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.
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.