Mike Breiding's Epic Road Trips: December ~1995~

San Francisco

Visiting Brother Bill

Posted 15 July 2020

For about 17 years I worked for CRH Vending in Morgantown, the company which had the vending contract for West Virginia University.
Like most universities, summer enrollment was greatly reduced which meant some of the student dormitories closed as well as much smaller class sizes. This meant CRH had to lay off the person who had "the University route" for 3 months every summer and also for 3 weeks at Christmas and a week at Spring Break.
I was going into my second year with CRH running "the industrial route", a hell hole route of hot and dirty factories, when the guy running the University route quit. One by one all the employees were offered the route but no one wanted to be layed off for all that time. Finally the boss asked me and I jumped on it not even thinking about whether I could make ends meet on such a meager wage. Summers off? Yes! Three weeks at Christmas? I like that idea. And a week off in March. I can do that. And do it I did for 17 years. How did that happen?!

Being frugal by nature I was able make ends meet and even make mortgage and car payments. Barely.
When Betsy and I married in 1982 she moved to Morgantown and after a couple of years was hired as an Elementary Ed Library/Media Specialist by the Monongalia County Board of Education. Like most education jobs in West Virginia the pay was low compared to the surrounding states and Betsy even considered a job in Pennsylvania but decided against it.
Where am I going with all this? Betsy was now a school teacher which meant she now had summers off along with her hubby!
This opened up all kinds of possibilities such as buying 5 acres, building a house and developing a plant nursery. A big project. Thank god we had no kids or dogs! But we did have cats. Such a burden.
So for 7 years we used those summers to work, work, work on the house, nursery and extensive landscaping and took occasional trips at Christmas time.
Then finally we had had enough and started to do some travelling in the summer time as well. We fell into that owner built trap of "It can wait. It will be there when we get back". I don't have to tell you what happened. 27 years later when we decided to sell and move there was a BIG backlog of things which had to be finished and by then, redone. But they did get done.

This 1995 visit to my brother was solo but as you will see, future trips were not.
Let us begin this trip back to 1995 with my original write up.


Monday, December the 11th, 1995 - 7:30am
Heavy rain, windy and temps in the 50'

As most of you already know I'm currently in San Francisco on a 3 week visit with my brother and some old and new friends.

I hope to send out daily notes on my travels with such information as the eateries I have been to, points of interest, auto and bike trips and just general rambling about what is happening and what I am doing.
On the face of it this may sound like a bore so if you are not interested in receiving these mailings please let me know and I will remove you from the list. If you remain on the list you will get *all* that I mail.
WARNING *** some mailings may contain adult language and situations***

Day 1 Saturday

My much-anticipated trip to the West coast started on Friday evening with a drive to a hotel near the Pittsburgh airport. Betsy and I were both concerned about the rather nasty sounding forecast of heavy snow throughout the area and decided to forego the potentially hazardous drive from Morgantown to Pittsburgh early Saturday morning.

Although the snow never materialized in the Pittsburgh area, it was nice not to have to rise early and make the drive from Morgantown. Instead we were driven by a complimentary motel shuttle directly to the Continental baggage check area and were checked in within minutes. The airport was quiet and nearly deserted. Just the way I like airports.

After a short wait and a teary goodbye to Betsy, I boarded my flight at 9:15 and after being de iced (something I had never seen before) we were airborne. I realized at takeoff it had been a few years since I had flown and the plane acceleration and take off where as exciting to me as if it had been the first time.

To my surprise and pleasure the seat next to me as well as about a dozen others were empty. I was able to spread out and peruse the latest issues of Time and The New York Times without worrying about constantly jostling someone. DC-9s are small and cramped and I definitely had a penned in feeling.

In what seemed like a very short period of time the captain was announcing our landing in Houston. The 3.5 hours had literally flown by and I was almost half way to my destination.
After disembarking I checked for the gate number of my connecting flight and was told that I had better hurry. Take off was in 12 minutes! The flight from P-burg had encountered strong head winds and was almost a half hour late in landing.

As luck would have it, the gate I needed to get to was as far from where I was as could be in this noisy crowded airport. With my overweight carry-on in tow I raced madly to find my gate looking at every clock along the way. I made it breathless and sweat soaked with minutes to spare - or so I thought. The connection to SF had been put on hold for 15 minutes because of poor visibility at SF International. Planes has been queued all morning thus delaying our departure.

