At the bottom of the world

The world still orbits the Sun, and its axis holds steady at 23.5 degrees from the plane of its spin. Those celestial movements operate on principles that have been constant for tens of thousands of years. Gravity introduces perturbations in that movement but the average person isn’t aware of them. People are much more in tune with seasons, and that tilted axis is responsible for the summer and winters, our springs and falls. In our big world, it also gives us summer in one hemisphere when it is winter in another. That was the situation I put myself into by flying to the bottom of the world in February to explore New Zealand. From the time the airliner doors closed at home to the time they opened at the same airport some 16 days later, calamity turned into adventure and mishap turned into merriment. Virtually each day was a race from one place to another as we visited farms, floated through caves, strolled remote beaches, hiked mountaintops, drove long stretches of gravel roads and woke people literally in the middle of the night.

Part of the chaos was due to jiggering our trip to meet another couple who were in the country for a wedding. They lived in Australia, and so in a sense were also on vacation. We both had intermittent communication issues, scrambled to synchronize our times, and drove for hours to get to our meeting spot, late in the afternoon in a small town called Themes, on our last night in the country.

And as things sometimes go, we talked the rest of the day away. We met at a cafe and had a light meal. We drove up the coast and inland to a hidden trail leading to a massive Kaura tree. It was the same road Lia and I had driven some three days earlier, crossing the Coromandel Peninsula. We drove to another trail, hiking deep into the rain forest. At one point we forded a shallow creek, Lia on my back and our female friend with her boyfriend on hers. She was barefoot and I wore waterproof shoes. We watched the sun go down from a bridge over the creek and made our way back to the car in twilight. We drove back to the town and found an Indian restaurant where we ordered food and drink and also found ourselves the very last patrons to leave. We stepped outside and said our goodbyes, the pairs of us facing two-hour drives to different destinations where we’d stay for the night.

The town was silent except for an unseen someone in an apartment playing rock tunes. The street was deserted. I thought I’d never see a scene like that again, but here I am only a month and half later in my own city, where the coronavirus has made it so.


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16 Parkside Lane

From the kitchen peninsula, standing over the second sink in the granite countertop, she could see the crescent moon through the row of skylights in the family room, cocked high in the mid-evening sky. It had cost a bit extra to do that, but on summer evenings when the moon and the sun bore to the north, she could see them as they made their way to the horizon, their light filling the comfortable room. The fireplace too was extra, but situated as it was against the wall meant her guests could gather in front of it and be warmed, while enjoying the show in the sky in front of them.

Devils Slide

Highway One

The karagge had been good, but she had no idea why she decided to bring it home in its clear plastic container. Her date had pressed it on her, no doubt thinking she really enjoyed it. True, it was better than she thought it would be, as she usually didn’t care for fried chicken. But the crust was dry and delicately seasoned, unlike any she had before, and the meat was tender and savory. So an unexpected delight, but she had eaten only one piece because it was really all she wanted. Now she had seven, and her lips momentarily pursed with regret knowing she’d toss it into the compost bin at the end of the week.

Five minutes passed before she realized she had barely moved, looking through the floor-to ceiling sliders that opened onto a deck fronted by evergreen cypresses. The unusually clear San Francisco night meant lights from the homes in nearby Seacliff winked in and out amidst the fronds. Were she lying on her back, she could almost  imagine them as stars overhead, much like a night some 30 years ago, on another part of the coast very different than this.

She shook her head and sighed. She turned to the refrigerator with its door that matched the cabinetry and put the container inside. She told Jeeves she was going upstairs, and the digital assistant turned down the lights in the kitchen and family room and illuminated footlights in the stairs leading to the master bedroom.

She hung her jacket and parked her heels on a shelf in the closet, and continued into the bathroom. In the mirror she looked at her image without seeing herself as she removed her earrings and washed her face. It was then she stopped and looked at herself, and remembered how he sometimes asked her to close her eyes so he could look at her, knowing how much she disliked  being looked at. In such a time he would always hold her hand close to his chest, not letting go until her eyes were open again. She remembered how still he would be at first, thinking it just on the weird side of creepy, and later realizing he only asked when they were alone, and to anticipate the light intermittent kisses that broke up the tableau.

