yesterday morning i woke up and decided to go to the city. after spending 11+ years living there, san francisco is as much “home” to me as my true home town. the difference being that my family still calls my home town home and no one that i know lives in san francisco anymore (because it is now entirely populated by millennial millionaires who can afford to pay the millions that it takes to live there). while i wasn’t raised in san francisco; i certainly did a lot of growing up there.
i grew up in a verrry small town in the foothills of northern california. my back yard was pretty much a forest. i spent winters snowed in; went multiple days without power; learned such transferrable skills as how to build a fire and make a pipe out of a soda can. time is oddly slow in the town where i was born. everything moves at a softer pace. moving to the city should have been a shock to my senses; but somehow, it wasn’t. there is something about the city that makes sense to me. something that feels right. a rhythm that is more in line with my own. i like the pace of it. i like that it moves in a steady stream; which i am able to jump into or out of. the city has changed enormously in the 7 years since i left; but the geography of it is forever embedded in me. i know that city like the back of my hand. now that i live in a quieter place; i still get a certain restlessness that can only be soothed by the city.
when i lived there, i would always walk around with headphones on. i liked disappearing into a soundtrack of my own choosing. i liked being in the thick of the crowd; lost in the shuffle. what i most enjoyed was finding empty spaces there. the deserted financial district on the weekend. union square at 7am- long before all the shops opened. dolores park on a cloudy day. running along typically crowded streets that were emptied for street sweeping. grace cathedral at night. ameoba records right when they opened; while all the employees were still shaking off their hangovers and their patrons were still sleeping theirs off. i moved through the city like a ghost; and that was a comfortable position for me.
there is still an element of that that is comforting to me. when i go now, it is early in the morning on a saturday- one of the only times that traffic in the bay area is light. i know the exits; the back streets; where the parking spots can be found and the opening times of the shops. i don’t wear headphones anymore. i walk around listening to the dinging trolleys and squeaking breaks & elctro-crackle of the busses; the rants and raves of panhandlers and hobos; the confused chatter of tourists and teenagers looking for photo ops. i basque in the neon white of the giant h&m and let myself try on the most ridiculous outfits i can find. i climb the heavy concrete stairs at urban outfitters and curse the slickly reproduced remnants of my youth on display there. i roll up my sleeves and dig into the musty racks at thrift town. i shake my head at the freshly installed rows of condos and ultra modern ultra curated versions of shops that used to be. i walk with the quickened pace of someone who has somewhere to be; someone with no time to waste. i get in; i get out. i speed past the lines of stalled traffic heading into the city on the bridge as i leave.
what i realized yesterday was just how comforting it is for me to visit that sort of innominate world. the city has a sort of delphic quality to me; and it also provides this paradox of familiar and unknown. the ability to be there while not being there. there is something so exquisite about that kind of loneliness; and it feels like a luxury that i no longer have. i wouldn’t trade my life; but being mother- being front and center for a family and community takes a lot. sometimes it feels good to disappear for a little while; into the long shadows of deco green and slate gray neo-gothic spires; to haunt those old alleyways and bask in the glow of red fabric lanterns hung from winter bare branches and the discovery of forgotten treasures.