Monday, July 30, 2012

A Sunny* Monday in San Francisco

The sun called to me today. 

When I first went outside to get coffee this morning, I looked west toward the ocean, and saw nothing but blue sky. 

Minutes later as I motored through my morning online routine fueled by breakfast, a depth charge, and cold water to chase, in the back of my mind I knew I had to get out of my apartment to where the action was. 

At the same time, I had novel revisions that needed work, so I decided to bring hard copies along for the day trip. The goal was to do close edits of four 5-8 page scenes over the course of the day, while soaking in the vibe outside. 

To make the revisions more bearable, I chose four different locations. At each spot, I'd edit one of the four vignettes at a leisurely pace (to allow space for people-watching, and breathing), then move on to the next location, breaking up the workload and rewarding myself with a series of little journeys. 

[Click on the following photos to see close-ups.]

The first stop was Mission and 21st Street, above. 

On this corner is a building with stairs out front where people sit, which was good to know. The management of most businesses aren't ok with folks just killing time in front of their establishments, but I'd gathered that this spot was safe. 

Below are two different angles of my vantage point. At the right in the first photo is Medjool, once a rooftop bar with a great view of the San Francisco skyline. The second photo is a garden variety sidewalk glance directly across the street.

While taking in the Mission Street feel - more Latinos and families than many other San Francisco neighborhoods, wide sidewalks, the heat of brick and asphalt, everyone minding their own business - I inked my manuscript with underlines, overlines, and notes in the margin. When I was almost finished, a 70-something Filipina who'd been on the stairs the whole time saw me take a photo and asked if I had a cellphone.

It turned out that the elderly man she was with was waiting to get into a doctor's office nearby, but there was no answer at the door. Were the staff out to lunch?

As she spoke the number, I pressed the keys, then put the phone to my ear. The ringtone went on and on and on, uninterrupted by an answering machine or live voice, but they were grateful for the assistance. The man spoke little English, but I clearly heard him say, "God bless you" just before they walked away.

Next, I headed to Alamo Square. On the way, I snapped a photo of an eggshell blue house that has caught my attention other times, when I didn't have a camera with me. The light colors really come out in the bright mid-day sun.

My trusty steed.

Alamo Square is known for the painted ladies, the interconnected Victorians in the photo below. Click on this photo to see one of the best vista shots in San Francisco.

I sat on the other side of Alamo Square, where there are few tourists and lots of dogs. Below, you can see the houses along Hayes Street, behind that Buena Vista Park, and behind that the Mount Sutro tower just behind Twin Peaks, which offers the most panoramic view of the city.

My next stop was the Panhandle (below), a narrow band of greenspace that introduces Golden Gate Park. 

As I basked in the physical beauty around me and slaved over my copy, a man sat down at the other end of the bench with a carry-out container inside a brown paper bag. Before starting in on his lunch he looked at me and said, "If people make lasagna, don't mess with 'em." 

I nodded politely and went back to my work while he ate and alternately cast words out to no one in particular ("One more time, that's all it took" and "It's an insane world, if you lose your grip...otherwise...shit") and made harsh comments to passerby.

Not long after he'd lit into a skateboarder who went by, an octogenarian approached slowly, crouched over a walker. The man said, "I was loving you every day as well." She seemed flattered, and smiled. He then got up, tossed his container in a trash can, looked me in the eye and said, "It's been nice talking to you. It's a beautiful day." I concurred; he nodded and walked off.     

For my last edit, I went to the casting pools in Golden Gate Park, one of the most tranquil spots in San Francisco. The first thing I saw when I emerged from a trail enclosed by treecover into open space was still, calming water. 

In a city of over 800,000, the only other people there were a man, his baby in a carriage, the grandfather, and a another man taking a nap (see lifeless white figure on the grass in the second photo below). 

It was just the five of us and chirping birds, the sounds of the streets far removed.  

Of the four locations, this was where I was best able to concentrate on my crowded revisions. 

Fittingly, the ocean was my final destiny, my final reward for slogging through twenty-plus pages of text. 

Before I got to the ocean, I could see that I wouldn't be encountering a picture postcard blue sky as far as the eye could see. The fog had crept in to the Western edge of San Francisco.

This was the view of the horizon:

This was my view as I felt cool sand on my feet:

I saw a bird strut,

a knotted wave as it washed up the shore, 

and the smooth-as-glass texture of the water as it receded back into the ocean.

Gray was the color along the Pacific coastline,

but it was beautiful. 
The air was warm, 
the wind was mild, 
the beach was bare, 
the scene was serene, 
and seemingly bottled up, 

for not a half-mile East of the ocean, 
as I made way back to civilization, 
Mr. Blue Sky awaited.

*click here for more "Truth and Beauty" photo essays


  1. Your post does full justice to your beautiful city...and reminds me all over again why it's my favorite city in the world. Bravo!

  2. Great writing and pictures

  3. You made me feel like I was there. Love the way you call your bike your "trusty steed."

  4. Very nice! You're making me (adopted) homesick.

  5. I loved this, Dan. thanks for taking me on a wonderful trip through SF and environs as I sit in front of my computer in Boston ! Come on over this way to visit and bring your writing pad and camera - anytime. PS congratulations on becoming a first-time Uncle !!!

  6. Great tour of San Francisco Dan! You even made it out to the non-touristy fog-belt of inner Sunset and Outer Sunset districts. Can your 'trusty steed' make it up to Mount Davidson, Forest Hill and Diamond Heights? Some great views up there and throughout Lake Merced, Parkside & Stonestown.
    I'm long overdue for a trip back home.


  7. -the steed has been to all of those places, but it has been a while. Thanks for the suggestions; perhaps they'll make it into future photo essays. I agree, you need to visit. D

  8. Great tour! Great writing and photos. I felt like I was in your hip pocket. The steed needs new shocks :)

    From your favorite drummer

    1. WOW Dan. Sorry it took me so long to take you up on your writing. While I am content in my home, going with you on your San Francisco day trip leaves me with the loving feelings for San Francisco that I've longed for. It was a city I fought against knowing and I remember when I first moved here and people talked about "the City" I always thought they were talking about New York! I guess that's how Brooklyn girls think! I learned to know San Francisco from the Master - for a Brooklyn boy, my husband Ray had a relationship with San Francisco like I'd never seen. Appreciated feeling like I was visiting an old friend and while I'm only less than 20 miles away it seems so much further sometimes. Thanks for bringing me on a familiar trip. We'll tawk kath

  9. I love your photo essays; this is the 3rd one I've seen. I'm a 5th-gen San Franciscan myself, but now live 25 miles South with a wife who gets claustrophobic in the City when there for more than a few hours (she was raised in a semi-rural environment). I still visit the City whenever I can manufacture an excuse.
    One correction: you refer to the monstrous TV-radio tower as being on Twin Peaks. It's actually about a half mile away, on Mt. Sutro, not far from UCSF.