The owner of the tea shop we visited on the tour also taught us about the healing benefits of tea and the proper way to prepare it so that it's not bitter and doesn't need honey or sugar. After our tasting was over, the engaging owner spoke directly to my friend and me: “African Americans suffer from diabetes and hypertension,” he said. “You all need to be sure to drink …" The conversation was intimate, private, and candid—an interesting twist on being singled out based on our race. I was starting to realize that San Francisco has an ethos of being honest about race, history, and culture; it was refreshing.
Later that day, we headed to another must-do on our pre-planned itinerary: the cable cars. We walked from our hotel to the intersection of Powell and Market Streets, where we could watch the operators spin the car on the turntable to reposition it for a new ride. I knew that the cable cars, while an iconic San Francisco sight, were also connected to two notable Black artists: the film director Mario Van Peebles was a gripman, and the acclaimed memoirist and poet Maya Angelou was the first Black woman conductor. These Black historical figures who operated the cars (and then went on to be talents in their respective fields) contribute to the cars’ storied history.
When we eventually hopped on, we found that our conductor was like an older cousin; he had a sense of humor, and he narrated the ride with comedic flair and energy, masking any weariness his workday may have carried. He was personable, fun, and knowledgeable. As we disembarked on our way to find food down by the piers, he stopped us.
"I want you all to stand on this step and wrap your arm around this pole and take some pictures," he said. He knew we would enjoy the moment and relish the images. This was a small but big gesture, a moment of taking care of the people in one's racial community, even though we were from miles away.