Last night we went exploring in the Fisherman’s Wharf area of San Francisco to find a great place to eat, and we happened upon Boudin Bakery and Bistro. We wanted Italian food, and we got much more than just a meal. Here’s what happened.
Soon after my wife and I walked into the Bistro, we learned that they had a museum, which documents the bakery’s history back to 1849 California Gold Rush. (I knew very little about San Fran or the Gold Rush.) We put our name down at the host stand for a table and found the museum.
The man who was taking tickets for the museum told us we didn’t have to pay the $3 entry because we were going to eat there. He told us, “I’m here to answer any questions you have,” and before we started the tour he reminded us that he was there for questions.
I took a few steps past his booth, and turned around. I hesitated, then decided to ask him a question:
“So what’s the most interesting aspect of the museum to you?”
His answer blew me away, and I realized almost instantly that I would have missed an amazing presentation if I had simply failed to ask.
He started, “We’ll, as an historian and curator of this museum, I’ve got a lot of favorite parts.” I had no idea he was an historian or a curator, but he was both! He proceeded to pull out his iPad for a presentation, moved to the first display, and for the next 15 minutes straight he unloaded one of the most intriguing presentations of the history of San Francisco, the Gold Rush, and Boudin’s bakery.
He went on talking about the original coastal line, the three persons who discovered the first signs of gold mines, and the murderous history of the city. The most intriguing aspect of the story to him seemed to be about the injustices of a man named “Shanghai Kelly.”
Shanghai Kelly used to “Shanghai” people, which meant that he tricked people into becoming sailors — and made good money at it, too. In just 18 months San Francisco had grown from 200 poeple to 36,000 people. Oftentimes the sailors who shipped those gold-seekers to San Francisco abandoned their captain once they docked at Bay, leaving the captain without his mates. As a result, Shanghai Kelly made money filling those spots with other people, sailors or not!
He got people drunk, and once they were passed out, would put them on ships, sending them 50 miles out to see with a captain, and they became sailors against their will. Or he would get them with his trapdoors. This is what it means to “Shanghai” someone — to kidnap someone to be a sailor — and because it took a long time to get back to where they were kidnapped from, it could take 2-3 years off someone’s life.
As the museum curator finished his speech to me, Rachel, and a few others by this point, a sense of satisfaction shone from his face. He had looked like a mere ticket taker, but in reality, he had more to share with us than we could literally imagine.
Yes, I could have stared at museum walls instead of listening to him, but to hear from the mouth of an historian was ten fold better.
From this experience, I realized that, just like with God, this man was simply waiting for us to ask. He wasn’t going to force himself or what he had to offer on us; he was available, ready, and willing. He was just waiting for us to ask. Once we did, he delivered to us more than we asked or imagined he would say.