There is only one “The City”, if you live in Northern California. Everyone else knows it as San Francisco, or The Bay Area. It is as much a state of mind as it is a place or more accurately a collection of places; and for me a collection of memories tied to specific people, points in time, feelings, images, experiences.
First today there was the arrival at CalTrain Station #2 via Megabus. Neither of these existed in 1978 when I first arrived in SF on my way to UC Berkeley. The bus terminal for the shuttles from the airport in 1978 was located in the Tenderloin which was far seamier then than now. Still I made it safely to the then new BART station and felt as if I had entered the future while riding the new and sleek cars that were so unlike Chicago’s rickety elevated “L” trains that clattered along on wood and steel rails.
No BART rides today but I did come into The City by crossing the newest span of the Bay Bridge. The expensive but beautiful new bridge replaced the earthquake damaged eastern portion of the bridge at great expense and with lingering questions about construction defects. The old span once had a train level that took Key Route commuter trains from the East Bay (Oakland and Berkeley to the rest of you in America). The rails were taken out in the 1960s in anticipation of the development of BART. The lower deck of the bridge was reconfigured for east bound auto traffic. West bound traffic travelled on top so as to provide drivers and passengers an awesome view of The City as they approached.
That traffic pattern was famously altered for a scene in The Graduate where Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin drives bravely east over the Bay Bridge toward Berkeley where he will try (and succeed) at winning back the woman he believes he truly loves.
To be honest, driving to SF, on the old span was nerve wracking. I will not miss driving on the lower deck of the old eastern span back to Oakland. On that point the new span clearly meets with my approval.
This morning, it was not the bridge span that caught my eye; it was the futuristic cruise ship docked not far from the Golden Gate itself. Cruise ships out of San Francisco in my student days were things of the past. Now they have returned, fashionable, elegant, and alluring.
SOMA aka the South of Market neighborhood has been transformed from warehouses and half-abandoned industrial properties into a wonderland of new apartment complexes and towers. The new main business sector involves computers and tech. The legions of business suited men and women, impeccably dressed, that I remember from my student days in the late 1970s have been replaced with legions of women and men much more casually attired but no less determined. I could count the women in skirts and dresses on one hand. I ran out of fingers to count the number of business attired men pushing baby carriages complete with infants. Who could have expected that?
Moments of serendipity and wonder: near the foot of Market Street a jazz musician unpacks his saxophone and serenades the marching commuters just outside the Federal Reserve Building. Around noon I make my way up Market Street. I recognize the Crocker Bank Building (I believe there is no longer a Crocker Bank) which was being built during my law school days. I do not recognize the building with the Bank of America branch where I worked as a student intern. I, who have proudly not seen any episode of Girls, remember other things that happened during my apprenticeship as a young adult including an all-nighter. That was a sweet memory, watching the sun rise on Market Street.
The Powell Building that had a two-level Woolworth’s that I called The Downstairs Zoo, has been renovated into gentrified ordinariness. The corner with the cable car turn around is now oddly boring, but then I was once very young and easily impressed.
The marvelous Capwell’s Emporium has been replaced by something owned by the Westfield Company. How does one describe the charm of the grand era of department stores to the young? Stores where women in lab coats would do your make up or help you decide on a new perfume. You do not leave a Ross or a Target feeling special and pampered as if the money and time you have spent purchased the experience of luxurious indulgence.
My memories of those times and places were jostled by a most unusual sight: an elderly man riding his motorized cart blaring disco music on his personal music machine as he rolled down the sidewalk.
Later that day, as I made my way back to the Megabus stop, I passed through some of the sketchier patches south of Market on the way to the new baseball park walking along Seventh Street. On one side of the street a number of men were gathered. I am a city bred girl and a block ahead of this possible obstacle I had crossed the street. I looked over at the men who were seated outside of a street mission that proclaimed itself with an otherwise unadorned cross nailed over the door. On my side of the street, was the neighborhood liquor store. I looked in and noted that this liquor store had its own dog who sniffed at every new customer.