Annie and her husband Jeff were holding hands and looking at the boats in the marina. "I've never been on a sailboat before", said Annie. Jeff smiled. "It's not like the big tourist boats. It's quiet and peaceful." Now in their late 50s, the local couple came to San Francisco for a relaxing day trip on the holiday weekend. Ninety minutes around the San Francisco Bay and a romantic lunch was just what Jeff had planned to get Annie into the mood.
Thousands of tourists from all over the world gathered at Pier 39, Fisherman's Wharf and Ghirardelli Square, making this multi-cultural city even more diverse. The director of the sailing tour, in her blue polo shirt, white shorts and topsiders, smiled and spoke to the passengers. "Everyone going on the 12:30 sailing cruise gather around me and listen please. We're going to walk down to dock F, then I'll be handing out drink tickets."
Annie and Jeff could smell the salty air combining with the seafood odors from the adjacent restaurants. "I'm glad we're going to sail before lunch. I don't want to get sea sick."
Jeff reassured his wife. "Just a little slow rolling from side to side, nothing that would upset your tummy."
Many of the thirty passengers were on the heavy side, massive men and their wives, even some overweight children. Looking at the others from the back of the line, Jeff, who was 225 pounds, actually felt thin. He winked at Annie. "Maybe a little more gentle rolling than I thought." This made the process of getting on the boat a little awkward.
"Just hold onto the lines and walk around to fill in all the spaces," said the captain, a sea worn man with a scruffy beard and white cap on his head.
After everyone had settled on the deck of the boat, one more family rushed on. You could hear screams from a baby on the floating dock. "Oh please let them be on a different boat," said Annie.
Not so. Unlike the others, this family was thin and overdressed, like some newcomers to America. Two parents, three other adults, a little girl and a boy toddler, no more than two years old walked onboard and sat in the only remaining spaces, next to Jeff. He leaned over and whispered to his wife. "Well, I guess we'll have to bunch up here." Jeff moved to give the family more room. He squeezed himself behind Annie, between two metal lines, the main sail boom and straddled his legs around a winch. He looked like some criminal Spiderman caught in his web.
The toddler's screams increased in volume. Jeff, Annie and the other passengers watched the family without staring. Annie stated the obvious. "The little boy doesn't want to be here. His parents will calm him down or get off before we leave, don't you think?"
Not so. The boy screamed louder and louder, drowning out the captain as he was giving safety instructions. Instead of leaving the boat, the parents just held the child and spoke quietly to him. The other passengers were getting annoyed now. "Really?" said the twenty something woman to her boyfriend shaking his head. The sailboat pulled out of the harbor and into the open bay toward Alcatraz Island. It was too late to get off now.
The first mate took the drink orders and served everyone. In addition to soda, there was champagne and beer. This didn't alter the mood of the passengers; in fact, it may have increased the tension. The thin family ordered regular soda and gave some to the crying boy, thinking it would calm him down. Not so. Annie nudged Jeff and said "Jeff, I can't believe they're giving him soda." Jeff shook his head. This romantic cruise was going downhill fast.
An hour later, you could see the frustration on everyone, except the boy's parents of course, still clueless and talking to the toddler. Everyone felt helpless. Jeff looked at the other passengers wondering what they were thinking.
'Why don't they give the boy a pacifier?'
'Don't they know how to quiet an unruly child?'
'Why didn't they just stay and ask for a refund?'
'Maybe they'll fall over the side.'
Jeff caught himself imagining the toddler going over the side of the boat.
Annie tugged at Jeff's sleeve. "What are you thinking, dear?"
Coming out of his thoughts, Jeff replied. "You know, he's probably a Silicon Valley engineer making $150,000 a year. You would think basic child care would be easy."
Annie tried to maintain a positive attitude. "Well, we're over halfway through the cruise. Maybe the child will cry himself out."
Not so. It was ninety minutes of crying, screaming and very little parenting. By the time the sailboat returned to port, more than a few passengers were giving the family dirty looks.
Annie and Jeff made their way to the nearest restaurant, a little pricey, but they needed to change the mood quickly. "I know this is expensive honey, but you were so patient on that boat," said Jeff.
Annie calmed Jeff down while looking at the menu posted outside. "Umm! A nice seafood salad would be perfect. You'll feel better too." They remembered the great Louie salads they had the last time they were in town, so they went inside.
Jeff tried to regain his sense of control. "Two glasses of chardonnay, the crab cakes appetizer and two Louie salads, one with shrimp and one with crab." His plans could be salvaged with a romantic lunch on the bay. But when the food arrived, he was disappointed again.
Two tiny crab cakes, not much bigger than a silver dollar, providing no more than a couple of bites. The Louie salads were mostly pale iceberg lettuce, with one mini slice of tomato, two olives and a small wedge of artichoke. No greens, no hard-boiled egg and just a sprinkling of shrimp and crab to boot. Annie pursed her lips. "It's ok."
Jeff was angry now. "No, it's not."
Annie stroked his arm. "Let's just finish our meal and get home. I don't want to get into a thing here with the waiter. At least we have a nice view."
Jeff grumbled but had to agree. The Golden Gate Bridge, marina and bay water was a beautiful sight.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jeff saw the hostess bringing over another party. It was the clueless family from the cruise. "Oh no" Annie said under her breath, her eyes opening wide.
The hostess sat the family behind Jeff and Annie. Then it happened again. The two year old began crying. Jeff did a slow burn turn around and stared at the child. "Unbelievable."
Annie shook her head. "There are hundreds of restaurants and they came here. Next to our table!"
The waiter brought the check. $84.78! That was the final insult. Jeff paid the bill and they walked out of the restaurant. As they were leaving, they noticed the child had stopped crying. A diner next to them had provided a pacifier and that's all he'd needed.
Squeezing past the crowd, Jeff knew all his plans for a romantic date were in vain. "I'm sorry Annie. I wanted this day to be romantic for us. Instead it's been a disaster."
Annie pulled Jeff's face near hers and whispered in his ear. "Not so." then she winked, took his hand and they went home.