…enough to make an urban hiker happy in a big city!
First off, I have to make a full and frank confession, and a big thank you. We didn’t actually walk to all of the places photographed in this post. One day we were lucky enough to be given a car tour around the various neighbourhoods of San Francisco, with an emphasis on looking in from the edges. A huge thank you to Jet Eliot for this wonderful overview of a fascinating city – a memorable day out!
I have to say, I think you could live for years in SF and never get to grips with all the stories and possibilities it has to offer. It is a mass – and mess – of contradictions, in the best possible way. I’ve been struggling with figuring out how to convey our visit in a short blog post and, to be honest, concluded that I can’t. It’ll have to be several parts posted intermittently over the next while or so, but not week on week. So bear with me (if you’re still here!) and my next confession is that I’ve decided to pretty much use the unedited notes I jotted down there each evening – I do promise I spellchecked most of it. If it is a little incoherent or disconnected, never mind, let’s say that might also be true of parts of SF…
All this talk of confessions, promises, and being honest, why, it’s like I’m wishing I could write a hardboiled detective mystery. Well now, we didn’t know before arrival, but it turned out we were staying in the same apartment building Dashiell Hammett lived in for a while.
Once I found this out, I immediately got hold of a copy of The Maltese Falcon, and it was quite the thrill to be reading and recognizing some of the place names in the book, to be treading those same mean streets, let me tell ya, sister. (Hmm, best leave it to writers of detective fiction…)
The streets of San Francisco (really, PlaidCamper?) can be tough, like many big cities. Our exchange with a cab driver upon arrival:
Me: Hi there! (Ooh, the air is warm!) San Loretto Apartments, Nob Hill please.
Jamal: That’s near the Tenderloin! Do you know the Tenderloin? Don’t go to the Tenderloin after dark. There are prostitutes, drug dealers, and other criminals. It’s not Canada!
Me: How close is our apartment to the Tenderloin?
Jamal: Not far! Don’t go down the hill towards the Tenderloin. It’s not Canada. I like driving. I once drove to Toronto to visit my sister and her baby. Took me two weeks, there and back, with three days in Toronto. Stay away from the Tenderloin. I deliver cars. I like driving. California, Utah, Wyoming and Montana. Delivered from Africa. This is the Tenderloin! I won’t stop, don’t worry. Maybe you could visit here in the day, but not after dark. See the people?”
Not wishing to taint Jamal’s vision of Canada as a crime-free northern Utopia, we agreed the Tenderloin wasn’t like Canada. Anyway, as Jamal slowed down but didn’t stop, we did see the people, and they might have been up to less than good. We didn’t visit later, not even during the day, not even out of curiosity. Perhaps another time. For a detailed description of the Tenderloin, you could read chapter two of Gary Kamiya’s Cool Gray City of Love. Actually, read all of it, it’s a splendid book, and that chapter makes for a wonderful introduction to the colourful history of the Tenderloin. As Kamiya puts it a “radioactive core of junkies, drunks, transvestites, dealers, thugs, madmen, hustlers, derelicts, prostitutes, and lowlifes”…so, not all bad then.
Each evening after dark, I did enjoy sitting at a small corner table in our rented apartment, wedged in between two windows, taking notes as the sounds of a different city drifted up. We live in a big – for Canada – city, close to the downtown, with an evening soundtrack of sirens, trams, and big city noises. It was the same but different in SF. The apartment block is on an intersection between Sacramento and Leavenworth, so reasonably busy. The sirens were more frequent, the clanking cable cars almost musical, the streets more populated later into the night, and the air warmer, with pedestrians strolling less hurriedly than the brisk, let’s-fight-the-chill-air speed walk we have in Calgary. It was fun to hear the bursts of laughter, and snatches of conversation as passersby came and went.
I’ll leave it here for now. As I said near the start, this is the first of a somewhat jumbled series of posts about SF. It’s a beguiling city, and the fun here is in writing and attempting to make some sense of it. More to follow later…
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to make a comment or share a San Francisco story or book recommendation!