Chowder in San Francisco

October 19, 2012
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My legs were wobbly as I stepped onto the dock guiding us off the unsteady boat to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. A salty smell filled my nostrils as the cold breeze of sea air caressed my face. The sky was darkening, and the temperature was dropping as the hour got later. It was around 7 p.m., and all of us were tired, hungry and cold. The group I was with was a mix of 64 immature middle school kids, not so amazingly intelligent high school students, and sort of insane adults. We looked like an amoeba as we trudged up the ramp onto the concrete sidewalk. As we walked along, people delivered strange looks to the crazed laughter, the sun burnt, tired faces and bundled-up kids huddling together. If I was not so tired and cold, I could have laughed.
We eventually got to a place where we could stop and talk about what we were doing for the rest of the night, such as where we were going, and, most importantly, where we were eating. When Garret, the youth pastor, a tall and sturdy man, announced that we were going to have a warm meal for dinner, all I could feel was relief. I was overjoyed that we were not going to be eating the bland, cold sandwiches we had for lunch. My relief diminished quickly when he asked those who could not eat clam chowder to step into a group off to the side. I almost went into the group, my long-term boycott of seafood sticking with me. However, I had decided to have an attitude of adventure this trip, so I stayed in the main group.
As Reno, one of the leaders who looked sort of like a mountain man, led us to the little, outdoor shop, I felt uneasiness growing inside of me. I had never liked seafood. What if I couldn’t handle the taste, and had to starve for the rest of the night? What if the clam or crab or whatever it was felt so weird in my mouth that I had to spit it out right in front of everyone? My face would be red for the rest of the night. I gathered my courage as I got closer to the white counter top. Strangers walking past me had looks of satisfaction as they put spoonfuls of the chowder in their mouths. It was a creamy color with brown and black specs in it. The light brown bread surrounding it looked delicious, and the white and red plaid paper boat looked like it couldn’t hold all of the food. As the line moved forward, a fishy smell seemed to dominate the air. I did not know what to think of that. Usually smell is an indicator of taste, and the fishy taste is what I do not like about seafood. Finally, it was my blonde-haired, best friend Sara’s turn to get her bowl. Coincidentally, I was right behind her. The man dishing out all of the bowls handed me mine. The thick soup was spilling over the side of the bread bowl, and would soon be spilling over the paper boat. I grabbed a white plastic spoon, and walked out of the way of the rest of the people waiting to get their food. I was careful not to get any chowder on my purple llama sweatshirt as I walked over to Sara. The chowder was steaming, and I blew on the spoonful I now had in that little plastic spoon. I braced myself and placed it in my mouth. My eyes widened as I tasted potatoes with mysterious spices mixed in. The grainy texture of the mashed up potatoes was a relief. I love potatoes, and I had never known potatoes were such a main ingredient in clam chowder. As I swallowed the soup, I could feel the warmth go down my throat and into my stomach. I was being thawed from the inside out, like rays of sunlight radiating from my core. The smell of the chowder was a mild smell of potatoes, pepper, and other spices. That fishy smell was just the tank of crabs near the pot of chowder.
“This is good!” I exclaimed to Sara. “This is really good!”
“Yeah, did you think it wasn’t going to be good?” she replied in a tone that was screaming “Duh!” to me.
“Well, I wasn’t too sure about the whole crab thing,” I said, “but I can’t even taste it.”
She looked at me funny and said, “Actually, it’s clam.”
“Then why would there be crabs right behind the chowder?” I asked.
“It’s clam, just don’t argue.”
“No, it is definitely cr-,“ I was cut off as Reno started talking.
“We have tables we can sit at over there,” Reno called to the group, as he pointed to a roofed in outdoor area with tables and chairs set up in it. Sara, her sister Samantha, Samantha’s friend Jennifer, and I all walked to the area. People were still getting their food as we sat down in the wooden chairs around a dark, wood table. We started eating again, and I started warming up even more. With every careful bite I took, I started enjoying it more and more. I realized it was comfort food, and with a few bites of the delicious, cool bread mixed in, I was content and happy. Occasionally, I would enjoy a bite of the rubbery, odd meat in the chowder, and think about how I was actually eating seafood, something I was afraid I would hate. Finally, after many spoonfuls I was finished with my bowl of chowder. My stomach was full, my mouth was happy, and I was ready to go to bed.
As we sat around the table waiting to go, I realized that branching out into the unknown is not something to avoid, but something to strive for. The chowder was the best thing I ate the whole trip. I had fun and was pleased the rest of the night because I chose to be adventurous and step out of my comfort zone. I learned a lesson that night about the joys of challenging myself to branch out and try something new.





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