When I lived in the Lower Haight a few summers ago, I used to open the big bay windows in the living room and bedroom window to feel the breeze. It would wake me in the morning, the fresh smells and cool touch helping me get out from under the cocoon of my down blanket.
A breeze that I didn’t see much that summer met me on my most recent weekend in San Francisco. This was the sunny, late summer breeze, which had a warmth to it that my foggy early summer breezes rarely did.
I got to know it well on Saturday morning when I walked across Market Street to the Ferry building, a favorite of mine in the city. This time every week brings fruit, cheeses, breads, and all kinds of produce to the Ferry Plaza where some residents and plenty of tourists come to hang out in the sunshine, stroll the stands, taste the goods, and take in the spectacular setting. The reds, yellows and oranges of tomatoes, the light purple of lavender, the greens and pinks and reds of pluots and peaches mix delightfully with the chirps of seagulls, the yaps of dogs, and the shimmer of San Francisco Bay. I visited the stands from west to east, stopping for a taste of this chip with that olive tapenade, a piece of amazing goat cheese on a toothpick, an heirloom tomato piece dipped in lavender salt.
My appetite sharpened more than satisfied, I walked over to the Embarcadero side, got in line at the stand of Rose Pistola Café and ordered an heirloom tomato egg scramble with fontina and some other cheese, a slice of San Francisco sourdough, some golden brown potatoes and a cup of fresh squeezed orange juice. I settled with my plate, my cup and my backpack on a bench a few feet away. On my right I found a surprisingly calm Labrador with his young, hip owner. On my left, a raggedy guy in a flannel jacket and shaggy beard enjoyed his coffee while two cheery ladies next to him guided people towards the compost bin.
I walked back across Embarcadero and along the grassy plaza. Tall concrete office buildings watched over the sunny scene, too arrogant to recognize that they didn’t belong. I walked up Washington and turned right on Columbus. I caught a glimpse of Chinatown, saw an old dive bar, a few strip clubs. I passed City Lights, a bookstore that initially meant something to me only as a poster on the bedroom wall of a former love. I walked past a classic Italian deli where I once had an excellent sandwich with an old roommate and by a less authentic Italian restaurant where I once met a beautiful girl for a drink.
I visited a friend on Greenwich and munched on blueberries as we caught up on what we were up to. She lived in a beautiful apartment with a paneled living room, well placed pictures, and a perfectly comfortable sectional couch. A lovely kitchen had an island made for conversations over blueberries, and a set of windows framed the Bay, the islands, the sailboats and let in the breeze.
No matter how cliché, Lombard Street is still fun. This time, I walked up to it, tried to avoid the tourists snapping pictures while snapping a few pictures, and walked up the steps along the north side. At the top, I turned in front of a cable car packed with marveling passengers and walked back down Filbert. Cars were parked at scary angles. I made it back to Columbus and settled on a grassy spot in Washington Square Park. Pretty girls enjoyed the sunshine as a group of friends set up a game of horseshoe. Dogs raced around and among old Asian ladies practicing tai chi.
Adam, a former co-intern and good buddy, joined me in the park. Hungry, we wandered over to Caffe Roma where I had a turkey panini with avocado and sun dried tomatoes and a cappuccino. We sat at a small table facing Columbus and people-watched and shared our work-related frustrations. They felt a lot more distant to me than they did the previous morning.
We joined Mitch after he drove over from Berkeley and stopped in my old neighborhood for a taco. I walked by my old apartment and saw a big flat screen TV awkwardly planted in front of the living room bay window.
We found a parking spot in Golden Gate Park and laughed as Mitch made a mess of climbing into it. Deciding not to pay $25 with only an hour left at the Academy of Sciences, we wandered the park looking for the dancing roller skaters that Adam kept telling us about. We finally found them and were a bit underwhelmed. Adam informed us that this was far fewer than the usual crew that cruised around the park dancing to boomboxes on their shoulders.
