Sardines, with Passion

I’ve been to Cannery Row in Monterey, California a few time, wandering among the shops and restaurants and breathing in the atmosphere as it must have been years ago when it inspired Steinbeck’s writings. But today, with my parents visiting the area for the first time, I checked TripAdvisor.com to review the “Things to Do” and see what my diverse group of folks might find interesting. Ranked third was Tim Sardine’s Cannery Row tour so, on a whim, I called to see if there was still space available. Tim Sardine’s Cannery Row tour Even though he hadn’t been planning on giving the scheduled 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. tour today, when he heard how much we wanted to do the walk he graciously re-arranged his schedule to accommodate us. And I’m so glad he did.

Tim is passionate about Monterey’s history, its waterfront and its people and it’s hard to think that there could be anything about the area — at least its fishing heritage — that he doesn’t know. He met us at The Clement Hotel at noon (which, by the way, has a gorgeous lobby and adjoining outdoor deck with beautiful views of the ocean) and, although we didn’t walk more than a mile from start to finish, dug deep into the history of Cannery Row, illustrated by fake sardines, the real key to a lock associated with the railroad and railroad tracks that brought the San Francisco market closer to the Monterey fisherman, goggles worn by the Japanese abalone fisherman in the early part of the last century, and other artifacts that brought the history to life for us.

He told of the special whistles each cannery blew when the sardines were in, bringing the employees of that cannery running from their beds, down the hill to the cannery prepared to work in up to a foot of water at backbreaking jobs that didn’t stop until the fish were all canned, since there was no refrigeration. He told the story of a man that first changed the cooking method from one using oil to one using steam, and how he ended up canning money in the middle of the night before fleeing to Mexico to escape the IRS. And the story of the Japanese man who noticed no one was diving for the masses of abalone that carpeted the ocean bottom, bringing Japanese divers that were shocked by the chill of water 15 degrees cooler than they had expected and forced to pull apart wool sweaters to create layers of underwear to add to their traditional diving attire. At first they sent the abalone back to Japan, where there was a big market for it. Once that was banned, however, a German chief by the name of “Pop” Ernest Doelter aka The Abalone King experimented until he invented a recipe for the abalone that turned the dish from one resembling a rubber boot to one that inspired poetry, including the verse:

“Oh, some folks boast of quail and toast
Because they think it’s tony;
But I’m content to owe my rent
And live on abalone.”

After 2-1/2 hours Tim still had a half-hour of material left to share, but we needed to get on the road to our next adventure. He left us with some souvenirs of our day to remember him by, memories of a perfect afternoon in Monterey, and a College-level course level of information on Monterey fishing.

Even if you have no interest in sardines or fishing or history, just being around someone with such knowledge and passion for his subject makes the afternoon worthwhile. One of my favorite ways to enrich my life is to spend time with people who are authentic, who love what they do, and who love to share it with others. No one exemplifies that more than Tim in his waterfront tour.

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