We ended up leaving Houston over an hour past the originally scheduled departure time and I thought we were never going to get out of there. Unlike the leg to Houston, this flight was jammed full and seemed to last forever. There was a wide mix of passengers with at least half I would guess being Spanish-speaking. A sure sign of what neck of the woods I was in. There were a number of people on their way back to the Bay Area from Cancun. Like the couple seated next to me. She was in a leg cast having had the misfortune of taking a fall the second day of their vacation and breaking her leg in three places. Better her than me...

We finally landed and I was greeted by my youngest brother Bill, the baby of the family and his very significant other, Theresa

We found luggage and escalators and were soon out in the moist balmy air that I'd been longing for for months. Once again like the take off from P-burg it all seemed new to me. This time I had been away for so many years I did not have the sense of familiarity that I had always had before on my return trips.
The terrain, vegetation, traffic and trash seemed almost alien to me and I no longer had the feeling of coming home.

It wasn't long before Bill was engaging in the ritual of trying to find a place to park within a reasonable walking distance of his apartment on Market Street. Not knowing whether this would be possible or not he dropped Theresa, the luggage and me off in front of his building and went off to scout for a place to park the Dart. Bill routinely parks his car at distant neighborhoods and takes a bus home. This is often his only option for long-term parking on the street.

Theresa and I hauled my 64 lb trunk, backpack and carry-on from the elevator to Bill's apartment, a small but adequate place for one. My nest for the duration would be a space about 4 feet wide between the bed and the wall in front of one of the closet doors. I stowed most of my stuff in his fortunately large and formerly uncluttered closet.

Bill cooked Theresa and me dinner. It was simple and tasty - baked chicken, rice and peas. Accompanied by an overdose of Rainier Ale that left me reeling and hung over the next day. Rainier Ale comes in a green can and is called by many the Green Death. I know now why.

Raineer ale - Green Death

Tired and drunk I turned in early. Bill stayed at Theresa's and left the bed to me where I slept fitfully that night.

Day 2 Saturday

I arose Sunday morning still feeling the aftermath of the Green Death but time, coffee and a mega dose of ibuprofen soon put me back into shape.

Since my laptop was being repaired I had to set up my brother's machine, an ancient 386, with a modem and both WISe and OffRoad software. I was able to get my pocket modem connected to a comm2 serial port with the cable I had brought for the purpose and was soon online and merrily downloading my mail via *OffRoad, which seemed to be working flawlessly. One glitch - if I tried to connect at speeds higher than 4800bps the machine would reboot when it started to handle mail. Bummer!
*OffRoad was used to download mail from the WISe service so it could be read, replied to and then uploaded back to WISe. This saved a lot of time and helped keep the phone line freed up for of all things - phone calls.

Pocket Modem
A pocket modem. It fits in your pocket.

Bill showed up about 10:30. We chewed the fat and he went off to run errands and get a haircut. I went over to Theresa's to help her assemble a prefab bookshelf and a rolling cart for her printer. The assembly was no problem, but that stuff always seems to require three hands and a grasp for cryptic instructions.

I had a copy of WISe for Windows with me so I loaded it on her machine and gave her a quick tour. Theresa was impressed with the easy-to-use interface and layout. Theresa debugs user interfaces for a living so this was quite gratifying.

We joined up with Bill about 2:30 and drove out to the Clement Street area. This is a neighborhood of working-class people, with some good restaurants and shops. The Chinese population has risen dramatically in this area over the past few years and it is now being referred to as Little Chinatown.

Bill suggested we eat at a Chinese restaurant he had been to before. I was not too keen on the idea since I have generally found Chinese food not too great and all the same. I forgot that I was in San Francisco, home to thousands of Chinese. Bill did not and his recommendation was certainly justified.

The Clement Street Cafe at 621 Clement (not very Chinese sounding) is a small place with a front and rear dining area. Directly inside the door is a take-out area along with several steamers full of hot Dim-Sum including my favorite - Char Siu Bao which is a soft steamed bun a little bigger than a tennis ball and filled with BBQ pork.


Steamed Char Siu Bao - thewoksoflife.com

I was first introduced to "bow" in 1971 by my supervisor Thom Cheng. I was then working as a stock clerk in the Gourmet department of a huge imports store at Fisherman's Wharf known as Cost Plus. This place was basically a consumer-oriented warehouse of stuff from all over the world. They had good buyers and very little cheap junk ended up on the shelves. Anyway, the guy we got our fortune cookies from brought a box of these weird looking hot buns to us one day as a thank you for collapsing and returning for reuse the boxes that his cookies were packed in. And so I had my first Char Siu Bao which was delicious and I have been eating them ever since when I could get them. I even had a friend of mine bring them back to Morgantown from New York City when she went to visit relatives.