Wisps of fog started to roll in and the warm sunshine became mixed with a cooler, heavier breeze. We made our way back over to the car and decided we’d check out Ocean Beach. The fog grew thicker as we headed into the Richmond and turned left onto Great Highway and into the parking lot. I took off my shoes, and felt the sand get colder and wetter as I walked towards the water.
Even in August, the Pacific off San Francisco is frigid. Adam and I waded in ankle deep and watched far braver and more stubborn people surf and swim, many without wetsuits. After feeling a few inch high waves end at our feet, we walked back towards the car and met Mitch on the sand.
We drove past the Cliff House, stopped by Baker Beach, drove through the Presidio and up to Fort Point, by Crissy Fields and through the Marina, stopped by Adam’s place in North Beach to change clothes and then through downtown until we parted ways with Mitch as he went back to Berkeley and we met some friends for dinner and a night out in the Mission.
I awoke early the next morning on a small couch at Adam’s place. Memories of an excellent tapas dinner with some delicious sangria, conversation with Kelly and her friends, cocktails, a shot of whiskey chased by a PBR, dancing to Michael Jackson, and a realization that my sunglasses were still in Kelly’s purse mixed in my head with a light headache.
I left Adam’s place at 9am as a troop of Asian kids made their way down from a Sunday church service and plopped myself down on a sunny bench in Washington Square Park. Deciding that a cup of coffee was the best option, I walked through the back streets of North Beach to Caffe Trieste where a nattily dressed old man snapped at me when I contemplated trading my regular croissant for an almond croissant. I stuck with the regular one.
At the counter, the server asked me where I was from as he poured me a cappuccino. Too foggy to fully think about my answer, I replied, “New York”. He laughed and said, “I knew it. I can see it in your face.” The coffee, although delicious, failed to help me understand exactly what he had meant.
I had plans to meet a friend for brunch in the Marina in a few hours so I decided to wander around the waterfront. I walked down Columbus and turned towards Fisherman’s Wharf. I walked past the crab shacks and bike rental shops and towards the docks. Nets and cages fresh from use a few hours earlier dried in the sun as seagulls searched for leftovers. I walked past a service in a tiny church at the end of Pier 43 and back towards Beach Street. Tourists snapped pictures and rode by on rental bikes as I tried to get a better view of the fog wrapped Golden Gate Bridge. I snapped pictures from a walkway enclosing the aquatic park and watched a seal watch the swimmers.
I sat down on a bench in Ghirardelli Square for a few minutes.
I walked back up the hill and down Bay Street towards the Marina. A girl crossed the street in front of me with a bag of laundry. Someone on the phone in a window above me let me in on her conversation. Neighbors coordinated to get a car out of a garage.
I turned down Union and found a different side of San Francisco. Men in seersucker shopped in boutiques with their girlfriends in pastel sundresses. A girl with big round sunglasses on told her buddy about the newest iPhone app as they waited in line at a fashionable brunch spot.
I met my friend at a fashionable brunch spot at Union and Fillmore and we ordered a portobello sandwich with an iced tea and a twist on Eggs Benedict with an Arnold Palmer. A meal and a great conversation later, I found my way to a bus stop and waited on the 22 bus I used to take every day. I climbed onboard and found a place to stand. An old man got on and sat down in front just behind the bus driver. After a question went unanswered, he began to throw insults at the bus driver. We watched uncomfortably as they argued over whether the driver with the hearing disability or the 97 year old had it worse.
I finally made it to the 16th and Mission BART stop and got on the train. I got on the first train but since it didn’t go to SFO Airport, I got off at Daly City. I climbed the stairs to a crosswalk at the front of the station and watched the trains go by below me. A light breeze brought the faint smell of the ocean for the last time.
The shadow of the plane grew smaller as I watched it race across the peninsula. It briefly darkened the glittering salt fields of the south bay, weaved through the rolling hills of the suburbs and the colorful Victorians of the city, raced through the wide green expanse of Golden Gate Park and disappeared into the shimmering blue of the Pacific.