Ten minutes had gone by. She was suddenly more tired and decided against showering. She changed into her most comfortable pajamas, a simple button-down top with boy shorts. She walked to the sliders which on this level faced the same direction as the floor below. Here she could see the tower tops of the Golden Gate Bridge and beyond, the silhouette of Mount Tamalpais. There too, she had once bedded down for the night, unwashed after a day of hiking but wearing less than she was now, his arm supporting her back as they looked out at the galaxy of stars, keeping one another warm.

He pushed his shoes off his feet by pressing the heels against the jamb as he stepped inside the door. He had long since gotten used to the below-ground-floor apartment, with its many peccadilloes and indignations, but the four-inch drop coming in the front door was the most aggravating. Yet it wasn’t enough to move; in the one-way escalator of rents in this city, he’d be a fool to even try to go anywhere else. He and the landlord both knew it would make no financial sense to upset this particular apple cart. The apartment was illegal, it could really only hold one person, he paid enough in rent to feed the owner’s mah-jongg habit, and he was old enough that everybody else in the building thought he was a caretaker.

Hanging his jacket on its usual peg, he pulled aside the curtain covering his tiny counter kitchen. The place had a galley kitchen at one time, but it was miserably cramped. At the suggestion of a long-gone friend he rearranged everything to fit against one wall, making room for a long shallow table on the opposite wall and freeing up a space next to the light well. The space was just big enough to build in a small bench using scrap wood, stuff it with pillows, and create a spot where he could scrunch down and look up at the small square of sky three stories above. For short periods of some days, the sun beamed all the way down into his window. A salvaged wardrobe mirror leaning against the wall in the lightwell would briefly fill his room with blinding amplified light when conditions were right, but he was rarely home to see it.

He put on some water for tea. He turned the switch on the small retro-styled radio nestled in a tall thin bookcase next to the sink. The book case had a companion on the other side of the room but neither contained books. They did duty as clothes drawer, medicine cabinet, food storage, and knickknack shelf. The dulcet tones of a late-evening DJ poured smoothly from the tiny stereo, the volume just high enough to fill the small room. He shed his pants and shirt in the bathroom, did some business and came back to wash his hands and stare at the small square of mirror in front of him. His gaze went right through it, the wall behind it and the space beyond it, out to a place and time where a mirror wasn’t needed to see himself, when all he was and all he wanted to be was reflected in the face of the person looking at him.

His tiny teapot whistled. He had not marked time’s passing. He prepared a cup, poured a handful of almonds into a small bowl and settled into the bench next to the lightwell. High above he could hear someone talking, and by the cadence guessed they were on a telephone. It was a woman’s voice, urgent and forceful:

“…you have to go. I will be there, I will pick you up and go there with you.  Yes, ten o’clock, I’ll be fine with work. I’ll call an Uber and be in front at ten. At ten. Ten.”

As if he thought he could see her, he looked up. What caught his eye was the glimmering side of a galvanized duct poking above the roofline, and looking a bit higher he caught the tip of the moon, peeking into the well and casting a faint shadow of his cup. Its luminous glow danced on the surface of the tea. As he looked into it, he thought about how the moon had been reflected in her eyes so many years ago, as she lay in his arms in the long grass of the hillside overlooking the Pacific. She was looking at him but could not see his face; the moon cast his in shadow but bathed hers, and it made his heart beat to see her open eyes scanning for what she knew was there. He brought his lips down to hers; the singular aroma of her skin filled his nose and settled into his brain.

“This is all I need.” she said as she pulled his free arm around herself and settled back into his body and he drew a blanket over the both of them. “It’s all I need, tonight.”


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Rash actions

The stress of waiting can drive men, and women mad. The echoing of a wall clock’s tock with no tick, the lurking immediacy of tasks with no due date and the paralyzing solitude of a starting line crowd in a race with no discernible finish line all feed an irrational anticipation of something that needs to be done but for whatever reason cannot be done right now. It forces a desire to do something, anything, that requires effort towards a conclusion that can neatly fit into a box and be tied with a bow.

My work location changed again and the new building requires that I come in at least every 30 days. Worse, the building has no bicycle parking. So I have been mostly working from home since the new year. You might say woohoo, keep one browser tab open to Amazon Fresh, order food every two days, and exult that now laundry will consist of one simplified load per week of all -cotton sweat pants and tees. Um, no. I do want to get outside, the problem being that San Francisco has suddenly turned into Seattle and is all green and chai and wet. And it persisted.

