Steamboat Springs I stepped up to the curb at the corner of Post and Kearny at 6 p.m. on a Wednesday night in San Francisco. The sidewalks were jammed with people, all of them in a hurry, and the city thrummed with a life of its own.
I casually took in the man next to me. He was dressed like a college professor and was absorbed in his cell phone conversation. I focused my gaze on the light, waiting for the walking green, when suddenly the man interrupted his conversation and addressed me.
"Hey man, do you live in the city?"
"No," I laughed. "I'm from Colorado."
"That's surprising, because from your clothes, I would have guessed you were from the city."
The notion was absurd.
True, I was wearing a black suit coat. But my shoes were a dead giveaway. Urbanites do not wear shoes like mine.
The stranger did not give me a chance to scoff at his remark.
"Listen man, I'm in a jam and I could really use some help. I'm from L.A. My wife and I were driving up here today and we were carjacked in East Palo Alto."
That part sounded feasible.
But then the con man made a stupid mistake.
Either that, or he was testing to see just how stupid I might be.
"They took my money man. I just need enough to buy a gas can and fill it with gas!"
Putting my finely-tuned journalistic instincts to work, I was able to see right through him.
"For what possible purpose would a man who has been car jacked, need a gas can?" I asked myself.
"Listen, I'm not scamming you. If you don't believe me, here, take the cell phone and ask my brother in L.A. He'll tell you it's true."
Ah, but truth is in the eye of the beholder, and so, I bid my newfound friend good luck and good bye, spun on my left heel and proceeded down Kearny in the general direction of Tiffany's.
Before I went half a block, I encountered a tattered woman in a wheelchair holding out a coffee can. A soft touch after all, I fished a wrinkled dollar bill out of my pocket and dropped it in the can.
San Francisco, what a city!
Did I mention I love San Francisco, in spite of all its problems?
Here are some things you should, and should not do when you go to San Francisco.
Do not book a room at the Howard Johnson's on Fisherman's Wharf. You might think that is the place to be, but it is not.
Instead, search out a little boutique hotel with fewer than 100 rooms. There are lots of them near Union Square and Chinatown. The Chancellor is modest but charming, and the bartender mixes a pretty good martini. The Trident is avante garde and worth it if you're in a position to splurge. It's right at the Chinatown Gate.
And here's what you should do on your first day in San Francisco.
Walk into Chinatown along Grant Street and after six blocks, hang a left and get off the tourist path. Suddenly you'll be immersed in a foreign culture, where English isn't even the second language.
It's a place where exotic produce is for sale everywhere, and a place where you can purchase the best tea in the world, cheap.
It's a place where people choose live fish from a tank for that evening's dinner. If the Mandarin filling your ears, and all the unfamiliar sights and smells don't get your head spinning, nothing will.
Go back to the hotel and make a dinner reservation at Scala on Powell Street. When you are seated, let the waiter choose the red wine, and don't pass up on the dessert.
If you decide to go to Pac Bell Park to watch Barry Bonds knock a homer into the bay, take the N train, not the M train, but the N train.
When you get there, don't be disappointed if Barry doesn't achieve splashdown. Mr. Bonds, is drawing a lot of walks from terrified pitchers these days.
During the seventh-inning stretch, go to the concession stand and order French fries.
They will be handed to you smothered in fresh minced garlic and a little lemon juice. It's some of the best ballpark food you'll ever eat.
OK, if you have to, go to Fisherman's Wharf the next day. Catch the cable car on Powell Street. When you board the car, do not refer to it as a trolley, the conductor will glare at you. Do not sit down on the wooden benches hang off the side of the car like they do on television.
When you get to Fisherman's Wharf, order dungeness crab cocktails from a cafe on the street. But be wary of your food server. He just might try to add 28 percent sales tax to your bill when in fact, sales tax in San Fran is a familiar 8.5 percent.
On another morning, catch the D Train on Market Street and ride it all the way to the end of the line, out Judah Street to Ocean Beach, where the waves deposit sand dollars and jellyfish on the beach at low tide.
From there, you can walk two miles through Golden Gate Park to the the Japanese Gardens.
Women wearing traditional kimonos will serve you tea and cookies in a zen garden. And if you ask politely, they'll pose shyly for a photograph.
Did I mention that I love San Francisco?
Back in the '60s there was a singer named Scott McKenzie, who had a hit with a song about San Francisco:
"If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.
"If you're going to San Francisco, you're sure to find some gentle people there."
You most certainly will encounter some gentle people in the city by the bay.
But whatever you do, don't give them money for a gas can.
It can only lead to trouble.