I was sitting at the computer the other night just goofing around and keeping half an eye/ear on the news. Then one of the stories cut through my mind like a buzzsaw:
"Famous Restaurant to Close in Fisherman's Wharf"
Huh? What restaurant? I had to watch the story to see. I was sure it was one of the crappy tourist places that serve overcooked crab at highly inflated prices. So imagine my shock and horror when the story came on and they said:
"A. Sabella's, a San Francisco institution, will be closing this weekend".
Oh no. I almost fell off my chair. Then I rushed over to the TV so I could listen to the entire story. As I listened, I became aware of tears streaming down my face and memories flooding my mind.
You see, I didn't have a father when I was growing up. So my Grandpa took his place. He was a cop for many years, and after he retired, he did odd jobs just to keep busy. I went everywhere with him - to Alcatraz when it was still a working prison, to repossess cars in the worst neighborhoods of the Bay Area (I loved it), and when he wasn't working, to the zoo, Golden Gate Park, the aquarium, the de Young Museum, Fisherman's Wharf and all the hokey attractions... and A. Sabella's.
It was our place. We went there almost every week. It was the first place I had seafood (Dungeness crab, to be specific - he cursed the day he made me try it, because then I no longer ordered cheeseburgers and his lunch bill went up considerably). We went there for over 40 years. I watched San Francisco evolve from the '60's through the '90's as we sat at the window tables (no inner tables for Grandpa's little darling). Those windows ran the entire length of the restaurant, and since it sat on top of the Wax Museum and Ripley's, we had a second-floor view of the wharf, the Bay, Alcatraz, and all the weirdoes that made that area so endearing.
I remember the time we were on our way across the street to go eat lunch when a Hare Krishna approached me, gave me a flower, and then turned to Grandpa for money. Grandpa just looked at him, said something that I didn't hear (but which I'm sure was obscene - I get it from him), and marched away with me still clutching my flower. I remember when we went to Cost Plus down the street and he bought me my first hookah and Zig-Zag man t-shirt. I remember when we went to the tourist shit store across the street and he bought me a turtle with a painted shell (a real one - the head waiter brought me a finger bowl full of water with a rock in it for my turtle while we ate). We would ride the Red and White fleet boats around the Bay, me standing at the point of the bow with the wind whipping my hair around (I still had long, beautiful hair then), and Grandpa huddled on the benches right behind me in case he needed to rescue me, and then heading over to Sabella's with my face numb from the wind and cold. We went to the Balclutha (a moored tall ship) where he would buy me dried seahorses (I loved them - I have no idea why). We went to Playland on the Beach (sadly long gone and replaced by condos), where I would drag him into the fun house and make him sit on the whirling wood disk with me or climb the stairs to slide down the giant slide. We went everywhere in the City and did everything that tourists do and some things that only locals knew about, and we always wound up at Sabella's. In the early days, I would order my cheeseburger, which was served with great fanfare on a silver platter under glass; as I said, later came the crab, which was served with even more fanfare along with a bib, finger bowls, a bib, crackers, and a bowl for the shells. It was a grand childhood, and as I sit here typing with the tears starting again, I can see and hear and taste every single thing we ever did and saw and experienced.
My Grandpa was stricken by a horrible disease one late Friday night (after we had had lunch, of course), and I was called to the hospital on Saturday. Thus began a year-long saga of daily hospital visits (he was completely paralyzed), my shaving him every day and cleaning out his tubes (he wouldn't let the nurses touch him), my joy when they did a tracheotomy and he could speak again, taking him home with my the day before my 30th birthday, and the all-encompassing sadness and horror when I got the call saying that he was back in the hospital, having undergone surgery for septic shock. I sat by his bedside for days before someone finally told me he was dying. I signed the papers to take him off life support and wouldn't let anyone touch him, and he came out of his coma long enough to look at me and say, "Grandpa loves you", before slipping right back into it. For that one minute, he was my Grandpa again. And then the Saturday night I told him that it was okay, that I would be okay, that he could go, that I loved him, and that I wouldn't be back. He died early the next morning. And when he was home with me before he went back into rehab and eventually back to the hospital to never come home again, I would load him in the car and take him to Sabella's.
All the waiters knew us. I wouldn't go back there for a year after his death. When I finally did go, they inquired about him and were in tears when I told them. We had an unspoken rule that neither of us would ever take anybody else there while one of us was still living. It was OUR place. And we never did.
So tonight, at 6:00 p.m., Hubster and I will go there for dinner one last time. At the end of the evening, the restaurant will close forever. We'll sit at the window, gazing out over the Bay, and I know that the memories will fill me with sadness. I know I'll cry. I know I'll probably make a scene. But I have to say goodbye to a place I've loved for most of my life. It's only fitting.
And Grandpa will be there with me.