San Francisco, CA
San Francisco is wonderful. Today is the opposite of the pacific northwest: it is bright and sunny with hardly a cloud in the sky, the temperature warming into the 80s by mid-morning. I am driving down the highway, aware that the map has the golden gate bridge labeled in front of me, but it still catches me off guard. The lanes and their direction are barely marked, so I keep with the traffic to the side as I look up, down, below, and side-to-side – pretending to check my mirrors and be a good driver while enjoying the landscape.
I had bought my little green bug in January before the spring semester of school began, unable to move it forward. I wanted this car so badly, I piled the art of learning to drive stick on top of all my other activities. To be perfectly honest, I was terrible – stalling at every stop, barely able to jerk the thing forward. The tiniest hill would send my normally levelheaded self into full panic mode. Which sucked because the parking in front of my dorm was on a hill. I use the term hill here loosely as this is coastal Virginia where the only place to go sledding (during the ten minutes of snow we get each year) is a converted trash heap – but for drainage purposes this road curved markedly into the curb. As soon as my parking break was lifted, my car would crash into this curb and it took all my effort to get it out. But now was different. Now I had driven cross-country with this thing, maneuvering around the twists of the Appalachian Mountains and California coastline, angling up the hairpin turns of Colorado and British Columbia, and conquering the dreaded dirt roads of Wyoming and Washington. The slight fear that I would end up like the girl in Princess Diaries, slamming into a trolley car while rolling backwards or just simply giving up and crying in the drivers seat in the pouring rain flashed across my mind. But no, once and for all I had to conquer San Francisco. And I did – not with perfect agility and grace – but with no major flaws of rolling or stalling. Even if this was all I had done in San Francisco, or if just afterward the sky burst forth with sheets of rain – the same smile would not have been able to be wiped from my face.
I think I like this place for the architecture. Multiple earthquakes have destroyed the city many times, yet the feeling remains old and loved. It was hard enough for me to conceive of buildings on a flat plane for my one architecture class, let alone on such slopped hills in such cramped quarters – and so, I highly respect this feat of design and engineering. And it works. The trolley too seems to be a remnant of days gone by. The people are nice as well – not in a small town creepy way or car salesman down your throat way, but in a pleasant if you’re looking quite lost way. While getting my money out of my tiny pocket for a worker as I boarded the trolley, my poor camera jumped from my hand to freedom before crashing to the concrete. Another employee stood up from his position against a nearby wall, picked up my camera and said “girl, imma keep this cus you can’t take care of this thing.” I laughed but then gave him a stern look as he fake-shoved it into his pocket. I got a second wind of back-talk and told him that as long as he was standing there and holding my camera he might as well take a picture of me on this thing. He smiled, knowing it was all in jest and snapped a picture. And then he boarded the trolley and masterfully took control of the operating levers. Awesome: I had just sassed my driver. I watched his craft, standing like a gondolier among us, pushing the vessel forward by alternating the use of two different levers, each my size in height. As we moved into neighborhoods and less touristed stops, the driver seemed to know everyone by name, trading warm welcomes and unfortunate jokes. I wasn’t actually sure where this trolley was going, but everyone else was getting on so I decided to jump off the bridge too. We ended up in the heart of the ritzy shopping district where I once again wondered why so many people were attracted to the Maceys and Forever 21 here when they probably had ones near their hometown (that also might have actually had a sale…just sayin).
The one thing this place was missing (and perhaps I myself had just missed it) was a park. There was a long stretch of green beside the bay where dogs happily smelled each other’s butts and ran to catch frisbees. But this wasn’t a park, a small hideaway from the hustle and bustle of a city where you can relax under the cool shade of a tree or just meditate and stare into nothingness on your lunch break. Yet, it was a Monday morning and the first day of school, and there wasn’t much frenzied scatter to want to escape from.