Occasionally, I travel as part of my work experience. Sometimes, this only involves cubes and conference rooms – replicas of the same florescent lights on ceilings and projected lights on screens that can be found at my office in Round Rock with only hurried and dehumanized flights connecting these two worlds.
When possible, I attempt to decelerate these express expeditions and mix in some soul-renewing exploration of my interim environment. I was blessed in this way on a recent business trip to San Francisco when afforded an afternoon and evening tour of the town.
The first segment of the journey was a walking tour of the Fisherman’s Wharf. As we made our way to the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park and back, our scavenger hunt rewarded us with shops, street performers, and the beautiful bay as a stage with backdrop views of the distant Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge upstaged by dozens of dancing sailboats and flying fowl – actors performing for the audience on the shore.
Our tour was interrupted by an exhilarating race back to the airport to deliver one of our business associates but we were soon retracing our steps back into town arriving in Haight-Sudbury just as twilight was kissing the lawn at Golden Gate Park. As we descended into the gated tunnel that dove under a major thoroughfare to the expanded park on the other side, we were greeted by two distinct groups.
The first appeared to be large numbers of beer/fun-loving college students on the lawns playing kick/baseball with immense (and boisterous) zeal. The other community was street people, huddling in small, scattered groups at the base of the park’s trees and on the sloping berm. I inadvertantly offended a group of them by creating a photo of their tree-home as they reclined in their pseudo-family room. I politely apologized and demonstrated to them the deletion of the image which was rewarded with a tenuous forgiveness of my uneducated, tourist behavior.
Despite the much larger, more mainstream crowd in the park, as the remnant of pale, orange dusk surrendered to the blue-black of night, I couldn’t help but imagine these less idealist, more junkie predecessors of San Francisco’s past hippie lineage as the Morlocks in H. G. Wells’ time traveler’s voyage into the future. The tunnel gate was locked as we returned providing ample evidence that some concern was not unreasonable and we were glad to re-emerge onto a reasonably lit up Haight Street just as Apollo parked his chariot and went to sleep beyond the horizon.
Our brief walking tour of Haight from the park to Ashbury and back was met with more people of street and groups of young teens and twenty-somethings looking for places to party. We ventured into some of the few shops that remained open and continued to collect photo treasures commemorating our atypical adventure through this slightly bizarre world.
Leaving the Haight, we drove up Stanyan to Geary, cut over to Park Presidio Boulevard, taking CA-1 through the tunnel and connecting to 101 catapulting us through the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito. We stumbled upon an amazing Italian restaurant called Caccivcco Cucina Toscana where we engaged in a wonderful dinner complete with old-world wine and multi-cultural conversation until closing called us again to carry on our quest of the San Francisco night.
Returning the way we came and crossing 101 onto Conzelman Road, we found a lookout area and took a few photos of the bridge. We tried to explore some other angles further up but the road was closed. Returning, however, we discovered a ridge with a path to the best lookout area of all. It was quite cold and very dark but we made our way out to the point and took the best photos of the bridge using some of the wood railing as a make-shift tripod.
It was two in the morning as we glided back across the bridge, filled our gas tank and purchased some snacks. Before heading home, we made one final stop at the Palace of Fine Arts which is incredibly beautiful at night. We took Beach to Divisadero and returned south to Haight coasting through its much calmer and near empty neighborhood to Octavia and the 101 South toward San Jose. We were tired but soul-satisfied with our adventure as we pulled into the Hotel around three.
I worried during this safari that I was perhaps imposing on my traveling companion, especially with the wonderful weirdness of the Haight-Ashbury scene. On our flight back, however, as we reviewed the images, he was thanking me – and clarifying that his appreciation was especially for the visit to the hippie center of the universe – precisely because it was a world he would likely not have explored otherwise. It is certainly not the culture of our corporate cubes and we could feel a bit of trepidation about it while still admiring the free-spirited diversity – yet there is more than that. Perhaps the angst is not caused by a concern that we might be hurt by the occupants – but more that there is a part of our soul that connects with this chaos. If we are stepping cautiously on these sidewalks, taking care not to slip off the curb, its perhaps a minor phobia that we might slide uncontrollably into the strange society unable to climb back into our comfortable illusion of a managed and successful life. The values of this world and the values of our own are designed for those who occupy them and are understandably uncomfortable to tourist. Still, to explore this quickened heartbeat – that is good for the soul.