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Started: 2019-06-02 19:05:25

Submitted: 2019-06-04 23:49:44

Visibility: World-readable

17 May 2019: In which the intrepid narrator says nice things about San Francisco

Last year I ran San Francisco's (in)famous 12k cross-city road race Bay to Breakers for the first time. This year, despite no longer living in San Francisco, I used the race as a convenient excuse to visit the city and say hi to people I knew.


I caught an early-morning flight from Seattle to SFO, leaving SEA at 07:14 PDT. It was raining in Seattle when I left, part of the same storm system that was also bringing rain to San Francisco.

Looking out the window onto a rainy tarmac at SEA
Looking out the window onto a rainy tarmac at SEA

Clouds obscured the scenery for most of my flight down the coast to SFO, but as the plane began its initial descent into SFO it flew outside the Golden Gate, giving me a great view of the morning light shining on San Francisco Bay framed under the plane's wing, with the Golden Gate Bridge nearest to me and the Bay Bridge further away, halfway across the bay. As we continued our descent I saw landmarks from my old neighborhood, City College of San Francisco and Balboa Park; but I couldn't see the nameless hill where my house sat in Ingleside under the window of the plane.

SFO approach featuring the Golden Gate Bridge
SFO approach featuring the Golden Gate Bridge

Immediately after landing at SFO I found a place to sit at an adjacent gate and called into a video conference to discuss one of the problems I'd run into during the week, as part of the weekly meeting between SRE and our dev teams to discuss such things. (It was, I think, the first time I'd called into a meeting from an airport -- almost certainly the first time I'd talked on a video conference from an airport. I thought about positioning myself so the jumbo jets parked at the international terminal were visible over my shoulder, but there weren't any seats facing that direction, and I didn't think the light would be all that good.)

I rode BART to Embarcadero Station and walked the three blocks down Spear Street to my employer's office. I took the elevator to the third floor and found my old team still sitting where they had been sitting when I left the team last summer -- though my old desk had been given away, and all of the empty desks had been filled in. I found a desk to borrow whose owner (one of my old team-mates) was out on vacation.

I hung out with my old team during the day on Friday, while also doing work for my current team.

Folsom Bay Tower, topped out with most of its windows installed
Folsom Bay Tower, topped out with most of its windows installed

Across the corner from the office, the Folsom Bay Tower had topped out, looking like someone had taken a stack of blocks and twisted it. The windows and external walls had climbed two-thirds of the way to the top. Three years ago the site was a parking lot with a nondescript one-story building with a weird irregular quadrilateral footprint tracing the outline of where the Embarcadero Freeway ran on its way to the waterfront. The freeway had been demolished almost thirty years ago; only a parking lot remained in its footprint. A taco truck parked in the parking lot, and on Fridays for lunch my team would get food there and take it out onto the Embarcadero to eat. When the foundation was being dug for the tower I saw the pilings for the freeway in the hole, and I saw the steel beams hoisted onto a truck for removal. I watched the foundation dug and prepared at length; only in my last month in San Francisco before leaving last summer did the tower begin to climb above the ground.

I checked into my hotel, the Hyatt Regency on the end of Market Street at the Embarcadero, and ended up with a room on the sixteenth floor, the second-highest floor, where the gracefully-tapering lobby reaches its apex.

Looking down into the lobby of the Hyatt Regency San Francisco
Looking down into the lobby of the Hyatt Regency San Francisco

I rode the glass elevator to the sixteenth floor and tried not to look down and tried not to let my anxiety about heights overtake me. For the most part this worked: as long as I didn't stand right next to the window in my room or on the end of the hall and look straight down I felt only the slightest twinge of anxiety, not the crippling panic I often feel in tall buildings.

(I'm pretty sure I heard the elevator music sing "don't look down" at me when I first entered the elevator, though.)

I caught the F streetcar northbound along the Embarcadero to pick up my race packet for the Bay to Breakers, then walked to Pier 37 and watched the sea lions in the bay (and watched the tourists watch the sea lions). I caught a bus back to my hotel, then took BART into the Mission to eat supper at Cha-Ya, my favorite vegan Japanese restaurant in the city.