Tag Archives: travel writing

The Sea Monster at Ocean Beach

The Sunset

I went for a run this morning. The key to this is to not think about anything from the moment I wake up to the moment I put on my shoes and go out the door and start moving my feet. If I start thinking for even one second, then I think about how my knees will be stiff and my ankles will crack, and I’m going to be cold for the first five minutes and then start sweating and breathing heavily and the whole thing is rather uncivilized and awful. That’s why it’s imperative to avoid thinking of any kind.

Out the door I went and instantly uphill. Up and up the hill I went, into the heart of the area directly south of the Inner Sunset, an area I think is called Ashbury Heights but I’m not certain. While the rest of the Sunset is laid out in a neat grid with the streets named alphabetically and numerically (Judah, Kirkham, Lawton, Moraga and 11th, 12th, 13th, etc.) the area directly south of me is a mess of hills and tangled streets.


At some point 9th and 12th avenues intersect, something unfathomable to most people. It’s San Francisco’s equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle. Houses have yards and fountains, strange intersections occur and streets change into other streets as they curl around hills, and nothing really makes sense.

I was near the point where Pacheco turns into Funston Avenue. If you’re not familiar with the area, you probably don’t get how bizarre that is. I might as well say that I was in the part of New York City which is built like a giant picnic basket and governed by people-sized ants. At any rate, I was in that improbable area when I suddenly got a glimpse of the ocean. This was interesting because I thought I was facing the other direction, but it turns out my inner compass had been Bermuda’d and there it was, the Pacific Ocean with what looked like a giant winged sea monster perched on the beach.

That was strange, I thought, and continued to run because that’s what you do when you’re not really thinking. I turned around about thirty seconds later and there it was again, the view of the Pacific and the giant, solitary, motionless winged sea monster. It looked lonely almost, and actually very tiny against the ocean and the endless street blocks of the sunset and their pale pastel squares. It was probably debating on the best way to attack, which public utilities to hit first or maybe where it could cause the most damage and terror.

Or maybe it wasn’t trying to attack at all. Maybe it had come to San Francisco just like many others have come here, looking for fellow dreamers and creative types to do the impossible with. Maybe it wanted to learn how to code, or already knew how to code and had a cool new app idea but needed funding. Maybe it was frozen against the city, stuck thinking of all its passions and dreams and hopes with no idea of where to begin and feeling a little homesick in the fog. Maybe it was afraid of missing the best opportunity.

I don’t know what was going through its reptilian brain and its cold blood, but I hope it figures everything out, and that it doesn’t cause too much damage on the way to its destiny.

Also, I think it was a windmill.

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Come Meet My San Francisco. It’s Not Shiny, but It’s Good.

imageI moved to San Francisco just over two years ago and I know it’s normal but I still kind of hate it when I’m catching up with people and they ask me, “Do you love San Francisco?”

I think about how terrible it is when the MUNI doesn’t come, or the awkwardness of the homeless population that I still have no idea how to deal with, all the tech douches with their cookie cutter jeans, and then all the regular douches. I think of the rent I pay every month, the fact I still don’t know many of my neighbors and feel like the community I have is spread out like a spider’s web with me caught in the middle. I think of the inequality I see and the fact that so many people I love are far away from me forever. I think of how sad and dirty the streets look sometimes in the fog, and I think of the forever cold nights and the long lost dream of drinking an evening beer al fresco without shivering.

Then, I think about other stuff. I think of my first improv performance and the first time I was on stage in this city. I think about sitting in Golden Gate park with my friends and talking about men and how we clueless we were. I think of my plant Deb, dinners with friends, endless breakfasts and cups of coffee. I think of hills upon hills, views upon views, impossibly beautiful cityscapes in an impossibly beautiful landscape, non-stop creativity and casual conversations with strangers. I think of the Pacific Ocean and running into people I know on the street. I think of karoake and dancing and looking at Golden Gate Bridge from Land’s End and I think of all the wonderful people I’m lucky to have met here.

That’s the thing. I don’t know what San Francisco you’re talking about when you ask me about it. I know you know about the postcards, the painted ladies, the bridge, the trolleys and the Fisherman’s Wharf. You know about avocados and sourdough bread and gay people, but that’s not my San Francisco.

My San Francisco is doing Zumba on a soccer field near the Balboa park community center/pool. It’s walking home against a wind that’s colder than all hell from an old Episcopalian church in the Haight. It’s doing improv in the police station in the Mission because they have a community room there that anyone can use. It’s eating a mediocre but oh so satisfying $4.50 gigantic slices of meaty pizza for lunch from Portico with an old co-worker. It’s walking five blocks to the UCSF medical school and looking out at the bridge at night on a balcony without any benches. It’s drinking beer at The Little Shamrock, a local bar with more tiffany lamps than people. My San Francisco is not shiny beautiful all the time, but it’s good, and it certainly is one that I can get down with, maybe even love.

But let’s not get too crazy.

