The City

We continued our slow meandering southward, stopping for a week to visit our friends Kate and Josh, whom we met back in Durango. They’re in the process of building a yurt on some friends’ land and there was enough room to tuck the bus under some redwoods as well. There was plenty of woods, fields, and streams for the kids to play in, and we got to wake up to the sound of hooting owls. They also loaned us a car, which was super nice.

Our thanksgiving plans were to return to my uncle’s house in Wellington, but I wasn’t about to drive the bus back over the mountains. Fortunately Kate and Josh’s friends (who actually own the land) said we could leave the bus there for a week. And that’s what we did. Since the bus was safely stowed, we figured we’d head into San Francisco on our way to visit some old friends there.

I’ll be honest, I was kind of dreading San Francisco. I’ve about had my fill of the whole entrepreneur-as-hero, techno-utopian bullshit that’s been spewing out of the Bay Area for the past decade or so. I was worried that that mindset had taken over the city, that the wealthy had squeezed the life out of it as they do everything else. I was, in short, prepared to hate what had become of the city I once loved. Fortunately for me, San Francisco hasn’t yet entirely succumbed the banality underlying the agendas of a handful of wealthy residents (and their acolytes). Which is to say, San Francisco is still pretty close to what it’s always been — San Francisco.

San Francisco bay photographed by luxagraf

It probably helped that we arrived on a weekend of gloriously warm weather with wide open, deep blue skies filled with scattered clouds to match the wide open deep blue of the bay filled with scattered sails and whitecaps. We spent a lot of time outdoors, almost all our time in fact. Walking the city streets, the parks, the shore, the marina, we even made an attempt to visit the wave organ, something I’ve been meaning to do for decades now, though it proved too far of a walk to go all the way around from where we parked out to the organ, we could at least see it, but then, seeing is not really the point of an organ. Next time.

We stayed on Lombard, down toward the touristy stuff because I thought the kids would like it and I was right. Hyde Street Pier was a hit, as was fisherman’s wharf and the liberty ship we toured, of which I have no pictures since helping three children navigate a giant metal ship with stairs and railings built for grown sailors did not leave a free arm to snap any photos. But the real find was the Musée Mécanique, an antique penny arcade museum.

hyde st pier photographed by luxagraf

hyde st pier photographed by luxagraf

hyde st pier photographed by luxagraf

hyde st pier photographed by luxagraf

arcade museum photographed by luxagraf
First game of air hockey.

And of course, you can’t visit the city with kids without a trolley ride. See how thrilled they look?

One morning we made made the long trek out to the Academy of Sciences museum, mostly I think because the kids had heard there was an albino crocodile, which the really wanted to see. It turned out to be pretty cool, especially the rainforest area with all its butterflies and birds flying around right next to you. And yes there was an albino crocodile.

Butterfly Academy of Sciences, SF photographed by luxagraf

Snake, Academy of Sciences, SF photographed by luxagraf

Albino Aligator, Academy of Sciences, SF photographed by luxagraf

You want to know how out of touch with the modern world we are, we took our first Uber in SF, actually it was a Lyft, which I’d never heard of before we got there. Our friends in the city got it for us and it was probably faster than a taxi, certainly faster than the bus we’d taken earlier in the day. But I felt weird and little bit dirty about the whole thing, like I was somehow contributing to the demise of something, though I’m not sure what.

The next night I went to run a quick errand by myself, mostly just because I wanted to ride some public transportation alone, with headphones on. I have a whole essay on this site1 about what a magical thing it is to put on headphones on pubic transportation in pretty much any city. Twilight is the best time, but there’s no bad time. You slip into an otherworld of music in the city, riding public transportation you feel the city around you as if it were just you and the city, a kind of intimacy of place I know of no other way to achieve, at once isolating and communing, not with man but what we have wrought, what we have made collectively greater than ourselves. Cities are living things and I don’t mean that in some quasispiritual kind of way, I mean it very literally. This thing, this consciousness, we call the city for lack of a better word loves to commune if you ask it to. Paris and I get along best in this regard, though we have had our moments of disagreement. New York is all about flash and color, but here in San Francisco the conversation is always more sublte, warm yellow light and cool gray fog mingling in narrow streets, the glitter of shop windows and restaurants, blurring by as the bus lurches up Van Ness, inbound, coursing toward the heart the city. It was one short bus ride, another back but it was enough to spend some time alone with the city.

After four days in the city we headed back over the Sierras to my aunt and uncle’s place in Nevada. We had good Thanksgiving, I got to see some cousins I hadn’t seen in ten years and few relatives I hadn’t seen ever. The sunrises were nice too.

sunrise over topaz lake photographed by luxagraf

volvo graveyard photographed by luxagraf
Volvo graveyard

It was a good trip, but a week in hotels was quite enough. We were all ready to be back to the bus and when we got there Olivia jumped out of the car and ran to give the bus a hug. Home again.


  1. Surprisingly, for someone who changes their mind constantly and generally crings when reading anything I didn’t write today (and often then too), I actually still really like that essay and agree with every word in it.