 16th, it just isn't that crowded.  That morning there was ample space for both the sea lions and their human observers on the pier.  Speaking for my species, we were able to comfortably spread out, take photos and enjoy the show.  But they did not follow suit.  Even though, there were plenty of empty docks, ripe for the taking, none of them wanted to move out to suburbia.  They preferred to crowd onto a relatively few spaces and jostle each other into taking sudden unexpected dips.

Oddly enough, if I don't watch at least a half hour of this reliably comical slapstick performance, I can not consider any visit to San Francisco complete.  Therefore, it is fortunate that I got to spend the better part of a beautiful sunshine-y day just hanging with some old pals.

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