I was finishing up an hour-long urban assault hike the other day, heading back toward shore along the outer curl of concrete pier at Aquatic Park, down by Ghirardelli Square, when my one-foot-in-front-of-the-other reverie was interrupted by the sound of someone shouting. As my ears and eyes and mind re-focused I realized it was a woman's voice, and above the usual bayside soundtrack - that noisy squawk of seagulls and baritone bark of sea lions, the slap of waves and snap of sailboat rigging and white noise of our omnipresent San Francisco wind - I heard it again. "S'cuse me. S'cuse me!" she yelled.
Shifting my gaze toward the voice I noticed a well-dressed man and woman of Asian descent, standing arm in arm and framed, like anyone is on the pier, by the dramatic, world-renowned backdrop of moody, gray-green water, crumpled coastal hills and, oh yeah, iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Sure enough the woman was waving my way and beckoning me to their side. Ah...a photograph, I thought.
Now I love taking pictures. I love taking pictures of tourists, for tourists. Hell, I love assisting tourists with whatever whenever the opportunity presents itself: giving directions, offering recommendations on things to do and see, trails to hike, which bus to take, favorite places to eat and the like. Lord knows I've been a tourist myself a-plenty, and have always appreciated kind-hearted, informed local advice and insider information. Plus, after a lifetime in the restaurant biz, hawking food and drink in several tourist meccas in the good old U.S. of A. and the Caribbean, relying on tips for a good portion of my income, I figure it's the least I can do. Let's face it: I have absolutely no problem with tourists, lots and lots of tourists.
Without breaking stride I quickly veered off my intended trajectory and approached the couple, ready and willing to work some digital magic. As I neared, the woman continued to gesture urgently and ask the same question again and again, a question I couldn't understand due to her thick accent, couldn't comprehend until I saw that neither one of them was holding a camera or phone or anything, until I noticed one solitary Dungeness crab at their feet, lying on its back, spindly legs and claws waving angrily skyward.
I'll make this quick for those of you who may not know. Dungeness crab is THE best eating crab on the west coast of North America (perhaps on either coast…sorry Maryland, Florida, et al.), found in coastal waters from Santa Barbara, California, to the Pribilof Islands of Alaska. In San Francisco and environs the local Dungeness crab season begins mid-November and lasts thru March. Whether commercially harvested or caught purely for recreational fun and good eats, however, one can't just be pulling crabs from the ocean and keeping them willy-nilly; there's all kinds of state regulations concerning season, sex and size. If interested you can surely find all the specifics on some sort of state fish and wildlife website, I'm sure, but the point is if you catch a crab and you want to keep it, you must follow the rules, one of which is to make sure the body (carapace) of the beast exceeds the legal minimum size. Which brings me back to our story.
The woman was asking if I had a ruler. Like, on me. To measure the crab.
Say what? Don't know where she thought I might be hiding a ruler, as I was wearing no jacket, carried no backpack, no school book bag. Perhaps in my pants? I mused, then quickly lit on the expected bawdy response: No ruler there, ma'am...I'm just really happy to see you. Happy as well to have scenic, wind-swept Aquatic Park in my bayside backyard, tho I imagine the city will soon have to deal with the dilapidated nature of the concrete pier (they've already cordoned off the western edge of it due to structural deterioration). Happy for Dungeness crab, too. Gotta love Dungeness crab and a good old fashioned crab feed. With lots of lemon and little bowls of melted butter, and some aioli. And oodles of crisp white wine and crusty bread and a big green salad.
I didn't even slow down but laughed and pleasantly shook my head her way, then veered promptly back on course toward the hill that would lead me to the Great Meadow and my home in the Fort Mason District. The encounter left me chuckling for the remainder of the day whenever I thought of it, but in retrospect it also raised some questions.
Questions like...What gives, people? Where'd that crab come from, and if you caught it where's all your official crabbing gear, your crab net and ropes and bucket? And why go crabbing in your Sunday finest, if you were indeed crabbing? Questions like…What do you think you're gonna do with that crab. You gonna keep the thing? Turn it into supper in your hotel room? Because I don't think it's really legal to harvest Dungeness crab from the bay. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but I thought it was just for sport.
Questions like…Really? A ruler?
Peter J. Palmer