I only spent 3 1/2 years living in San Francisco, and it’s approaching 20 years since I left, yet I have an abiding affection for that miserable town. Miserable. Cold, damp, gray weather; dirty streets that smelled of piss and vomit, a large population of bitter angry people (not the natives, who generally were quite nice, but all the folks who had moved there because it was the place to be), and the unbearable crowding and lack of open space (where I grew up, there was a full lot between our house and the neighboring house). There were times I hated the place so much I desperately wanted to pack up and leave.
And yet I have great memories. Riding my bike up over Russian Hill and getting that great view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Riding my bike over the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County. Going up to the wine country, or Muir Woods. It was also the place where I became an independent adult, not living in a college dorm or at my parents’ house, but sharing an apartment and working hard to pay the rent. It’s where I learned to love Thai food, to drink sake bombs, and the unique joy of riding my bike on nearly deserted city streets in the middle of the night.
Ah, the streets of San Francisco. As a bike messenger, I knew them well. In those gravy dog days I could dodge traffic with the best of them. The entire universe of traffic was not chaos, as it appeared, but an elegant dance, and I could step in and out of it without missing a beat. The sense of oneness with everything made me believe, at least superficially, in Zen.
As I said, twenty years ago now. But I recently discovered the Streetsblog San Francisco, and I keep returning to it, fascinated by the continuing developments in San Francisco traffic. I doubt it would be of much interest to anyone who hasn’t lived there, but this entry, The Ghost Streets of San Francisco, may fascinate you as much as it does me. Some of these ghost streets I knew; others are unfamiliar to me. But it’s a beautiful piece of writing, filled with longing, hope, a sense of beauty, and an unapologetic, yet not foolish, romanticism. Read it. And I hope you enjoy it half as much as I did.