Go Car? More Like No Car!
We’ve all seen them. Those two-person yellow motor GoCars zipping around the city (actually not zipping, more like causing minor traffic jams along the frequented routes like Lombard St.). Some people honk at them. Others laugh and point. I’ve definitely done both. Yet I have to now admit there was always an inner desire to really test them out and see San Francisco, the beautiful city I call home, from a tourist’s perspective. When I received a GROUPON (http://www.groupon.com/san-francisco/) for a half price 2.5 hour GoCar tour, it sealed the deal. I managed to convince three friends to sign up for the Mister SF GoCar tour, geared more for San Francisco locals who want to see the back story behind our epic city. To fully prepare for the day, Phyllis (our GoCar Asian driver for the day) and I decided to dress the part and buy matching “I Love SF” t-shirts from one of the many memorabilia shops on Beach St, just for that extra dose of ridiculous.
So what exactly is a GoCar you may ask? Remember Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? When Harrison Ford and Sean Connery take one of those two person motorcars to Berlin? This is not the same thing. But, yesterday did turn into quite the adventure in our 50 cc engine car, especially when we had to motor up some steeper hills. A GoCar is simply a talking car that utilizes GPS technology to provide an audio tour as you are traveling through the streets of San Francisco. There are two San Francisco locations for GoCar Tours, one in Union Square and the other right by Fisherman’s Wharf (a place I normally tend to avoid as any true San Franciscan does given it’s penchant for excessive, wasteful consumption). Note, GoCar Fisherman’s Wharf shares a warehouse with the Blazing Saddles company, so if you get done and need to work your legs out, you can always rent a bike for round 2. That may make this entry a little more in line with being Pao Fit, but I’m including it anyways.
There are multiple ways you can use a GoCar to see the city. You can choose to create your own route and pay hourly for your GoCar ($49 for first hour, $39 for second, $29 for additional hours thereafter) or there are three tour options: Downtown San Francisco, Urban Parks, and the Mister SF’s. Downtown San Francisco is a shorter tour, good if you are limited in time. It takes you through San Francisco’s older neighbourhoods like Chinatown, Union Square, North Beach and the Financial District.
Urban Parks is the most popular tour and if you are new to San Francisco or have not checked out the many city parks or vista points, I’d recommend this one. It takes you through the Presidio, out to Fort Point right beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and then through Golden Gate Park. You can also extend the tour and check out the other neighbourhoods you may pass through on the way.
Mister SF’s is the tour we selected. You might recognize the voice of Hank Donat, a San Francisco journalist who developed the tourist website www.MisterSF.com. As a local, this seemed like the best option with its promise of interesting facts and history surrounding San Francisco.
We arrived at the GoCar headquarters on Hyde and Beach at around 1PM. Temperature outside? About 80 degrees and not a cloud in the sky – quite possibly the best weather for an afternoon tour of the city. Check-in was very simple, we had to watch a small instructional video (PAY ATTENTION to this! It provides a lot of helpful information about the car’s functionality and what to do if it died during the tour – which proved very useful later on). Dressed in our “I Love SF shirts”, holding the free iced coffee we received from a friendly Starbucks barista down the street (people are just nicer here), and rocking shiny metal helmets, Phyllis and I were ready to “GO.”
We fired up the engine, peeled out of the driveway, and tore down Bay St at whopping 25 mph. We sped through the Marina district quickly then looped around the Palace of Fine Arts (which aside from being in the Hitchcock film, “Vertigo”, was also originally built to be a temporary feature of the Panama Pacific Exhibition). We passed through the Presidio Gate and followed Lincoln, all the while enjoying clear views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Just as we were about to head down the hill to cut through the more wooded area of the Presidio, our GoCar died. I jumped out, flicked the battery switch in the trunk, we pumped the brake and the car fired back to life. Phew! That could have been bad. We trekked down and followed the road past Inspiration Point, which provided a clear view of the cityscape of SF. The drive uphill made extremely clear how little power a 50 cc engine provides. I think I could have run up the hill at a faster pace, but at least I did not have to get out and push (which will happen if you take the car off-route and try and go up one of the steeper SF hills). The next half hour took us through the Inner Richmond, the Panhandle, and the Haight (where the GoCar pointed out Charles Manson’s’ old apartment – it has a gate up to keep out unwanted visitors – CREEPY).
We headed through Ashbury Heights, Cole Valley and then down into the Castro. Phyllis and I were in great spirits, we were getting a tan, cruising downhill at a good speed and were about to push through to the Mission. Unfortunately, this is where our luck took a turn for the worst. We pulled onto 18th and Diamond Street in the Castro, when our GoCar died for the second time. I tried to flick the battery switch again, but after 10 minutes, we realized we were stuck. GoCar? More like NO car! We called the company and they told us they’d send a replacement GoCar out in 20 minutes. You can’t abandon the car or you will get a $100 fine, so if the car breaks down your only option is to sit and wait for a new GoCar to arrive. Phyllis and I bunked up and actually made quite a few friends. The local mailman came to check on us, seeing if we needed his help or to borrow a phone. A number of curious people stopped by to say hello and find out what the deal was with the GoCar. One friendly guy offered to give us a ride, and when we said we had to wait, told us “I’m gay! I’m not hitting on you!” Soon after, I saw a naked man being pulled by his boyfriend on a neck-leash. Only in the Castro, but that is why SF is great! The time flew by and soon Serbio, GoCar staff man, showed up with a replacement. We were SAVED and ready to get back on the road. I was very impressed with the timeliness of the new car’s arrival. Phyllis and I switched into the second GoCar, but when we tried to turn the car on, lo and behold, it too was dead! The funny situation was soon becoming not so funny. We really could not believe this, nor could poor Serbio. He was very helpful and sympathetic, but after 30 minutes of intended mechanic work, the boss said we should take a cab back and we’d be refunded the fare.
Here we were. 2.5 hours later. Half the tour completed and only half a blog entry. When I talked to the personnel clerk and asked for a partial refund, they refused, and honestly were not too apologetic about the equipment malfunction and time wasted. I was shocked that a partial refund would not be possible, and when I tried to reason with the manager, I was told “Take it up with Groupon.” (Mind you, Groupon is a completely separate company that distributes coupons so this did nothing for me.) They did provide a voucher for another tour. Yet I have to say, it left a bad taste in both mine and Phyllis’s mouth. Was it worth it to take another chance at a tour and risk getting stranded for a third time? Not exactly the best customer service if you ask me.
Final Take: Pao Wow?
In the end, here is my honest take: GoCar tour = great idea for tourists and non-tourists. It’s a perfect option for seeing the city, enjoying the vista points, exploring the different eclectic neighbourhoods and learning about the unique history. Through it you may be even get to experience the open, welcoming and warm nature of native San Franciscans. Just hope your GoCar works because if you get stranded you may need to hit up a mailman, barista, or Castro local for some help. Based on my experience I would NOT give this a full Pao Wow rating. However, if technical issues do not scare you off and you are willing to take the risk I did enjoy the first hour of my tour immensely!
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