Did the San Francisco Gold Rush really happen? Are you sure? Because I’m starting to wonder if I didn’t dream it.
I know there are stories, but a recent encounter in Chinatown has me rethinking the validity of the events in California in 1849. If it really was as important an event as we’ve been led to believe, then why aren’t there more tacky souvenirs?
Last week I was invited to a dinner with the president of my alma mater and since she had come all the way to California from Ohio, I thought I’d give her a little welcome-to-San-Francisco gift.
Like all of my good ideas, it came to me too late to gel into anything more than a last-minute scramble to fruition. It’s all fun and games until someone has to go shopping in Chinatown in a cocktail dress.
The day before the dinner, my husband, my mother-in-law and I were sitting at lunch and I said, “I’d like to give Dr. Warren something from San Francisco.”
My husband, who loves a theme as much as I do, started brainstorming on a connection between our city and my university, which isn’t easy, because our mascot is an Identity Crisis. We are the Kent State Golden Flashes, which, as far as I can tell, is a phenomenon. Not even an element or a scientific discovery, and certainly not an animal, although that doesn’t stop Kent State from putting a t-shirt on an eagle for football games. In the past, we’ve used a lightning bolt as our school mascot, but people kept getting electrocuted. Briefly we used a golden retriever, but that breed is too cuddly to beat anyone at any sport. The dog, Flash, stood forlornly on the sidelines with a saddle-type coat on, smiling and panting. We lost a lot of games. Incidentally, before we were the Golden Flashes, we were the Silver Foxes. They should have stuck with that. We could have had Kenny Rogers and Leslie Nielsen trot up and down the sidelines.
But now we’ve got the eagle, which is no help, and we’re still the Golden Flashes, so here was my husband: “Golden flashes – – flash — flashy — golden – golden ticket . . . Go-o-o-o-ldy goldygold — flash gold — flash your gold — gold . . . Gold rush!” There was my connection: I would give the university president a little souvenir of the Gold Rush and make some punny statement about the Golden Flashes being in a “rush” to take on the world. I would try to work in some blue, since our colors are blue and gold.
The next day I had a dryer repairman coming in the morning, so as soon as I was free, I ran down to Chinatown to look for a souvenir that depicts the Gold Rush part of San Francisco’s history. How hard could it be?, I thought. The whole reason the entire city is even here is because of that sudden and spontaneous onslaught of desperate, greedy, horny men from all over the world, an onslaught that spawned legends and jewelry and cheerleaders and generations of white-trash rich.
And an onslaught of which the purveyors of the fine crap in Chinatown are unaware.
“Good ross? Gode russ?” I asked seven or eight shopkeepers if they had any crap – I mean – souvenirs depicting the Gold Rush. I started to doubt it even happened. I made a mental note to check Snopes when I got home. The shops obviously thought there was more money in the cable car, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the potential legalization of marijuana. A couple shopkeepers pointed to tiny gold tin cups with prison bars (they also came in silver and bronze) and were pretty disappointed when I left empty handed. Things went further downhill when I tried to explain. “You know, 1849? When people came here to find gold?” I made panning motions with my hands. I even gave possible examples. “You know, like maybe you might have a little miner or a big chunk of gold on a magnet . . . Not real gold,” because at this point he’s shaking his head and looks worried that I might rob him, “but like just a, kind of a . . . OK, thanks. Bye-bye now.”
After checking out four blocks of Grant Avenue, up one side and down the other, I confirmed my earlier suspicion that all the shops in Chinatown are the same. If one doesn’t have something, none of them have it. They’re all owned and operated by Xi Jinping, China’s president, who decides at the start of San Francisco’s tourist season what souvenirs will be sold, as well as the ratio of San Francisco chachki to China chachki. If Canton Bazaar has seven plastic dragons for every three cable car ashtrays, then Asian Image will, too. And if Old Shanghai has two waving cats for every shot glass with a quote from Al Capone, then Jade Bazaar will, too.
In the end, I gave her a San Francisco Christmas tree ornament that was technically gold in color, and I put it in a blue bag. No puns were required. And no one’s dignity was harmed in this gift giving incident.
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Read more of Diane’s Just Humor Me columns here. Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter to get new blog post notifications. And if you like her blog, you’ll love her book, Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.