I have to say that no matter who makes them or where they come from they always taste exactly the same which I find strange, but fortunate.

I ordered two Char Siu Bao($0.75 each) and a "small" bowl of Sizzling Rice Soup which sounded pretty interesting. The bow came and I relished the delicious flavor and the aroma of the hot, steamy pork that I had not tasted in many years. Ahhhh . . . this is one of the reasons I was so looking forward to this trip.

I polished off the bow in short-order, heaving a sigh of satisfaction. And then was confronted with a rather large bowl of soup that apparently was meant to serve at least four people. When I saw the menu price of $3.50 for a "small" bowl of soup I should have been tipped off that this was not a single serving. But being the glutton that I am, I turned it into one.

The soup was quite unique. When it was served, our waitress brought with her what looked like browned, pan fried rice in a metal tray. She set the bowl down and proceeded to slide the rice into the soup which reacted with so much crackling and popping it was like a bowl of Rice Crispies gone amok!

The soup was delicious! The added rice gave a crunchy texture that was quite unusual in a soup. The base was a light, not too salty broth with so many ingredients that I ended up counting them and the three of us contributed to the identifications, which were: tofu, prawns, pork, chicken, bok choy, pea pods, water chestnuts, celery, carrots, mushrooms, bamboo shoots. Almost sounds like compost soup with all those ingredients!

The main reason for this trip to Clement Street was so that Bill could stop by the Green Apple Bookstore to look for a title that was to be given at a gift exchange at work. We walked down to the shop at #506 through a light rain.

With its entrance flanked on either side by bins of used and marked down books and magazines, The Green Apple looked a pretty typical bookshop. But after the first 15 minutes of scanning the categories, I realized that this store had an absolutely astounding range of titles, everything from conventional gardening and cookbooks to Tarentino movie scripts and Forensic manuals containing case histories of Auto-erotic Fatalities, to hundreds of computer related topics an aisle away from an excellent travel section.

This is one of those stores where "anyone" could walk in and leave with a title that is of interest to them. I found two titles: Sonoma County Bike Trails by Phyllis L Newman ($4 used) and Bay Area Bike Rides by Ray Hosler (10.95 new). Theresa is loaning me her mountain bike while I am here and I hope to get in a few good rides in the Bay Area.

The Green Apple has been around for 28 years ( 53 years as of this writing) and knows its clientele well. Bill's only complaint is what he considers high prices for used titles. But this all depends on the thickness of your wallet and the desirability of the title.

After about an hour and a half of wandering the aisles, we headed out the door on our way to a small market where we had seen mountains of fruits and vegetables as we passed by earlier. We all got baskets and went at it. The prices were extremely low by Eastern standards: broccoli - two heads for a dollar, lemons - ten for a dollar. The giant oriental persimmons (fuyu) were $0.69 a pound so I got a few to try out.

We checked out and I made a hasty side trip to a pastry shop for some breakfast goodies and we headed back to the Market Street area. We dropped off Theresa and Bill and I headed back to his place.

I was surprised to see from the clock on Bill's kitchen wall that it was only 6:30. I was beat and felt I could easily curl up and sleep. I had to remind myself that I didn't come all the way to California to sleep so I tried to muster the energy to keep going.

Bill and I shot the breeze for a while as I emptied a bottle of Miller Genuine Draft. Bill scoffed at my selection of beer when I bought this but I could not face any more Rainier Ale.

Since we had eaten relatively early I felt I could easily indulge in a snack to go with my beer. I asked Bill about nearby Sushi Bars. He said he was certain there was one on either the first or second block of Church Street, about eight blocks away. I conferred with Theresa over the phone about walking this area at night since I no longer felt at home like I used to. She assured me that the area was safe, well-lighted and there would probably be lots of people about. She recommended that if I felt like a stroll, and I did, that I walk down to Castro then backtrack on 17th Street to Church and then up Church to get sushi and back via Market Street.

So we made a plan that Bill would head up to Theresa's place, a bottle of MGD in each coat pocket, and I would make a sushi run and join them later.

So I headed out the front door, into the night and by myself in what on the face of it looked like an area that was none too safe. I was a bit nervous, but Theresa had been right there was little to concern me on my walk down Market Street. One thing did concern me though and that was the number of homeless I saw, not just that evening but ever since I had arrived in town. There were people in sleeping bags, under tarps and old blankets in many of the doorways and vacant lots that I passed. I saw all ages, genders, and races trying to stay warm and dry and get an undisturbed nights sleep. At the risk of sounding trite I have to say it made me thankful for my floor space next to the radiator in Bill's apartment.

