I will always remember the misty rain falling over the city, halogen lit yellow, as I descended off the hill at Anza Vista. It was a few years ago, I think, but it could well have been my first week on the job five years ago or last night. When the rain falls like that it is evocative of my first feelings for this place at the age of 16 – feelings of the romance of the scene, the place, the city – stuffed down into a dusty vault of memory – only brought out under conditions perfect for a proper remembrance.
In my favorite moments from the last five years, I was always alone. It was always late. The streets were empty. The cab was coasting down asphalt streets, soundlessly, as I remember it. There was the mist seen from Anza Vista, of course, but there was also the 30 second hail storm on Nob Hill. It was a Monday night, cold obviously, and when the hail started to hit the pavement there was nobody else in the cab to share the moment with, which made me happy. Most of the time, cab fares – a cross-section of the residents of and visitors to the City – profane this quiet communion and break your anonymity. I had been a while since a moment like that hail storm.
And then, just yesterday, I got to see the beach again. After a long week – a week that involved tying off loose ends and seeing things through to their conclusions – I was spiritually and emotionally worn. It was a slow Monday and I had taken to driving up Geary, from its beginning up to Van Ness, and then down Post, back to Market, until someone required my services. It was half-way through my second lap, approaching Van Ness on Geary, that someone flagged my cab. He was a well dressed, softly spoken, Black professional. He needed to go home to 35th Avenue and Balboa. We moved over hills and through tunnels on Geary as it rolled its way to the Richmond District. Don McLean's “American Pie” came through on the radio, which I kept at a low volume. The cab rolled down the hill on leaving the last tunnel, downward to the Avenues. I started inaudibly muttering the lyrics to myself, and then my fare began singing them quietly. I raised the volume one notch at a time, and our voices rose with the volume as the numbers on the street signs grew. I dropped him at home as the song ended.
There was a small coffee shop around the corner on Balboa I remembered from a romantic day years prior, a cozy neighborhood spot that was open late with the same regulars sitting out front every night. I got a hot chocolate to buffet the cold. I got back in the car. While I should have headed back to town, kept working, pulling every cent off the street on a slow Monday, instead I kept moving West.
At the beginning of the slope down Balboa to the beach, I could see the Pacific, lit up in orange dusk-light to the horizon. In the parking lot, some surfers packed up their things into trucks and SUVs. I got out and walked to the retaining wall. I stood, flight jacket around me, beverage in my hand, with the part of the world humanity could never tame in front of me. Buttery waves rolled in down the length of Ocean Beach. The fantastic orange light still jumped over the horizon, lighting up the water, fading to a deep blue in the sky to the East. The Seal Rocks were silhouettes, black. The Cliff House still stood on its cliff, obscuring the Sutro Baths – and Sutro's Parapet hidden behind shubbery. It went dark.
I have done this job for five years, the longest I have ever held a paying position anywhere, because of these moments. It is the ability to commune with the breath of the City. You get to sit with that city, locked in quiet romance in the night. But, you get to do all of it anonymously, coast through the town as a unified part of the fabric of the thing you adore. In a taxi, you can hide in plain sight.