Nature is weird.
Sea lions at Pier 39, before the exodus
Twenty years ago, hundreds of sea lions showed up at Pier 39 in the Embarcadero area of San Francisco, where they quickly became a fixture and a tourist attraction. Millions of tourists (me included) stopped to watch them splashing around, barking, flopping onto the flat rectangular wooden docks floating at the pier, and dozing in the sunshine. Then, suddenly, a month ago they were gone, and no one knew where they went or why they left. All kinds of theories were offered — including one suggesting that the sea lions, using some kind of aquatic ESP, had sensed an imminent earthquake and hit the road.
It turns out that reality is a bit less sensational. Sightings of sea lions up in Oregon have caused scientists to conclude that the sea lion colony has migrated north up the Pacific coast in search of food. I expect that we will soon be seeing stories about how what happened to the food supply in the San Francisco Bay and whether there is another explanation for the sea lions’ unexpected departure. In the meantime, I imagine that the tourist-dependent businesses near Pier 39 will be fervently hoping that the frolicking sea lions will quickly return. Pier 39 just won’t be the same without them.
The Ferry Buiding
I just got back to Columbus from a work trip to San Francisco. I like San Francisco very much. The summer weather is great, cool and crisp. It is a lovely city, filled with picturesque vistas, and it has some fantastic restaurants. One afternoon we had the opportunity to stroll along the Embarcardero, from the Ferry Building to Pier 39, where the sea lions frolic and play and bark while Alcatraz looms in the distance, across the choppy water. It was a brisk day on the waterfront, and the mood as we took our stroll was fun and festive, with street musicians playing, the “bush guy” ready to spring out on the unwary, and underdressed tourists shivering. (I have to believe that one of the consistent best sellers at gift shops in San Francisco are hooded sweatshirts, brought by tourists who expect warm weather during summer and then learn their lesson when they begin their walk on the waterfront.)
The Pier 39 sea lions
The relaxed mood on the waterfront was dramatically different from the frantic mood on the front page of the local newspaper, where we were treated to constant headlines about California’s still unresolved, steadily worsening budget crisis. One day it was the Speaker of the House saying that she was tired of the Governor’s demands, the next day it was the Governor asking for action. In the meantime, the stories about the “IOUs” issued by California’s state governments are instructive. One story reported that large banks are refusing to have anything to do with them, as California’s credit rating plunges. A local news story broadcast at the airport, on the other hand, reported that some people who have received IOUs from the state government have turned to “brokers” who are paying 80 or 90 cents on the dollar, cash, in exchange for the IOUs. One California resident explained: “My landlord doesn’t take IOUs, so what choice do I have?”
What choice, indeed? One only hopes that, when the next state election rolls around, voters remember the embarrassing and ineffectual efforts of their elected representatives and exercise the most fundamental choice available to our citizens — the choice to throw the bums out.