Inner City Diary
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I left my heart in... good ol' Winterpeg
December 5, 2004
I've heard the song, I Left My Heart In San Francisco, but I never thought I'd go there.

One Saturday morning this spring, Virginia and I were reading the morning paper. Some of our friends were vacationing in far off places or planning their summer at cottages.

Virginia commented wistfully, "Sometimes it's hard hearing people talk about all their plans. Sometimes I feel like you never want to leave your work -- even for a little while. Why can't we just plan to take a trip somewhere new sometime?"  

I love my work. I don't like leaving and I always enjoy returning. It's not just about a sense of obligation, it's more about a longing to do more, continually coming up with new ideas to work with the people I love in this neighbourhood.

I had ducked Virginia's travel hints in the past. Sometimes I ignored them, other times I dismissed them as impractical due to cost and time constraints. Usually I figured the occasional trip to see our distant families would suffice.

But as I continued reading the paper, I noticed a WestJet seat sale to San Francisco. So, on the spur of the moment, we planned to take a trip to San Francisco.

I soon realized the trip would cost more than I initially figured. I really don't like the phony way airlines advertise their seat sales. They publish a price in the paper and you get all excited, thinking you can afford the trip. By the time they add in the taxes, fees, fuel surcharges, etc., the price can be almost double what they've advertised.

Last week we finally took our trip.

Arriving in San Francisco, we took a $5 train from the airport to downtown. Then we purchased a $20 seven-day transit pass that gave us unlimited rides on buses, the underground, and all the cable cars in the city. Between the three modes of transit, we were able to get within a few blocks of everywhere we wanted to go.

We didn't care about "rapid" transit. We just wanted good and affordable transit.

We got a great deal at a little inn called the Petite Auberge. From there, we explored some of the recommended sites and neighbourhoods of San Francisco.

While the hills of San Francisco are great for scenic photos, they're guaranteed to cause shin-splints for folks used to the flat terrain of Winnipeg. But we still enjoyed hiking the steep inclines and almost slid down some of the dramatic declines of city streets. Cars were parked with their wheels angled into the curb so they wouldn't roll down the hills.

I couldn't help but wonder how folks there would deal with our icy, snowy winters on the streets and sidewalks of San Francisco.

We did some of the typical tourist stuff. We went to Fisherman's Wharf for the obligatory bowl of fresh clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl and fresh Dungeness crab.

We hiked up to the top of Coit Tower, built in honour of San Francisco firefighters. The donor who built the tower was a woman who was herself rescued from a fire at the age of eight, and thereafter proclaimed herself the unofficial mascot of the Fire Department.

Jumping on crowded cable cars in mid-intersection, and hanging off the edge while traversing the streets was great.

Walking on the Golden Gate bridge and looking back at the city was beautiful. I think I'll actually take the time to enjoy our own pedestrian bridge in Winnipeg.

We found that the "crookedest" street in the world refers not to some crime infested, corrupt street, but a one-block stretch of road with about eight hairpin curls going down a steep decline in the Russian Hill district.

On the "crooked" theme, we explored Alcatraz island and institution for a morning. From a military prison to federal penitentiary, it seemed weird to hear it called a national park. It was eerie walking through the empty prison ranges and cells, even standing inside the infamous "hole" at "The Rock."

It was good to follow that tour with an excellent meal at a fantastic restaurant staffed and run totally by ex-cons and addicts. The contrast between the penitentiary and the restaurant spoke volumes about how true rehabilitation is much more satisfying than incarceration.

On American Thanksgiving, we ate turkey overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

And I was thankful. Thankful for the privilege of a vacation together. Thankful for good kids that allow us to travel with peace of mind. Thankful for a great team at New Life that keeps all the community work going while we're gone.

We came home to frigid Winterpeg last Friday.

I reflected again on the lyrics, I left my heart in San Francisco.

With apologies to the crooners and the gracious folk of San Francisco, I can't agree.

Our little vacation actually reaffirmed that my heart's still here in the core area of Winnipeg. And I'm thankful for a chance to exercise my heart in our neighbourhood and wear it on my sleeve in this column.
Copyright 2004
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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