Friday, April 17, 2015

2015 San Francisco - Day 2 - Morning

(Link to all 2015-April San Francisco / Berkeley trip blog posts)

I slept early Wednesday and got up nice and early -- and cold! -- at 6:30 AM on Thursday morning. Finally found the thermostat hidden behind the TV today. As it was so sunny and warm out, I kept my suite cool by drawing the curtains, so the main source of natural light was the window in the bathroom. I didn't want to come back to a greenhouse room, so I left the thermostat alone.

Finally found the recycle bin behind the office building (not yet open at 7 AM when I headed out) and went looking for breakfast. My Berkeley friend had recommended the nearby Café Leila, a place she frequented when her kids went to a pottery class in the area. Knowing my penchant for strange foods, she mentioned it for their very spicy chai.

This early in the morning, there were just a couple of people there, and one of them turned out to be the owner!
Berkeley, and most of San Francisco, seemed to have slow starts in the mornings, with many stores not opening till 10 AM or later. Even restaurants offering breakfast can have few customers until brunch or lunch, and in the sleepy neighbourhood around the Golden Bear Inn, Café Leila was no exception.
Turns out the owner was retired. He was in marketing before, left that to start some restaurants, sold those and just kept the Cafe for something to do during his retirement. He worked only three days a week, and luckily for me he wasn't departing for a vacation until tomorrow.

By this time, there were three things I noticed about Berkeley and San Francisco.
  • First, there was a whiff of racism. I couldn't put my finger on exactly why I felt that way. Maybe just how people sat in the BART trains?Just as in Vancouver, people tend to sit alone in trains (and busses) by the window (on BARTS there are no single-seats). But once the train got busier, it seemed people in San Francisco would prefer to stand than to sit beside someone of a different colour. The most common exceptions were younger persons who were probably students. Was this seating choice a subtle racism or race-awareness? Was I overthinking it?
  • The other thing I noticed was retailers not smiling as much. But when you do engage them, they typically were friendly and helpful and smiling. At the SFO Information booth near the airport BART, the attendant initially had a grim set to his mien, but once we engaged, he was very helpful and friendly.
  • And wheelchair accessibility didn't feel like a priority in San Francisco. Not a lot of wheelchairs either, but that's the same everywhere.
Anyway, at Café Leila the owner initially seemed a bit guarded, but once I mentioned that I'd been recommended his chai by a friend, he relaxed much more. Maybe because I was so curious about it and asked for it to be very spicy, he offered to top it up a bit more later with a mixture to make it even more spicy. After I drank down about an inch from the tall beer glass, he just came over and topped it up without me having to ask. Apparently, the spicier they make it, the more customers like it.

After breakfast, he inquired about how I liked it and we ended up chatting a bit, talking a bit about how Vancouver had changed since he was there twenty years ago when there were still many strip clubs (and he for a while dated a stripper); and about how the Date Omelette evolved at his restaurant: It was a Greek speciality he decided to offer after seeing it on one of his trips. At one point he chopped up the dates to make it easier to eat presumably, but this ran against tradition and customer feedback led him to revert to whole dates.

Café Leila was also my introduction to $15+ breakfasts. Chatting with Golden Bear Inn staff later, I learned it was the norm for breakfast to cost around the same as lunch, and $10+ breakfast mains were normal. Also, tipping is apparently not as expected as in Vancouver, with no 15% expected.
The "SF Emp Ord" of varying percentage on bills (which I'd seen to be as much as 4.5%) is related to San Francisco’s Health Care Security Ordinance (HCSO), which requires businesses to spend a certain minimum amount on employee health care. It is neither a tax nor a tip, but a semi-transparent way for businesses to tell you they are passing HCSO costs onto the consumer -- a practice not without controversy. In any case, do not include that when deciding your tip.
Also, with small amounts of credit card charges not requiring you to sign your bill, you will end up tipping with cash quite often.

I went back to the Inn with a dozen assorted donuts from Rainbow Donuts, at $9.99 each. Didn't try one myself as it was for the Inn staff, but they looked like standard issue size with nothing-too-special glazes on top.

Then off to BART down to Embarcadero Station, the closest one to the San Francisco wharves.

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