Finally, I could stand it no longer. On a day where the meetings and the rain ended early, I decided to take off to a bicycle shop in the Dogpatch neighborhood to buy some gear I’d had my eye on. Dogpatch is in as industrial area as you can get around here, a land of former steel foundries and shipyards. Prior to the rise of those enterprises the area was known as Butcherville for the abattoirs located there. My route would take me through the lumbering semis in the Produce Mart, the dizzying flyovers of the Alemany maze and since it was after four o’clock, rush -hour traffic. I pulled on cold-weather riding gear, fired up the full front/rear light show on my commuter bike, and set off.

I can’t really describe the trip out too well, because I didn’t really think about it too much. The pavement was pitted and broken and multi-lane with few bike markings. The road bent and turned and writhed like a kitten playing with a ball of string. I gave a lot of credit to drivers traveling in this direction, who either showed me a lot of sympathy and room, or thought anyone crazy enough to pedal in the lane next to MUNI buses and work trucks needed to be given a wide berth.

I made it to my destination and made my purchase. It had taken thirty minutes and the sun was due to set in 20 minutes. I brought my headset and did not play music going out, but set it up for the return trip, for which I’d take a different route. The trip would be slightly more uphill, taking me through the Cesar Chavez maze. This particular tangle of freeways, ramps and bike paths defies illustration. It’s a multi-layered spider web of chutes and flyovers that feed or traverse Cesar Chavez, Bayshore, Potrero and Highway 101. How the City managed a bike bridge in amongst it all is a marvel but it also attracted homeless who camped on the path. It was finally cleared out but the looming concrete overhead structures and thick earthquake-retrofitted pillars still make it a place to clear from quickly. Unfortunately it dumps a rider onto four busy lanes of traffic with no bike separation. Not that I cared; I merged into traffic and figured I’d just push on through to friendly San Jose Avenue, with its more welcoming roadway architecture. I’d fought my battle for the day and gotten outside, and I was good.

Until I realized a pedestrian bridge I just passed led to the other side of the road, and to that stairway. That one particular stairway, which I’d glimpsed for decades and wondered about. It literally arose from beneath a freeway on-ramp and ascended to an unknown height and destination. And I was right here and could explore it.

I rode on for another block before I made a turn. I actually cursed myself for doing it. If I had continued down CC Boulevard, I’d hook up to a straight level shot to home. It was getting darker and a nice warm meal was waiting to be made at home. If I took this detour, I would have to carry the bike up the stairs. This was the craggy back side of Bernal Heights and the climb was a good hundred or so vertical feet. The pedestrian bridge, not designed for bicycles, was steep and narrow with entry bolsters to keep the unwary from stepping into traffic. I could always take up this challenge some other time. But I had not stopped here in 30 years of passing this point, mainly because there was no place to stop if in a car and I never had a reason to walk in this area. If it were to be done, it had to be now. I arrived at the bridge, geared down, waited for a lone bike to clear my way, and slipped past the bolsters to ascend the ramp. I crossed over the boulevard and landed on the other side.


Backside Bernal Stairs. The ramp in the foreground is just above ground level. The stair originates at a ground-level road 40 feet under this ramp.

Standing at the bottom looking up was like looking at the stairs of Cirith Ungol. Broken glass littered the steps. Rank vegetation grew on either side. But now I was committed to the way. I shouldered the bike and up I went.

The reward was at the top. Another hidden view of the City. I stayed for one more picture and then headed for home. There were more adventurous roads and hills before I was to pull into my driveway, but the ennui of the day had been shaken off and I would no longer wonder about that stairway.



Cesar Chavez Maze

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Primitive culture

The title of this post makes absolutely no sense at first reading, and likely will not after, but I’m not disposed to explain it. It suits for now and maybe you’ll discern some part of it. After all, I’m not that subtle.

Twenty years ago tonight I was snug in a bed at the Sandman Hotel in Grand Junction, Colorado. I had been weeks traveling the upper Southwest and had been camping for about six straight nights. Even though it was really car camping, it was good to mix in the luxury of a room every so often for a hot shower, a place to plug in my laptop and a phone line to upload some pictures. This was pre-smartphone, so posting pics meant  pulling out the camera’s CF card, slipping it into my PowerBook 5300 and after editing, actually connecting to a telephone with a modem to update my website and download email.

