It has taken awhile. I've tried to bury this one, but it keeps popping up. Yes, it's high time to tell the story of what happened when yours truly, my intrepid husband, and my unsuspecting gal-pal Brandy went on a wine-tour in September, 2004.
We all like the vino. We all like Napa and Sonoma. Brandy, one of the most passionate conniseurs of both wine and the Bay area was coming out- no reason not to treat ourselves to nice chauffered van tour of said wine-country, right? Sam and I had done one once, and it was a grand old time. I spent some time picking out what seemed a reputable and affordable service. All we had to do was show up at Fisherman's Wharf, in Frisco, at 9:00 AM. This tour would include a stop at Muir Woods, a lunch stop in Sonoma, and 4 or 5 wineries. Done and Done.
So, the three of us rise and attempt to shine and head down to the Wharf. Now, that's not a great place to go unless you are a witless tourist, but that's where we were to meet our fearless driver. We find the small company, and all seems fairly well. Sharing the van will be an older couple from Scotland, which is nice. We meet our driver. He seems a bit- rough around the edges. Sort of salt-of the-earth, maybe? Whatever, get in the van.
As we are traversing the Wharf, our driver begins to regale us with what at first seems to be typical patter for the tourists. Telling us about Ghiradelli Square, for instance, and how you can do a tour and they will make you a personalized chocolate bar. He then explains that the chocolate bar will run you eight bucks, which makes no sense as you can go and get the same kind of chocolate at the gas station for 75 cents.
Seemed kind of a curious thing to say, but it turned out to be only the first example wherein he bashed local establishments and restaurants for their high prices and unworthy products. Without coaxing, he eventually came out with it. He happened to know of a terrific restaurant, they served the best food around, where he happened to be employed at at one time and was still associated with somehow. Actually, he says, it's a good cause too, because they help alot of people who are down and out in the community. Fine, fine. Onto the drinking!
I think we were going over the Golden Gate bridge, when he told us how he came to work at this extablishment. "You know those people you see on the streets with the shopping carts? Well, about 5 years ago, I was one of them. But I was lucky to find this program, and get a job at the restaurant, and get out of all that mess, and now, here I am, driving for you. I don't do it all the time, but they call me now and again." Ok, now I'm really starting to wish this guy would shut the fuck up and let us look out the windows in peace.
But he just keeps going on about this wonderful restaurant. The air in the van became palpable. Brandy looked a bit concerned. I believe we tried to change the subject. The next thing you know, we're out at Muir Woods, for a little walk. Our driver seemed nervous, wanted us all back at a certain time, we were running a bit behind. Gotta hurry. He chain smokes, we see big trees, next thing you know we're back in the van. This time I get a closer look at him. He's really quite shifty, isn't he? Oh well, on with the ride.
He begins to tell us a bit about the woods, and the scenery. Just where the road begins to get more steep and winding, he lets loose with this: "Now's the time in the tour that I like to tell you about your driver." We're all thinking the same thing. I bet you know what it is. It starts with an 'n' and ends with an 'o'. He keeps on. "Remember how I told you about the shopping cart thing? Well, see, I'd come out to San Fran about a year before all that, and ran into some trouble because I liked vodka a little too much. I happened to find a roommate who did, too. The next thing I know, we're out one night and ended up holding a knife to a cabbie's throut for about eighteen dollars."
No, no no no no no no. "I ended doin' some time. So that's one reason, besides the driving part, why your driver won't be drinking today. Or any day." Ok, now we all feel really weird. He proceeds to tell us about what it's like to look out of your window in San Quentin, and a bit about the colorful prison life he led. At one point he asks if he is scaring us. "Yes," I sort of whimper. He tells us how his life is so much better now, how the program with the restaurant place really turned his life around. He goes into further detail about his hardships, which I have now blocke d out. The kind Scottish woman says something placating, like "Well, that's all in the past now."
Finally, he moves on to the topic of how he wants to be a park ranger in Alaska or something and is going to go check it out with a couple of young attractive girls, who he begins to talk about fairly lasciviously. Finally we pull up to a winery. Now I am sort of afraid to drink. We're obviously in the hands of a madman. Should I call his employer? Should I have a little talk with him? My co-horts determine that I should not under any circumstances do either. The only thing to do is drink, and try not to make any sudden movements.
So we somehow make it though the day, and he eventually seems to get the picture to shut the fuck up about San Quentin, his personal struggles with alcohol, and the nubile breasts he hopes to see in the wilderness. On the way home in SF, he turns the wrong way down a one-way into an oncoming cop, who tails him briefly but does not pull him over. I have never seen a man so frightened, and then so immensely relieved.
The overall impression was of being locked in a cage with a barely domesticated jungle beast. With a driver's license. And did we report any of this to his employer? No, of course not. The guy obviously had had a hard enough time, and why rain on the one-horse parade of the nearly hopeless? Most certainly he had taken others on the same journey, told others the same story, and still had his job. Some people can simply never be made to understand what is socially appropriate. I suppose he is in Alaska now, freaking out people on a salmon boat, or something.
We never did try out his restaurant. I bet the Scots didn't either.