On the Docks

A few days ago I was standing on a New Orleans wharf watching the ships come in, and just after noon today, Pacific Standard Time, I will be on a San Francisco dock waiting for the Larkspur Ferry. If you fly to San Francisco from Houston this morning, you may see me on the plane. I hope it is not one of those notorious MLA flights.

Standing on docks in San Francisco is a very traditional thing to do. One of my aunts did it in 1917 to welcome Emma Goldman. Another aunt went down not much later to pick up my uncles, white Russians arriving from China, and put them on a train bound for Harvard University. A few years later my parents were children, and Memphis Minnie sang this song.

That old ‘Frisco train makes a mile a minute
That old ‘Frisco train makes a mile a minute
Well, in that old coach, I’m gonna sit right in it
I’m on my way, to ‘Frisco town

You can toot your whistle, you can ring your bell
You can toot your whistle, you can ring your bell
But I know you been wanting it by the way you smell
I’m on my way to ‘Frisco town

There’s a boa constrictor and a lemon stick
There’s a boa constrictor and a lemon stick
I don’t mind being with you but my mama’s sick
I’m on my way to ‘Frisco town

I would tell you what’s the matter, but I done got scared
I would tell you what’s the matter, but I done got scared
You got to wait now, until we go to bed
I’m on my way to ‘Frisco town

If you was sick, I wouldn’t worry you
If you was sick, I wouldn’t worry you
I wouldn’t want you to do something that you couldn’t do
I’m on my way to ‘Frisco town

Well, if you want it, you can get it, and I ain’t mad
Well, if you want it, you can get it, and I ain’t mad
If you tell me this is something that you ain’t never had
I’m on my way to ‘Frisco town

Look-a here, you get mad everytime I call your name
Look-a here, you get mad everytime I call your name
I ain’t never told you that you couldn’t get that thing
I’m on my way to ‘Frisco town

I woke up this morning about half past five
I woke up this morning about half past five
My baby turned over, cried just like a child
I’m on my way to ‘Frisco town

I got something to tell you, I don’t want to make you mad
I got something to tell you, I don’t want to make you mad
I got something for you, make you feel glad
I’m on my way to ‘Frisco town

Look-a here, look-a here, what you want me to do
Look-a here, look-a here, what you want me to do
Give you my jelly when die for you
I’m on my way to ‘Frisco town

I got something to tell you, gonna break your heart
I got something to tell you, gonna break your heart
We been together so far, we gotta get apart
I’m on my way to ‘Frisco town

There was no Golden Gate Bridge and no Bay Bridge, and you went to Chicago and New York by train. In Berkeley my grandfathers took the streetcar down to ride the ferries to work.

On weekends my grandparents went out dancing in San Francisco. If you missed the last ferry to Berkeley, you had to take the late one to Oakland. This ferry had potted palms, a dance floor, and a jazz band. When you landed, there might still be streetcars running. If not, you rode home luxuriously by cab.

In this video you can see what it was like to arrive in San Francisco, by ferry from Oakland or Marin, in 1940.

F E L I C E S
F I E S T A S

Axé.

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4 Comments

Filed under News, Songs

4 responses to “On the Docks

  1. Thank you for this look into the past! Couldn’t say exactly why, but I found this family history of yours, linked to a specific place, very touching.

    Hope you get some rest over the holidays!

  2. Happy holidays, prof. And he best for 2009 (good health, happiness, dosh).

    Meilleurs voeux

  3. happy trails – you’re in my favorite city!

  4. What is so amazing is how much has NOT changed! We are going to walk on Stockton street Sat morning for the Chinatown market experience; the Palace of Fine Arts is still there; the Ferry Building is now a market, but the ferries still run from right there; Coit tower, the streetcars on market (no cow-catchers and safer boarding sites, but still there!). Of course there are now those hulking skyscrapers downtown and the wharf is all about tourism instead of the Navy, but even so, much of what I ‘m seeing on the streets now is so unchanged from when I lived here.

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