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A day in the life in the city by the bay

Started: 2018-07-18 20:17:48

Submitted: 2018-07-18 22:22:56

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator describes his regular working day in San Francisco

Most mornings I'd look out my window, from my house in the San Francisco neighborhood of Ingleside, perched on the side of a nameless hill overlooking the neighborhood of Excelsior, and see the city covered in clouds.

Foggy view of Excelsior
Foggy view of Excelsior

Some mornings the fog would be thick enough that I could barely see the houses; other mornings the fog would cling in the gentle valleys making up my corner of the city.

Fog covering Ingleside before dawn
Fog covering Ingleside before dawn

When I was ready to leave for work, I'd go down two flights of stairs to the ground floor and let myself out through the front door and the security gate that formed a vestibule. On the front side of the house I could see Mount Davidson, looking like Chairman Mao, facing the east with a bald forehead and bushy hair in the back of its head, with a massive reinforced concrete cross barely visible in the eucalyptus trees on the back of the peak, and red-and-white Sutro Tower lurking in the distance. I'd walk 10 minutes down the hill and around the corner to Balboa Park BART station with a smile on my face and a spring in my step.

View of Mount Davidson and Sutro Tower over Ingleside
View of Mount Davidson and Sutro Tower over Ingleside

I was lucky enough to live by BART (and by "lucky enough" I mean we restricted our search for housing to optimize for proximity to BART). BART is built as a commuter rail system, bringing East Bay residents through the Transbay Tube into their jobs in the Financial District; but it also happens to serve two suburban stops in San Francisco (and a couple more south of the city in the peninsula, on its way to the airport). In the city BART becomes a metro rail subway system, with high-capacity trains every couple of minutes. All of my trains were destined for far-flung destinations in the East Bay like Pittsburg/Bay Point, Dublin/Pleasanton, or Fremont; but I rarely took the train past Embarcadero Station.

Most days I'd walk three blocks from Market Street to my office on Spear Street, past the San Francisco Federal Reserve, the 42-story Spear Tower at One Market Plaza, the redeveloped Rincon post office in Art Deco, and the back of Gap headquarters. (I figured out exactly where to wait for the train in Balboa Park to optimize my route to the escalators in Embarcadero Station to minimize the time I'd spend waiting in line behind the East Bay commuters mobbing the platform.) There was one gap in the buildings a block from my office where a ground-level parking lot sat next to a nondescript one-story building with a weird footprint that happened to line up with a rounded corner on a parking garage a block away -- which turned out to be the footprint of the Embarcadero Freeway, running from the Bay Bridge to Embarcadero Center before being torn down in the 1990s, leaving behind subtle footprints in the buildings that grew up around it.

Last light on Spear Tower
Last light on Spear Tower

On some days I'd enter my station as a train was pulling in, and as I hurried across the concourse and through the fare gates and down the stairs to the platform I hoped I would catch the train (but if I didn't, there'd be another train in a couple of minutes). When I caught the train I'd leave Embarcadero Station through the other exit, two blocks away, and walk down Beale Street. Here I saw an entirely different set of buildings: PG&E headquarters at 77 Beale, where my father worked when I was a kid (and he was my age); the headquarters of civil engineering firm Bechtel Corporation, with their historic rail car parked in the plaza; the end of the new Transbay Terminal; and the building site of the future Park Tower at Transbay (now leased by Facebook) as it climbed skyward.

Park Tower at Transbay
Park Tower at Transbay

A couple of mornings a week I tried to go running on the Embarcadero before work. (My corner of the city was packed tight with residential streets, and didn't provide much opportunity for running trails.) I'd start at Rincon Park, nestled along the Embarcadero with a commanding view of the Bay Bridge, the Soma skyline, and a weird bit of sculpture.

Cupid's Span
Cupid's Span

From my office my minimum ante was a four-mile run down to Fisherman's Wharf and back. When I was feeling sufficiently ambitious I'd run five miles, round-trip, to Aquatic Park, or six miles, round-trip, to Municipal Pier circling around the protected cove where early-morning swimmers in wetsuits swam laps between anchored yachts. Exactly once I went over the hill at Fort Mason onto Marina Green, then turned around and came back.

Soma skyline featuring Rincon Center
Soma skyline featuring Rincon Center

On my morning runs, I'd see tourists exploring my city. Cruise ships docked at various points along the Embarcadero, bringing a new group almost every day. As I passed Alcatraz Landing I could check the state of the tourist season by the sign giving the date of the next available tour -- in the summer, at least six weeks out.

Bay Bridge and frozen yogurt
Bay Bridge and frozen yogurt

From my office I could see the western suspension span of the Bay Bridge, connecting the city to Yerba Buena Island, and the container docks towering over the Port of Oakland. For six months my team sat in desks on the third floor that overlooked the Bay Bridge. If the view wasn't enough I could go to the rooftop deck on the seventh floor for a commanding view of the bridge and the bay (which was always the first place I took anyone on a tour). Sometimes the fog was thick enough that I could barely see the first tower in the bay; sometimes I could see all the way to the Oakland Hills. In the winter, when the sun set before I left work I could see the lights on the suspension cables running patterns up and down, as if the entire bridge were one giant artists' canvas.

Bay Bridge in fog
Bay Bridge in fog

On Fridays my team would go out to lunch, first buying burritos at the taco truck across the corner (until the parking lot it occupied closed to become the still-under-construction Folsom Bay Tower), or the food court at Rincon Center or sandwiches at Specialty's; then we ate lunch in the sun on the Embarcadero, watching the people walk and run and stroll and promenade up and down the Embarcadero.

The last thing I saw every night, when I went to bed, was Salesforce Tower, the one building in downtown San Francisco that I could see from my house, towering above the hills -- except on days when the fog was so heavy that all I could see was the fog, glowing orange from the mercury-vapor streetlights, wrapping around my house like a cold wet comfortable blanket.

Salesforce Tower at dusk
Salesforce Tower at dusk

I'm going to miss San Francisco.

"minor logic error" .. funny.. that reminded me of how my
mom describes her third child.
- Scott J. Galvin, 14 January 2002