It took a whole year. To clear the dust and unlock the right doors. To take off our shoes and feel at home in this place of undulating hills and quaint charm and understand that this is a town more than a city and, hungry for a skyline as I am, that can be a good thing.
I’ve grown accustomed to the well trained climate and ubiquitous bay, the embrace of the waterline that envelopes this place. Disoriented as the lack of seasons found me at first — how summer felt all wrong wrapped in cold and laden with a thick and hanging fog that crawled up off the bay and onto the streets like a wet dog in the middle of the afternoon— it also mercifully offered an escape. Coming from the middle of the midwest where you could not outrun winter in a car if you tried, the ability to drive out of the weather and into the sun in under an hour is a phenomenon not lost on me yet.
In the beginning navigation was my nemesis, without the familiar grid and ease of a subway ticket to pay your way across town, whole swaths of the city remained a mystery and the nearest reach became familiar to the point of exhaustion. But slowly, one determined weekend at a time it began to unfurl in a series of wide parks and wooded trails, niche restaurants and clever bars, house parties and long walks, with a character all its own. It took a whole year to shed the desire for a bodega on every corner and welcome instead the pantone panoply of residential rows that house the growing masses here and disconnect one neighborhood from the next. What we gave up in reach, we found we gained in proximity, and the ability to walk between friends’ apartments and on to our favorite spots on Chestnut St developed its own sheen.
It took a whole year to understand which streets will get you where and start to learn what’s on past the Mission and shelve those last boxes into submission. It was New Year’s Eve when we moved in you know, tired and heaving from the cross-country trek from New York to California, a journey dotted by quick stops in western towns I’d never seen and great swaths of snow that went on for states, which is not an exaggeration, not even a little bit.
It took a whole year to find affinity in the gleam of the metallic bus lines that arch over this city like capillaries, taught and slack in turn, life lines, thin and sinewy in their unthinkable expanse. To see that 7 miles square wasn’t just finite but a comfortable finality. And a launching point to miles beyond. To vineyards and mountains and quiet and sun, and stretches of sand nearby that are so welcome in the summer months.
I’ve gotten used to the shadow of another hulking bridge on this opposite coast and come to find the recognition of home in its red hue. And the ability to see that Golden Gate or it’s counterpart to the East Bay began to feel familiar, though no less astounding, from most peaks in this place. I’ve learned to relish the accomplishment of walking horizontal up vertical hills, and the reward of a view that all the low buildings bring, a wonder really in this real estate hungry age.
Maybe the biggest change of all was the change of pace. The trade in of long hours for early mornings. For less evenings out and more nights in. And 4am free for alls for a 2am last call. Not all bad things, or bad things at all. It was surprising at first, the general ease and content of people here. The ability to spot them daily in droves out running or walking or kite surfing along the bay. This is, if nothing else, an active sort of place. And forgive me this, but the word balance comes to mind, elusive as it seems. For months we marveled at the number of people we met in this town who were so peacefully non-traditionally employed (unemployed?)…the sheer number who were between start ups, had just left a start up, were working on their own idea for a start up, giving it 6 months to a year. That kind of entrepreneurial leap, to be at ease without a steady paycheck nor structured plan, seemed so foreign to me, but admirable at the very least.
I grew into life here the way friends become more than just friends I think. Quietly, slowly, an accumulation of moments that one day turns into a realization that this is too good to ignore. Sure, we go to bed earlier, and don’t stay out as late. It’s about time for that anyway. And we still wrestle with the push-pull of urban life, the conveniences against the costs and the difficulties that are all but assured. But I find myself often now pausing in the moments when we crest upon a hill at the apex of this town and I can see stretching out before us the full expanse of the bay, past the bridge and the marina below, past Marin and onto Tiburon across the way. The way the houses look like colorful chicklets lined up and down the streets. I find myself enjoying the constancy of the water outside, the short walk to a cold beach, and the way the house lights at night define the mountainous terrain.
It took a whole year for San Francisco to stir something in me in a way that New York did near immediately. To learn to stop expecting the subway and instead just call a cab. Because parking is futile and there is still much to see. To feel like it fit, at times at all. To think more about staying than leaving in the long run. We broke each other in like a new pair of shoes, and now I fear it’s the kind of place that will be hard to ever shake. The kind of place I’m fighting, instead, to stay.