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It’s Not a Cafe, It’s Tart to Tart

imageThere’s a place near me in the Inner Sunset called Tart to Tart. It’s a bakery/coffee place/Mexican food distributor (kind of.)

Nothing cool has happened here in years. Maybe nothing cool has ever happened here. I don’t know how long this place has been open, but I do remember seeing it the first time I came to San Francisco. I was walking along Irving street in January 2012 and I saw this place and I thought to myself, “That looks so cute.” But I didn’t know anything then, even about the things I thought I knew something. About those things I was especially ignorant.

Tart to Tart is not cute. It’s not adorable, or whimsical. All cuteness about it stops at the name. Keep in mind that I’m speaking only of the Inner Sunset location, and not about any other one. Nowadays I don’t talk so much about things I don’t know, or at least I try to avoid it.

Tart to Tart is a place of supreme function. It stretches out behind its windows into a dark, cave-like interior where all the furniture wobbles and has either been here a long time or was purchased second-hand. Students can camp out here safely. Old friends meet and talk and see other people they know. They say hello and describe the road trip they just took through Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and some other places.

There are no pretensions here. If you have pretensions, they will be ignored. Maybe that makes it a place where you’re safe from the person you pretend to be sometimes, and that’s kind of nice.

This is a place to come if you love coffee so much you don’t care what it tastes like, where you like looking at pastries almost as much as eating a pastry that actually tastes good, where you don’t mind a bathroom that reminds you of gas stations in middle America. Even the word cafe doesn’t really fit – it’s just Tart to Tart, a place you go when you need to go somewhere. That’s all.

Bring cash if you’re buying something that costs less than $3. Or maybe it’s $5. Just bring some cash. It’s the right thing to do.

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A Night Drive in Late August

After everyone else has gone to sleep, when the house is quiet, the dishes are washed and all I can hear is the kitchen clock ticking and the ceiling fan, this is the time for the night drive. Instead of turning out the last light and brushing the teeth for bed, I put on my flip flops and grab the keys.

A night drive must not be taken too early in the evening. It should be no earlier than 10:30 and no later than sunrise. If it goes later than sunrise, it is no longer a night drive, is it? Night drives are best on clear nights. Something about being able to see the stars makes the road seem more free. There’s more space for the night soul to roam.

I pull out of the driveway and hear the garage door creak shut. I roll down the windows and turn off the radio. On night drives, I prefer only the sound of the crickets and the cicadas and the frogs from the forest and the wind rustling through the leaves. Sometimes I like to sing to myself too, but nature sounds more beautiful.

I pass through the nearly empty streets of my quiet suburban town, my old high school, the Wal-Mart I used to frequent, the soccer fields I played on. I leave the city’s center and am now on purely residential roads, the country byways between spacious housing developments. Trees line the road and my car goes up and down over the gentle hills, rolling past Chisolm creek and over the railroad tracks. Outside the sky looks purple and the air is perfect as it comes through the windows. It’s cool and smells like trees and soil.

I roll up to a stop sign and stop there for a good while. There’s no one else around. There’s no rush. I sit in perfect silence and listen to the outside. It’s an entire world. I want to get out and leave the car on the side of the road and lay down and watch the stars circle around overhead and listen to the forest soundtrack forever. I don’t think anything has sounded quite as beautiful as this. It’s a little heartbreaking.

But I stay in the car and drive a little longer, singing an Eagles song, going up and down on the road that moves on the hills and in between the trees on a night drive in late August.

“Take it to the limit, take it to the limit, one more time.” 

 

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Dear Mom, Please Send Long Underwear

IcicleDear Mom,

It’s hard to find non gluten-free cookies here in San Francisco. My co-workers are weird. My college friends won’t let me eat their leftovers. My boyfriend’s in New York. I’m lonely and cold. Please send long underwear.

My house doesn’t have heat and it feel like the winter will never end. It’s hard to get up in the morning because the world feels like ice and my nose and heart are cold, and we already ate the good snacks at work and the next Costco shipment isn’t for weeks. I don’t want to buy a space heater because I’m afraid it’ll blow out the fuses in my room. Please send long underwear. Also, if you have a vacuum cleaner you don’t really want, you could send that along too.

A co-worker mentioned to me that San Franciscans seem to be more friendly, less judgmental, and happier than the people of New York City. I’m not sure if that means anything to you, considering neither of  us are from New York or have spent significant amounts of time there, but I thought that if maybe you’re talking to one of your friends who wants to know what San Francisco is like and has spent a lot of time in New York, that might be something you could say to them. You could also tell them that it’s really cold here.

My two thin jackets aren’t enough to keep the mild cold from sinking into my body and making a fool out of this girl that went to school in Boston. My friends make fun of me and I feel silly complaining about the chilliness.  I wrote a blog post about this already, but I’m not sure you knew how much this affects my life.

If this goes on for much longer, I’m going to go on a long underwear buying spree that’s certain to end poorly. I’m looking forward to seeing you in April, and to receiving long underwear from you.

Love always,

Emily

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