Ironically the entrance to Bill's apartment is sandwiched between Zuni's, a world famous restaurant known for its mesquite grilled chicken and snooty waiters, and Ramberg's Deli on the corner. This corner has been staked out by a group of homeless who spend the day panhandling and holding up placards proclaiming their various skills and the need for work.

The most depressing thing I have seen since I got here was two homeless kids dressed in what looked like filthy rags.

Well, back to the feel-good part of this letter... I plodded up Market Street not totally at ease but nearly so. I was more tired than skittish about being out at night and mostly just wanted to get the sushi and head back to Theresa's. But I walked the extra distance to Castro, backtracked to Church and found the sushi bar - Miyabi's, #253 on the 1st block of Church Street.

I walked in and grabbed what looked like a takeout menu and was immediately asked by the waitress if I wanted take out. Informing her that I did, she handed me a pen and guided me to a small table where I was instructed to check off what I wanted from the over 43 kinds of Nigiri, Makimono and Sashimi.

Since this was intended to be a snack only I decided on some Makimono (roll), which came six pieces to the order. I didn't want to go overboard my first time so I settled on one order each of Kappa (cucumber), Oshinko (pickled Japanese radish), and the always-popular California roll (crab and avocado).

After 15 minutes of listening to two obnoxious guys loudly trying to coax their lady friend to order and eat something she obviously did not want, my order was ready and I headed back to Theresa's place.

When I opened my precious take out cargo there were 18 pieces of Makimono with a generous smear of wasabi (*hot* Japanese horseradish), soy sauce and the hot and tangy slices of paper thin sliced ginger that is usually served with rolls. Since Bill does not care much for this type of food it was up to Theresa and me to make sure there were no leftovers. This turned out not to be a problem as each piece disappeared from the tray, was swiped into the wasabi and then dipped into the soy sauce and finally washed down with the beer that Bill carried over for me. Considering the speed with which I devoured these little morsels, Theresa was lucky to get any, but I believe she had her fill and I even offered her the last piece which after a split second's hesitation also disappeared.
(Unfortunately it seems Miyabe's has gone out of business. The last Yelp review was in February of 2018)

Miyabi Sushi San Francisco was established in 1987 in the San Francisco Castro and has been the destination of choice for many of our loyal customers. Miyabi Sushi Express was opened in 2006 to provide express service to the San Francisco Financial District busy customers. This third Miyabi location was opened October 2009 in the San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf/North Beach area.

Source: Yelp

Stuffed and exhausted I headed back with Bill to his place and then soon to bed.

So ends my first full day in the big city. A thoroughly satisfying albeit a tiring one. Now comes the unpleasant task of deciding which restaurant to try next. Life is cruel ...


Not only did that end "my first full day in the big city" it ended my writing for that 1995 visit. I blame it on biting off more that I could chew and not having the time and energy needed to do the job.
When my dad got my write up for my first day he said: "By the time you get home you are going to have written a book!" Indeed and if only...

I took no notes and had no camera for that visit but there was one event I will never forget.
On December the 12th Bill and Theresa went on a trip out of the city and so again I had Bill's place to myself.

As some point during the evening the wind picked up. Then it began to howl and then it seemed as if I was in the center of a maelstrom. Bill's apartment had a window well shaft that went up to the roof. The loose fitting cover creaked and groaned and boomed and banged as it was pelted with wind driven debris.
Down in the street I could hear god knows what being blown down the street and the lamp poles bowed in the stiff wind and the trees were being tossed around like rag strips. The rain was coming down in thick windblown sheets which swirled and writhed in the glow around the street lamps. All the time the noise was nearly deafening and unlike anything I had ever heard and have not heard since.

I layed there alone in the apartment all night huddled under the covers and could not sleep a wink. The wind and noise seemed to worsen as the night went on. And then, as always, the storm passed and then a grey and wet dawn settled over a changed San Francisco.
I looked out the window and there was not a soul or a car or a bus to be seen anywhere. I decided to go out. I had to see what had happened. I loaded up my day pack and rolled the bike Theresa had loaned me out the front door and onto the street.
I was on my way to Golden Gate park to see what had happened there

There was trash, garbage cans, and other debris everywhere. I could see some trees down and blocking the sidewalks. One tree had been tossed onto the roof of a car.

