Old San Francisco is not dead. And I mean that literally. She is alive and kicking in the form of a Cranky Old Woman we encountered at Stow Lake on Mother’s Day.
The experience reminded me of the good old days when I used to live in Noe Valley. This was during a time when my friend Kim G. coined the phrase “Noe Valley Cat Lady” to describe a certain breed of native San Franciscan who populated that once blue-collar (now full of tech overlords) neighborhood.
Noe Valley Cat Ladies (who can also be called Cranky Old Women) wear vests and dresses made of hemp and they don’t like your children one goddamn bit. They are vestiges, old-school SF-ers who wear gold 49ers jackets and push you out of the way in line at the Safeway while they buy their smokes.
And one of these Cranky Old Women rammed my family’s rowboat with a motorized paddleboat when we rented said rowboat on Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park on Mother’s Day.
Yes, there actually is a thing that is a motorized paddleboat. It exists and you can rent it and crash it around if you are in a bad mood.
Here is what happened:
The Cranky Old Woman drove her motorized paddleboat down a narrow stretch of Stow Lake where my family paddled along. We were awkward with the oars and the kids and we were trying to politely squeeze past another family with little kids who rowed their own boat. The other family had a small baby in a life jacket sitting on the mommy’s lap.
The Cranky Old Woman on the motorized paddleboat roared up our floating families like a flaming aquatic beast. She yelled at us to get out of the way.
“Get out of the way! Get out of the way now or I’ll hit you!” For real she said that.
Jeff obliged and paddled like a boss, but even his manly biceps were no match for the oncoming electric spawn of Stow Lake hell.
The Cranky Old Woman RAMMED OUR BOAT and kept going as we drifted into the bushes like some chumps on a rowboat. Which we were, but that’s not the point.
“Get out of the way!” she yelled at the other boat. They couldn’t move fast enough either and she RAMMED THEM TOO.
I did that thing that I do where I get upset and nervous and I start laughing hysterically. So I laughed hysterically.
I made eye contact with the mom on the other boat, who clung to her infant while their rented boat rocked to the side from the impact. The Cranky Old Lady kept motoring along. No apologies. No excuse me. Nothing.
Still laughing, I yelled to other mom, “IS YOUR BABY OKAY! SINCE YOU GOT RAMMED BY A BOAT?”
She cracked up and yelled back, “YES THANK YOU! AND HAPPY MOTHERS DAY!”
The Cranky Old Woman never looked back. A huge fuck you to the cute little families with cute little children who could have fallen in the goddamn goose poop-filled lake.
So let me circle back to my thesis that old SF is alive and well. The Cranky Old Woman on boat attack reminded me of that certain type of Noe Valley Cat Lady person we regularly encountered when we moved to SF in 2002. (Side note: I STILL IN NO WAY CONSIDER MYSELF A NATIVE OR EVEN A LOCAL SO HELLA CALM DOWN EVERYBODY WHO WAS BORN AND RAISED IN THE CITY.)
We had our first daughter shortly after moving to San Francisco, and while there were many things I loved about my new city, I was always unnerved by the Noe Valley Cat Ladies’ intolerance toward children. Much like the Cranky Old Lady on the boat, they seemed to hate all kids. Even the most well-behaved, under-the-radar, out-of-the way children who would never peep up loud enough to truly be an inconvenience. And don’t get me started on how these women reacted to my maniacal spawn.
Anyway, we got further into the open water of Stow Lake, near a pretty little island, and we saw the Cranky Old Lady again.
My well-trained 8-year-old yelled, “Look! It’s the mean woman! Let’s ram her with our boat!”
But the callback to the kid-hating ladies of yore made me pause. “No, let’s not ram her,” I said. “She’s probably a sad person.”
“Why?” said the kid.
“Because happy people don’t crash their boats into families on purpose.”
My husband chimed in. “Maybe she misses her mom on Mother’s Day.” He paused. “And so she wants to punish happy families.”
We watched the Cranky Old Woman in the floating equivalent of the motorized hover-chairs from the movie Wall-E make loops around the island while she ate potato chips.
Even though I still felt irritated and a little bit sad for her, part of me took quiet glee in the thought that she was a survivor of pre-tech-bro San Francisco. She was not young or cool or hip. She did not have a single-origin artisanal anything in her hand.
The chips she stuffed in her face were regular old Lay’s. She did not look like she had venture capital interests in an app that summons a minion to warm up a burrito or save a parking spot for her.
Even if I didn’t like her I gave a nod to her tenacity. Stay angry, Noe Valley Cat Lady.