January 18, 2018

It’s 5pm on a Sunday but the city hums. San Francisco is a city of hills, and although I like to think my calves strengthened enough to keep my internal spirit bubble level, I can’t help but think everyone here falls toward their destinations. The falls are less controlled on Saturday nights. My mission today is to walk three quarters of a mile to fetch Airborne and boba for my ailing girlfriend. I was outside but once earlier to see what size tires my car has (255/65-17), an effort which converted time and my awkwardness into a boost to America’s GDP. My apartment building has four basement stories of car elevators, all of which I presume are earthquake-proof though I’m not sure the leasing office ever explicitly said so. Residents are not trusted with their operation, so we rely on a squadron of professional valets. I texted the valet my car ID number, then padded downstairs wearing a ratty t-shirt, basketball shorts and old slippers, which made me look either less or more rich than the residents living on any of the 37 floors above my apartment.

It took 15 minutes for the valets to fetch my car and drive it out toward the front of the garage. I told the ground-level rep I just wanted to take photos of my tires, not drive the thing, to which he said, “Ah, of course.” I’m certain he followed a script, and I’m less certain the script explicitly said, “Don’t look crestfallen if a resident decides he doesn’t want his car and it’s going to be a messy operation to somehow get it back downstairs. The encounter went just as I expected, which is why I had put it off for over a week. But Sunday is a day of inaction followed by action! So, I ventured upstairs and returned to inactivity until 5pm.

Let’s recap: I’m walking to a store. I pass through SoMa, which is an excellent place to work and exist during the week. It has all of the restaurants, bars, cultural sites and cafes necessary to maximize worker happiness in SimCity. Many of these close on the weekend, so that joy flickers for those of us who live there. Or so I imagine; I live next door on Rincon Hill. Our shops close on the weekend too. Continuing my wander, I near a woman crossing the street and for a brief moment think her baby carriage is some awful biomechanical abomination; tiny gray legs support a large plastic frame that shudders at each crack in the asphalt. But then I realize I’m having a poor time judging the parallax of the woman’s carriage and dog, and that I’m probably stupid.

As I walk through Yerba Buena Gardens, I pass a series of men power washing the concrete. They’re wearing angry expressions, and while that incites in me a brief moment of fear, I quickly determine that I would prefer my power washers personally offended by grit and grime than welcoming of. Even so, the blasts are close to my feet and up rises a cloud that sprinkles my lips. I’m torn between displeasure and a longing for Karl (the fog), whom I haven’t seen nor felt since last night. Regardless, I wiped off the Yerba bath water.

The duality of anger and calm completes itself as I walk by an equal number of long haired men wearing flannel, sitting on thoughtfully placed boulders and listening to podcasts, or maybe Headspace. I take a wrong turn and need to jaywalk over a pebble median, careful to avoid toppling a small cairn. Why it was there I don’t know. Perhaps it is a tribute to the small, skittery souls who don’t make it. I make it across the street, narrowly dodging professionals zipping by on their scooters. They make me feel so pedestrian.

When I reach the mall, the crowds are livelier and I remember that I’ve never understood the draw of these places. The weight of my jacket brings down the average. It’s a frosty 55° in San Francisco and the parkas and pea coats just barely protect my fellow consumers from hypothermia, or worse. My experience there is fairly bland; I’m oppressed by the sticky door trying to hold me inside, but I break free of the mall’s clutches and return to the idyllic, carefully planned public space. I spot a boy kneeling next to a small pile of coins on the edge of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, with one hand in the water. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt that he is taking great care to place his coins in an orientation which may maximize the chance of his wishes coming true. Otherwise, he’s stealing, which makes me wonder who he’s stealing from. Legally speaking, who owns money thrown into a wishing well? Where does it go? I contacted the Yerba Buena Gardens organization to find out, and a manager told me they contribute it to artists who perform at the Gardens, which is nice.

While meandering, I hear a girl in Uggs grunt, “My life is so hard,” as she jumps out of a car in front of a homeless man. He’s sitting on one of those chairs formed by the intersection of a building and the sidewalk. This affordance was not intentional in the design of the city, and we’re often oblivious to the people who take advantage of it. Perhaps the only chair with a hint of ergonomy rests at the edge of the MOMA, but that too is likely unintentional.

I reach the dregs of my boba before my hill. I feel a sense of camaraderie with arctic drillers as I punch through the ice for those sweet black pearls. The investment is high, but in this economy tapioca is a hot commodity. I’m opposed to Arctic drilling, but my cup and straw, recyclable as they are, might be the indirect result of it. I like to ponder that relationship.

© 2022 Duncan McIsaac