Colorful vibrant parades, festivals, markets, street fairs. Descriptive of San Francisco neighborhood events held throughout the year in various communities, all of which have their own unique character. Not quite as distinct as New York’s upper west side vis a vis the East Village, but visually provoking nevertheless.
Market Street. Dirty, crowded, distraction after distraction, beggars demanding more than the current hourly minimum wage from each bystander, guys on bicycles whizzing by, all of them appearing to have no or poorly distributed and discolored teeth. Someone passes me with an I Love Jesus sign and another asks me where Polk is. I have no clue, I think. I have no clue, I reply.
My friend and I are trying to meet on a particular street corner, but we keep missing each other because the roads never seem to match up, they’re slanted somehow and I’m reminded of U2’s the streets have no names over and over again. A map doesn’t help, nor does his guidance by cell phone, as I walk up and down Market looking for clues or ques or something.
So I continue to roam around alone for another hour, at one point ducking into a Payless Shoe Store and then an extremely crowded Ross on a corner, just to escape another homeless person who won’t take no for an answer.
There are oddly no cafes or bistros in this area and I’d have to travel far by foot to even come close to a place I’d like to sit for a cupa tea. And for something healthy on the menu, even further.
A few walk by in shorts and t-shirts and a block later, a woman briskly passes me in a long coat with a matching scarf. San Francisco in summer. Some think it is, others agree with Mark Twain’s famous quote.
I do too.
Where is the sun? Where are the warm breezes? I try to listen for the left over effects of the Love Parade but they have faded into the distance as has the latest description from my friend about where I might be and how to get to where I thought I wanted to go.
The Embarcadero feels seemlingly far away from this energy and Union Street even further. When I get to both later that afternoon, I realize just how far they are in every way. The colors change dramatically and the vibe is half the pace. The Marina falls somewhere in between, and while equally cluttered, it doesn’t feel so.
I’m still cold despite the fact that the sun graces me with its presence for fifteen minutes or so…..I jump on a bus for kicks. No wonder I drive everywhere. It is a far cry from London’s efficiency or New York’s regularity but it still tries to be a public transportation city, sadly not hard enough.
I duck into Nordstroms for warmth and to be charmed by their new fall shoe collection, which I discover is the best I’ve seen in years. High slender brown suede boots tempt me as do the funky but dangerously tall hand-crafted clogs in multiple colors. While they hardly match any outfit I own or would own, they quietly echoed “buy me, buy me.”
Their handbags are hardly a match, but I need to browse there and elsewhere to warm my bones on this September day before leaving the store. Perhaps they had this in mind when they chose store locations – its no wonder there’s barely a serious shop in San Francisco’s sunnier neighborhoods.
I finally find my friend and another picks us up on the corner of 6th as we hover by the bus stop looking for his silver Toyota corolla rental, the one that was supposed to have a built-in GPS system. Because it didn’t, we relied on intuition to get us to Chestnut Street, where we accidentally discover an outside cafe that served bad food but good coffee.
The city still doesn’t feel like ‘my hood.’ Perhaps new cities never do the older we get and the more reference points we have in our lives. Discovery after discovery, all new experiences somehow have a reference to another place, until perhaps the place becomes so deeply integrated that you move gracefully from one area to the next on auto-pilot, the way you might in an old family home, so familiar that you can find every light switch and door handle in the dark with your eyes closed.
I return home at the end of the day, but not via Market or Mission. I want to avoid the clutter, the noise, the energy, the sounds of sirens that are never-ending and somehow more noticeable to me than they are in Manhatten. I still haven’t been able to figure out why.
2 am near-silence. 4 am silence. 6 am sawing next door. 7 am children laughing on a veranda that faces my back courtyard. 8 am tea kettle. As it automatically clicks off, I pour the water into a pot infused with green and jasmine tea leaves and suddenly recall that if I were still in London, a tea cozy would warm the pot before I engaged. In the distance is my city view from a Bernal Heights hill; Mission Street’s energy, not yet awake in the middle of my gaze, misses the fog to the left and the mist to its right.
I want to lie on my hammock and watch the gradual separation of the sky, yet its too cool to do so. I want to make a fire instead but realize how absurd the notion is this time of the day, so check on my two favorite plants instead – colorful, flowing Veronica and strong, sturdy Harald, the cactus. Drinking my tea, I think San Francisco morning. San Francisco day. San Francisco memory. I remembered knowing that someday I’d live here. Here I am.