Every time I have visited San Francisco I watch the Trolleys pass me on the streets with passengers waving and hanging on as they go up and down the steep hills of the city. I always wanted to jump on one, but time never cooperated.
This year, riding one of those cars was my goal. I booked our stay at the Omni San Francisco, a beautiful hotel right on the route and purchased the cable car package through the hotel.
Soon after check in we were standing at the cable car stop waiting to board. I could almost hear Judy Garland singing as the car made its approach. When it stopped we climbed on, making our way to the middle of the crowded car, the focused conductor aligning us to make sure he could squeeze in as many people as possible. This first ride was not what I envisioned, I could barely see the city and it was so crowded. We chatted with other riders around us and the first thing I was told, is this is not a trolley, trolleys are what Judy Garland sang on in Meet Me in St.Louis, or the little train on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, these were cable cars, so named because of the steel cable under the streets that pull the cars, good thing I learned that before embarrassing myself by belting out “Clang Clang Clang went the trolley.”
After a few short stops, the conductor announced it was the end of the line, and at the end of the line everyone gets off. I guess I verbalized my disappointment a little too loudly because out of nowhere, appeared Lance, a grip man who seemed determined to make sure I got the cable car experience I had come to San Francisco for. Catch the Cable Car at the start of the line, you may have to wait a little longer but you will get one of those coveted outside spots, I did not realize those were premium spots, I thought cable cars were a primary form of transportation and the outside polls were for the poor unfortunates who were last on, I was banking on being one of those poor unfortunates. When I watched Streets of San Francisco or Ricearoni commercials the guys outside always had briefcases and wore business suits.
From Lance we learned that the front of the car is controlled by a grip-man, a person with superhuman strength and dexterity, who controls the car using a foot brake and a complicated series of handles and levers. We asked if he would take a picture of us on the car, and before we knew it he had us posing hanging out of the car, on the side of the car, he loved these Cable Cars and he wanted to be sure everyone who rode them loved them as well, after saying goodbye to our new friend we were on our way for a day of adventure. Soon after we were standing on the outside of the Car, clinging to the poll, along with a group of other riders, I was so glad I had chosen not to wear slip on shoes, I was certain that anything not attached to me would have wound up on the streets of San Francisco. Even though the maximum speed is only 9 miles per hour when they start heading downhill towards fisherman’s wharf I felt as if I was on the fastest roller coaster on earth. With the wind in my hair, and the city in view, we would get off at the end of each line, then go back to the end of the line watching the dance the cars do when they make their turn around. I was like a kid who had discovered a new ride. We got our money’s worth and then some with our 20.00 all day pass
Cable Cars are not an efficient way to travel in the city, lines to board can be very long, and they do not cover the entire city. The price is a bit steep, 7.00 each time you board (unless you purchase an all day passport as we did). I am certain they can be extremely unsafe, I was told that people do fall off them from time to time. But none of those things matter to me, when I stood on the steps of that cable car, clinging to the poll I felt as if I was flying through San Francisco. I will check that off my list of things I want to do, but I won’t be erasing it. I am sure I will be dragging Don back on those beautiful cable cars every time I am in San Francisco for years to come.