The night before I’d been snug in my sleeping bag in a tent inside Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. I’d come back from a long day of hiking among the formations in an area called Devil’s Garden. I’d strayed beyond the marked path borders, which all the brochures warned against because people got lost with great regularity among the sandstone formations. When they were found they were usually without water. Sometimes they were even found alive. I returned well after dark, using the massive illuminating field of stars overhead to find my way. I’d left my car in camp, walking to the trailhead, but when I returned something looked different. As I examined my tent, a man from a neighboring campsite emerged from his tent and ran over to me, obviously having already bedded down for the night. He explained gusts of wind had raked the campground around sundown and my tent had blown into a nearby ravine. He retrieved it and staked it down. He warned things might look a little jumbled inside, but he did not open the tent. I thanked him and sure enough, the few items inside were tossed around. Fortunately there was nothing breakable.  I was so tired I didn’t bother with doing much more than washing my face and going to sleep.

The morning was desert-cool and clear as a bell. My neighbor and his female companion were packing up to leave. I thanked him again and returned his stakes. He said I should keep them as he had extras. The camp host came over to check on me, saying he and his wife were concerned when they realized I had not come back after sunset and my car was still there. I thanked him also and assured him I was okay. As was my usual practice, I fired up my stove to boil water for oatmeal and tea and pulled out my maps to figure out where to go next. I had no agenda and no timetable. My general destination was Ocean City, Maryland because  I had originally chosen the route of Highway 50, billed as the loneliest road in America, and the link between that East Coast city and Sacramento, California. I looked to see what places looked interesting and how much driving I could endure each day. That morning I chose to go north because it would take me back up a scenic byway where I had camped some days before, on the banks of the Colorado River.

It was here that I went wrong, in a way. U.S. 50 continued due east, but the road I chose went north. I was mesmerized by the beautiful Green River, which merged south of me with the mighty Colorado. If one could drive through the Grand Canyon, it might look like this. Before I knew it, I was forty miles on with destination signs speaking of Carbonville, and Helper. I visited an oil company demonstration site just off the road and signed their guest book. I found a scenic dirt road into a slot canyon where the stained rock was covered in pictographs. I climbed a trail next to a wall and came face to face with a Kokopelli figure, part of a veritable magazine of etchings.  I lingered here for a while, wishing someone could interpret what I was seeing.  But the rangers will tell you it is pointless to do so. They are not even sure all the etchings were done at he same time. It could just be ancient graffiti. Not a story, only a message from a people who left these lands without a clue as to where they went.

I promised myself lunch in Duchense. Once there I looked for a route east and learned of a fossil dig in a town called Dinosaur. It boasted a beautiful museum with a fascinating story, but I hung out there too long before getting back on the road. Darkness was coming on I pulled over to check the map and punched a preset on my radio. To my surprise a San Francisco station carrying a SF Giants game bleated from the speakers. I listened for a while, learned the team was fighting for a playoff spot, and the next stop would be in Denver against the Rockies. So I set my sights on heading to Colorado, and made for Grand Junction.

But I was wiped out. I’d driven off and on some 325 miles, in what was essentially a huge circle, I’d hiked another six miles in the sun. My butt was sore. The distance from Grand Junction to Denver would be another long stint in the saddle. And most daunting of all, the map showed that beyond the Mile High City and Great Divide, the roads all suddenly straightened out like the EKG reading of a cardiac arrest. Driving through the synclines and anticlines of the high desert was one thing, but now I’d be in the Plains, and I wasn’t looking forward to driving east anymore.

I read through my email. One message was from a friend who wondered how much longer I’d be out here. I wondered if it would be worth going back to see her. It was still early fall but the forecast was for cooler weather.

I checked out and had breakfast in a nearby diner. I filled the tank with gas and the cooler with ice, and bought a paper. I nosed the car through the streets to Interstate 70 and headed west. My walkabout was over.

