Monday, June 8, 2015
If I have time, and energy, I walk up the Embarcadero to Pier 41. Sometimes I take the waterside promenade. It's a little more peaceful and there are spots where small groups of minnows glisten just below the surface of the water. Otherwise, I pay $2.25 via my Clipper card to take a vintage streetcar. Often the latter are filled with tourists, or worse school kids on a field trip. If the car is already filled, it will roll right past us at the Ferry Building stop. Tourists often look perplexed when this happens. One of the locals usually assures them another will be along soon. Sometimes, even if the street car does stop, I opt to wait for the next one in hopes of less of a crowd.
When I arrive to Pier 39, the closest thing San Francisco has to a theme park, I look for the boat I'm to work on for the day. If I can get on board, I drop my backpack behind the bar, check the ice situation and start the coffee. Then, I head to the beverage office. It occupies a corner of the first floor of the Pier 41 Passenger terminal.
The Beverage Office, is the only place the bartenders regularly see each other. Mornings can be hectic. We fill rolling trashcans with ice, check the previous day's inventory for supplies we might need, check the boat schedule, check the work schedule for changes and head out to our vessels for the day. Some bartenders, who have been doing this job for more than a decade, have regular runs. They've earned it. The rest of us get moved around here and there, some more than others.
After I've collected my ice, and inventory, which can include several cases of beer and multiple bottles of liquor, I head out to my boat where I have about 15 minutes to set up the bar before the first run. I've learned that the trick to this is counting the bank first, then getting the snacks out and then worrying about the beer and liquor. I also make sure I have the Bloody Mary ingredients handy. If anything, that's the drink I'm most likely to mix on the first run.
As I set up the bar, the deck hands are busy preparing the boat for the day. They double check the garbage cans, make sure the heads are clean, check fuel, spray down windows and fill the potable water tanks. Meanwhile the captain is upstairs in the wheelhouse going through her own prep. I know we're getting close when I hear the speakers blast the opening music to our tour for a sound check.
After getting a go-ahead from the captain, Guest Services, affectionately called Yellow Jackets for the coats they wear, opens the gate allowing passengers to march down the ramp to the float that our boats are tied to. Most days this happens to a heroic overture blasts from the boat sound system. I've heard passengers compare the music to Jurassic Park. Its theme is lead by a trumpet line with a full orchestra bellowing below it in support, giving the impression of a great adventure ahead.
As passengers board, they are welcomed and directed to stairwells. I cheerfully tell them, "It's always 5:00 on the boat! In fact it's Bloody Mary o'clock right now!" My pitch changes after the second cruise. Then it turns to Margarita o'clock.
The next several hours are spent greeting people and making small talk as I pour their drinks and coffee. I give out recommendations for restaurants and internally roll my eyes when people ask for a good seafood place nearby. Occasionally, I'll get a vibe from a visitor that they appreciate the authentic. For these people I give up the really good spots in town. I send them for Tapas in the Mission and for real dim sum just off the main drag in China Town.
As the day progresses, the wind picks up. Our late afternoon run is punctuated by kite-boarders who catch insane air using our wake as a ramp. And, with the wind comes the chill, so it's not uncommon to need to brew a second pot of coffee in the afternoon.
On the last trip out I start closing down. I restock for the next day, finish my inventory, and clean, clean, clean. Once we've tied up, if I'm done with my close, I walk right off the boat. If the last run is busy though, I sometimes struggle to be finished in time enough to not make the crew wait for me.
It's an interesting job. I'm surrounded by light and color all day, and meet people from all over the world. I see birds, sea lions, and sometimes porpoises, dolphins and even whales. I like to say I'm in the business of making people's day, and sometimes it rings true. Sometimes all it takes is a reassuring smile, a hot beverage or a cold beer to make everything better for my passengers who are mostly far out of their comfort zone or a long way from home in San Francisco.
Although I am working a lot right now, with little rest, it's helping me pay down my debt. And, every year I hope to be debt free. It's been a long hard struggle to get within reaching distance of this goal. I know it will be worth it once I'm there. But for now, at least I have the water, the sky, the waves and the sun, oh and tips. There's tips too.