I peddled a block down Market Street to Gough, crossed over and then headed up Haight Street. The first couple of blocks were a pretty stiff climb and I concentrated on my peddling.
Haight Street leveled out when I got to Divisadero Street. The peddling was easier and I could now look around a bit. There were street trees down everywhere. It looked as if some monstrous madman had pulled trees up by their roots and snapped branches and trunks as if they were nothing.
Above me was Buena Vista Park. More trees down. Big trees.

Soon I was at Haight and Stanyan and I crossed over into the park. I peddled down JFK drive and took a left onto what was then called Middle Drive East. By then I could hear the sounds of chain saws all around me and it looked like I was in the middle of a logging operation. The clearing had already begun.
I was stunned by the size of some of the fallen trees. And the sheer numbers of them. I was to later find out over 1000 trees went down in Golden Gate park alone. I saw a number of trees down I knew had to be well over 100 years old. Gone, just like that in the space of one night.

By the time I got to the California Academy of Science it had started to rain. And rain it did! I was not dressed for it - cotton all over including a heavy hooded sweatshirt which was now feeling like it weighed about 25 pounds.
Common sense should have sent me back to the shelter and warmth of Bill's apartment but that was not going to happen. To me, this was High Adventure - out on a bike by myself in San Francsico with hardly a car or a person on the steet and much more to see. I peddled on.

I am not sure how but I made it over to Alta Plaza Park which sits at the top of Pacific Heights and is bounded by Clay, Jackson, Scott and Steiner streets. Back in the day, the Breidings of Bush Street were regular visitors to Alta Plaza and I always stop by when I am back in The City.
I shouldered Theresa's bike and trudged up the 100 or so steps to the top of the park. Devastation. There was not a tree left standing. I could only imaging the pounding this high exposed point must have taken.
Trees had fallen onto the rest rooms, the tennis courts and the playground was jumble of downed, broken and shattered trees. I had seen enough. Time to head back down to Market Street.

All throughout Pacific Heights and the Fillmore I saw more street trees which had been ripped out of their planting spots in the sidewalk. Some were snapped in two with their various parts laying on the sidewalk, in the street or on the tops of cars.

By the time I reached Bill's place at 1670 Market I was exhausted, soaking wet and chilled to the bone. Exhilarating!
Bill was back home and I told him about my day but I remember little else about that December the 13th in 1995.
If you are interested there are some interesting details of the storm here.

After 13 comes 14. December the 14th. My birthday. 43rd birthday to be exact. I remember only one thing on that day but it was memorable indeed. Theresa told me she wanted to take me out for my birthday. And where did she choose? Zuni Cafe which was just next door. I did not know it at the time but Zuni's was already considered one of the best restaurants in San Francisco.

Being a West Virginia rube I would have had no idea what to order so I am sure either Theresa or Bill suggested the brick oven roasted chicken for two at $28.00. This seemed a fortune to me I can tell you that. If you went there today you would be on the hook for 63 bucks!

Being a saver of all things important to me I still have a copy of the menu from December 14th 1995. I am mighty glad I kept it. Thank you, Theresa.

Zuni menu for December the 14th 1995 - my 43rd Birthday

Zuni menu for December the 14th 1995 - my 43rd Birthday

And with that memorable dinner this report comes to a close. I remember nothing else except random snippets. Bummer...
But the story is not over.

Back up near the beginning of this write up is the line: "Theresa and I hauled my 64 lb trunk, backpack and carry-on from the elevator to Bill's apartment, a small but adequate place for one."

Yep, I still have it - the trunk I took to San Francisco in 1995. But this bruised and battered trunk goes further back than that! This is the very same trunk that in March of 1972 made the trip from San Francisco to Green Bank WV in the back of a 1965 International Harvester D-1200 3/4 ton pickup truck.

The Black Trunk from San Francisco to Green Bank to Morgantown - Click for larger image - Click for larger image

1965 International Harvester D-1200 3/4 ton pickup truck

Photo: 2020 Topclassiccarsforsale.com - Classic cars for sale

This is the exact model and color which in March of 1972 made the trip from San Francisco to Green Bank WV with my black trunk stowed in the back. Also on the journey were my mom, my sister Suzi and brothers Sutton and Bill. Suzi's boy friend Mike was driving a WV square back.
Our "back to the land" truck had a significant modification made to it before it made the journey back to West Virginia. I fashioned 3 round topped supports which fit in the truck bed stake openings. I then stretched a heavy brown canvas tarpaulin across the top and down the sides and secured it tightly. The overall effect was that of a covered wagon. How I wish a photo of that rig existed!

Shortly after I got home from Bill's place in San Fran this card arrived in the mail.


I am glad I kept it.


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