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I decided to go Marie Kondo on the stuff in my garage. Last week I filled the recycling bin with old newspapers and other material, and this week it looks like I’ll do the same. Somehow it became easier once I realized keeping all that paper was like lugging around too much baggage. Getting rid of it really is freeing, but it’s more than just the lost avoirdupois of stale newsprint. It’s also the time not spent reading what I meant to read when I saved what I saved. Most of this stuff had not been touched in a couple of years. I should be more embarrassed to admit some hadn’t seen the light of day in a decade, but I haven’t gotten to those boxes yet. The focus is to empty or refile one box at a time. I started with 15 plastic boxes, and what is to be filed has to fit in five. So far none are full save one containing necessary house documents.  Not all the boxes contained paper, and two carloads of stuff went to donation centers. That collection included film cans, business cards, wooden toys, wind-up monsters, crisp unused drapes and an odd device from our friends to the North that arrived on the scene shortly after Blackberry. I know I’ve mentioned the rabbit before, but never again since it is now sitting on a shelf somewhere at the Community Thrift Store.


The purge is interrupted by Things That Need To Get Done. TTNTGD are sometimes also slowed by paper, because the ritual is do something with it or toss it. Sometimes, that Do Something With It means pulling together more papers and taking an action that of itself will do away with the papers. One such was assembling critical papers for the end of the tax year. Another is re-assessing my insurance situation. These things take time + effort + assistance from another entity, and so create pauses along the way. But I’m determined to see it through, and am leaving the boxes (and new piles of paper) in place until the TTNTGD is accomplished so that I can pick up where I left off on the task.


I know, it all sounds incredibly dreary. Most things we don’t want to do are. But sometimes there is a reward. A few weeks ago I felt the strong need for a long bike ride, because I hadn’t taken one in a while. An opportunity presented itself when I had to pick up a item I snagged from the Treasure Truck, which was hiding out in Fisherman’s Wharf. Once I had the items safely stashed in my pannier I continued west through the Marina District and the Presidio. I had already mapped a route in my head that would take me through Golden Gate Park and back through the Wiggle to Tartine, where I could collect whatever baked goods remained for the day before coming home.


And my route brought me to this place.

IMG_8588 (1)

I hung out for a long while taking it in. The holidays are a little like purgatory sometimes, with as many rewards as punishments associated with the season. And oftentimes in the hubbub finding a spot of tranquility is the best gift of all.


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Street level

Ever since I moved to San Francisco some 40 years ago, people were living on the streets. Hippies, bums, panhandlers or just plain street people, what you called them depended on your point of reference. Most of the ones I heard of lived in Golden Gate Park, where an entire village could lie hidden in the underbrush. One might not find evidence of them unless one strayed off the paved path, and having grown up around forests I was not reluctant to dive into a thicket or copse if a hint of trail led therein. While I sometimes found evidence of an encampment, I rarely made contact with actual people and when I did, I kept on going. Nothing to see here, keep moving, but sir that is a pungent aroma.

When I started working night in the South of Market it was much the same. At the time, before the arrival of the glass towers, no one in their right mind ventured there at night. There wasn’t much there anyway except for the TransBay Terminal, with its cavernous lower hall illuminated by florescent lights and stippled with long wooden benches draped with late-night would-be passengers for the Grey Dog and Trailways long-distance buses. Up top, often wrapped in wet cold fog were the local lines. The all-night F from AC Transit carrying sodden students back to Berkeley, and the ghostly N-line streetcar that swept up the ramp and waited to pick up passengers headed back to the Sunset, looking so much like Charon’s boat in the gloom. Beyond the Terminal was nothing but a few dive bars and the deep underground club scene. And there the homeless were also, in their small cardboard capsules, swaddled in rags and bags and filth. And I walked on by.

There was a time when I made the acquaintance of a homeless guy. By this time I was working the day shift, and went out to lunch a few times a week. I was a manager, I wore a coat and tie, I was a member of the established set. Except I wasn’t, because the established set were part of a cultural syndicate that didn’t know quite what to make of me and ran in circles that were both inside and outside the team I directed. So my lunches were always alone, which was actually fine by me. I enjoyed a sandwich and juice on a bench or stair, watching the Financial District crowd sashay back and forth on the brick sidewalks.

It was there Paul walked up to me and asked if I’d like to buy a copy of the Street Sheet. I asked him what it was about as much out of professional curiosity as anything and he explained the Sheet was written, printed and distributed by street people. It was only a dollar. We talked more until I had to get back to work. Over the next couple of years I’d see him about once a month and we’d jaw about stuff. I’d buy the paper, read it while we talked, and give it back to him so he could sell it again. He’d been a printer himself once, in a life where he left a home to go to work. He’d had his fights with drugs, but it was behind him as long as he kept busy. During the summer months he made enough to stay in a residential hotel, which was a hell of a lot better than queuing up for a city shelter.

