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Do you love San Francisco too? We’re renting out our house for a month this summer . . .
Here are a few things I love about this city, inspired during a recent trip through Civic Center / UN Plaza.The F line. It’s a special treat when I have reason to go up Market Street, because I love the streetcars on this line, which are restored trolleys (often antique) from all over the world, including Milan, Mexico City, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and Zurich. If you’re really lucky, or fanatical enough to check the schedule and hold out for No. 952, you can ride a streetcar named Desire.
Buskers. There appear to be no rules governing buskers in the streets, squares, and stations of the city, as I am reminded every time my trip through the Civic Center BART station coincides with the shift of the impassioned, apparently insane “musician” who thinks a stringless bow on a battered violin makes beautiful music. I have to clench my teeth to keep them from shaking loose, but the reward comes at other times, when we come up the escalator to hear a marvelous cellist playing Bach, or there’s an out-of-work operatic baritone singing at the base of the Simon Bolivar monument at the Civic Center Farmers’ Market. He was there the day my daughter’s class took a field trip to the market, and sang a great rendition of “Fiddle-I-Fee” for the preschoolers. Another day, I was part of the lunchtime crowd at the market, and a busker had set up and gave us beautiful Spanish guitar with our tamales and rotisserie chickens.
Street Sheet. This newspaper, funded partly by the American Friends Service Committee, is sold by people living on the street. The sellers get the proceeds, the buyers get to help people who really need it and get an informative paper at the same time. Whereas simply being asked for money leaves me discontent, whether I give it or not, these interactions always make me happy.
Truth in Trash-Talk. The trash cans in this area, as in many parts of the city, have three categories: Recycling, Compost, and–no, not Trash–Landfill. I like that gentle reminder in our green city of what really happens to whatever we throw “away.”
Our grocery store is a worker-owned cooperative. Among its eight days off each year are Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, May Day, Labor Day, Cesar Chavez Day, and LGBT Pride Day. It’s packed full of organic foods but it’s a full-service grocery, not one of those “natural foods stores” where you can’t get a bag of pretzels. It also has beautiful murals, and you know how I feel about murals. When the Munchkin sees this one, by the checkout counters, she cries out, “Her hair is the earth.”
Other worker-owned companies include a bakery right around the corner from where I draw and an art supplies store. (That one’s all over the country, non-Bay-Area folks: check and see if there’s one near you.) Not only is this a sensible and refreshing form of capitalism, but the baked goods are delicious and the art supplies store is well stocked and staffed with people who know what they’re talking about.
The fence around the 16th and Mission BART entrance looks like papel picado, the strings of cut-paper pennants so essential to Mexican celebrations.
To be continued . . .
The elderly woman crossing the street with a walker has multi-brightly-colored hair.
The city buses, which flash messages like “Go Giants” on their marquees, flash “Equality for All” during Pride Month.
City Hall changes the color of its floodlights with the season. Red and green for Christmas, Red for World AIDS Day, 49ers colors when they’re in the playoffs.
I like almost everything about riding city buses. I like the view of the city streets, not as intimate as walking but affording a lot more contemplation than the view from behind a car’s steering wheel. I notice something new each time. I like the deceptive sense of objectivity that’s created by a pane of glass and a few yards’ distance, and the paradoxical intimacy that’s created among the riders, who don’t know each other’s names nor, often, even speak the same language.
Although a car can usually get me there faster (emphatically not counting the time it then takes me to find a parking spot), I like the imposed wait time of the bus stop and the excuse it gives me to do a little reading or knitting. Sometimes I like chatting with the other people who are waiting for the bus.
I like the range of people I share the bus with and the easy way we fall into conversation when so inclined, especially when I have a small child along. I like the education she gets just riding to and from school. I like it that I can hold her on my lap, play I Spy, fix her hair, talk with her face to face, all while getting where we need to go. I like looking at the other people’s clothes and hairstyles, noticing the regulars, knowing I’m a regular to them and that they know almost nothing about me. I like wondering what they do on either end of this route.
I like being able to listen to other people’s conversations with no qualms, since anyone who is talking in such a public place is unconcerned with privacy. (One exception: that couple across from me one time who were speaking to each other in low voices but clearly having an intense argument. I didn’t try to make out what they were saying, but instead pondered what about their body language made their antagonism obvious.) When the conversations are in English, I can listen to the stories and imagine what’s behind them; when they’re in Spanish, I can practice following Spanish; when they’re in Chinese, I can try to guess the kinds of things they are saying based on the expression and tone. One half of a cell phone conversation is often more interesting than hearing both speakers. You get that opportunity often on the bus.
In fact, I like just about everything about riding the bus except the bit about being in a moving bus. Only a small boat on a choppy sea has the same power to make me whimper for a Dramamine. If only the stop and start, accelerate and turn, climb and plummet didn’t turn me green, I could ride the bus all day.
Lessons learned from last year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass:
Do not try to park anywhere near Golden Gate Park. Either take the bus, or drive to a bus stop far, far away from the park and take the bus from there.
Don’t just bring a picnic–bring all the food and drink you’re going to want.
Don’t try to meet a friend there. It’s hard enough to find the family members you dropped off half an hour earlier. But do expect to run into someone you know.
Bring toilet paper.
Even if one of you says she hates bluegrass, and another says she hates country, and the band you particularly went to see was disappointing, you’re going to love it.