I lost touch with him when I got busyer. I know that’s not how it’s spelled, but if you’ve ever seen “In Pursuit of Happyness” you’ll get it. Anyway, I changed jobs and locations and that was it.



Street Sentinel

A few months ago I pushed my bicycle out of my garage in the pre-dawn light and started my commute to work. It’s a really pleasant ride: from the quiet residential street in my neighborhood the route intersects a cross-town link to BART, the regional train system, and then elevates to a long expressway that leads to and from the interstate. I then traverse three miles of trendy Valencia street, which T-bones Market Street, the spine of town. A coupe of blocks before that, the ramp of the Central Freeway passes overhead, providing a bit of visual cover for the street below. Just past its shadow, for some reason, I happened to look at the wall of shuttered shops along the sidewalk. In one of the doorways lay a bedraggled man in a sleeping bag, propped up on one folded arm, looking out at the curb. His beard was matted and his hair tangled. But his eyes were wide and clear, and held the expression of a person who was acutely aware he was again waking up on the street, wondering how the hell his life had come to that. It was the stare of a man who had once known what to do and how to get along in life, and now was just trying to figure out the next steps in his day.

He never looked up as I passed. I stopped at the light on McCoppin; another block beyond that lay Market and the intersection at Otis. Beyond that was Van Ness Avenue, home to mansions before the 1906 earthquake and fire, and now doing double-duty as bustling Highway 101 through the city, lined with palatial Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini  showrooms and steak houses.

I couldn’t shake his face. I turned down Van Ness, taking a couple of back alleys that would lead me back to Valencia. In one of those alleys I stopped to pull a bill out of my wallet, stuffing it back into the pocket from which it came.

I pulled onto the sidewalk, navigating a dog and its walker, and stopped next to the guy. I leaned over and handed him the money. He looked at it, then up at me.

“Thank you, man.” he said. “God bless you.”

I’ve not seen him since.


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If you build it


The core of Salesforce Tower rises above the plywood fence in the foreground. Behind it, the last beam of steel for the new Transbay Terminal was set in place last week.

There’s no point in trying to compare the past with the present when it comes to construction activity in the Financial District South. The fact that it is even called Financial District South speaks to the situation.  I saw the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” tonight for the first time, thanks to a movie channel. In the timeframe of the film, Dean Witter Reynolds was an independent brokerage with offices in the Bank Of America World Headquarters building on California Street. The Pacific Stock Exchange was four blocks down and one over, a granite edifice with guards patrolling the entrances.

Today, B of A’s headquarters are in Manhattan.Dean Witter is long gone. The PSEX is patrolled by impossibly toned women and men in Fabletics and Lululemon wear. The building is now a health club; the halls that once echoed with calls to buy and sell now replaced with exhortation to push and feel the burn.

In the South of Market we now have Black Rock, Morgan Stanley, and Charles Schwab. And Salesforce, which is its own kind of financial juggernaut. The new tower rising in the midst of the terminal project will eventually house some of their employees, offices for other companies, and residences in its one thousand feet of rise. And they will look down onto a huge urban park that will be greater than the sum of all the greenspace in SOMA today.

It’s all a changed world under construction for us, but for them it will be just a new world.


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Change is coming

I’ve had many ideas to post but not acted on anything for a few months. Even now I’ve dithered writing this while looking back through images that were meant to be illustrated, but never authored. I can’t say why – sometimes the writing block refuses to be described.

One recurring feeling continues to bubble up: San Francisco is poised on the curling edge of a wave of change. Massive infrastructure projects are underway around the city, such as haven’t been done for many years. It’s not just the blue glass and aluminum silos that are sprouting in the former industrial warrens of Rincon Hill. It’s the transformative developments:

  • Candlestick Park is now gone and all that was part of it. With little public fanfare and a huge expanse of area in which to build, redevelopment work is moving forward and the first new housing is already under construction.
  • The Transbay Transit Center project has emerged above ground but still has several years to go. Now that the Salesforce Tower is underway, developers surrounding the site are rushing to get their shovels in the ground. Though there had been some worry about funding the urban park that was to be a theme of the transit center’s roof, I’m sure that, a la Hudson Yards, the building owners will see the benefit of having access to such an amenity for their tenants and will kick in some cash or work to make it happen.
  • The Central Subway is the first new underground line in decades in The City, and many people are onboard with the idea the next one should happen much more quickly. As it is this cross-town line will create a significant new artery between Mission Bay and Union Square/Chinatown. It also forebodes a shift for North Beach and the Marina. Change will accelerate in these densely populated neighborhoods. Not so much for Telegraph Hill, protected by Aaron Peskin and geography, not to mention the ridiculous entry price for housing there.
  • Crissy Field is San Francisco’s front yard. Already loved to pieces by the work of the Presidio Trust over the past ten years, the replacement of Doyle Drive with the Presidio Parkway and the renovation of the surrounding public space will change beyond recognition – and the space is already unrecognizable from just ten years ago.

But the most significantly, I feel the housing pressure easing ever so slightly. A small studio still costs more in annual rent than purchasing a small motorhome, and you can buy a garage space for the price of a one-bedroom condo in some parts of  the country. But the frenzy seems to have abated, as if the crowd chasing real estate suddenly poured out of a narrow alley into a wide plaza and is slowing down to assess the landscape. I’m not quite sure how to quantify it, or what it means. Especially since the prices are still high – but soft.

A friend recently gave up her two-bedroom condo and moved into the City after an absence of some twenty years. She found two shared rentals within as many months. Anecdotal yes, but she was able to find places without spending half her paycheck.

It’s also winter, when the market gets sluggish anyway. But I started this post nearly two months ago. We’ll see what the coming months bring. Especially summer, when a number of new apartment units are due to come onto the market in Mission Bay.


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The internet, airwaves and magazine racks are full of advice on how to take a vacation and disconnect from the job. So I thought I’d add my own to the noise.


Take the scene below:


Add yourself to a chair on the darkened deck.

Fill the glass with your favorite relaxing beverage and consume.

Repeat till done.


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Small town, big sky

Well, I was born in a small town. And before you rip me for ripping Mellencamp, know that I wasn’t even thinking of him when I had the idea for this post. But digging even deeper, were you yourself born in a small town? Or did you grow up in a small town? Because if you did, you’ll understand at a visceral level what it means to stand in the middle of the street at dusk, with the air so still you can hear wind in the trees a block away. If you close your eyes and pull those memories forward hard enough, you’ll remember the evening scent hanging in the air from the landscape around you. If you are old enough to have forgotten, one deep breath will recall to you the aroma was of the trees on your block, or the milkweed and reeds bordering the bank of the culvert near your friends’ house, or the gravel road leading up to your neighborhood from the blacktop, littered with crushed acorns fallen from the spreading arms of oaks.


Sunset beyond the Meadows

And the quiet. Those evenings when everyone was inside starting, eating or finishing dinner, when maybe you were the only one out because you had to take out the trash, or walk your dog, or do something before it got dark. You were there to see the sky filled with light from an unseen source, the mighty Sun having already dipped behind a horizon edged with a haze that made its light diffuse on the atmospheric canvas. There were no street lights or neon signs or tall buildings polka-dotted with office lights to wash out the view. Just the sky, and the quiet so deep that it pulled you into the road where you could see the splendor, knowing no cars were coming or would come for the long minutes that you wanted to spend, the adult looking at the same sky that was there as a child, in your small town.


Looking east from The Meadows

I know, it looks like suburbia. A march of tract homes in a developer-inspired meander intended to lend the appearance of non-conformity. An illusion, if you will. But the real illusion is that it is all orderly and tame. Wild turkeys cross the roads moving from the riparian stream to the woodlands. Pumas prowl the hills within a half mile of the perimeter. Feral pigs have been known to bolt from the underbrush. But the telling part is that each of these tidy little homes is its own lifeboat, a collection in a community where the rising moon means that whatever shops and businesses that might be a source of provision are miles and miles away. No commerce means no traffic except for the people you know coming home to park their cars and go inside for the night, leaving the night to gather around the familiar scent, and the silence to deepen, on the streets of this small town.

Posted in Food and neighborhoods, Houses, Streets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments