Life: San Francisco with approaching fog

The breeze: strong. The air: fresh.

I love living here so very much, and appreciate my luck at having grown up here nearly every day.

The City, the Bay, the Pacific Ocean, the community, the weather, the coffee, the cultures, the economy, the hills, the parks, the food, even the fog…

It’s so good to be here.

Life: Escaping the Fog Belt

Watching the fog roll in just over sailboat height yesterday

Life in San Francisco: July was a very foggy month in my San Francisco neighborhood’s microclimate, and I’ve had to make field trips to other parts of town to see beyond the edges of our gray blanket. It still amazes me that a blue sky can be just a streetcar ride away!

Last weekend, I spent 6+ hours walking in the sun with another fog refugee on the east side of town. It was a delightful, relaxing, restorative day. I watched a bike rally and its DJ on the back of a flatbed truck; I had an excellent (yet overpriced) espresso drink; I advised my friend not to interact with a gathering of furries; we squirmed through a cheerful crowd of baseball fans; we enjoyed a delicious vegan Indonesian lunch at a picnic table; we explored a neighborhood she’d never visited; we had delicious frozen vegan desserts… [Drifting into a saffron-flavored reverie…]

I kept saying aloud: we are so LUCKY to live here. After sunset, we walked back to catch streetcars to return to our still-foggy homes. *sigh*

It was restorative not only because we enjoyed bright, mild weather, but also because it felt like the Before Times. The many traumas of the past year weren’t on the surface, and it was barely noteworthy to wear masks on transit or while ordering food.

We are so very lucky.

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Life in a Global Pandemic: It has been discouraging to read the news on the dominance of the Delta COVID variant, and to see the local cases rise from low double digits up into the hundreds.

It is especially discouraging knowing that this scenario was preventable. That future similar (or worse) outcomes are preventable. But too many people are choosing not to contribute to prevention.

I now have my first, close/personal, vaccinated friend with a ‘breakthrough’ case. She is an organized person with natural curiosity, so she formally polled her social circles, and has come up with 14 breakthrough cases within her network. (Yes, she is in the greater Los Angeles area, which has been an infection hotspot this entire time, likely due to right wing anti-prevention sentiment.) This alarming information helps me reset some of my own planning about indoor activities as a vaccinated person, which I am less likely to expand now.

I’ve ordered some more fabric face masks in nice patterns, and in black. Including more that have a pocket for an anti-particulate-smoke filter.

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Life in a Climate Crisis: Speaking of smoke masks, the climate crisis is in the news daily, for all the wrong reasons. Rather than great news about countries meeting their climate goals, there have been a long series of disasters relating to increasing, localized extremes. There were so many flood stories last month (Japan, China, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the US (New York City)) and so many fire stories (we have more area burned here in California than even last year gave us; Siberia is on fire; tourists are being evacuated from fast moving fires in the Mediterranean by boat!) that any disaster image that appeared on my phone’s screen from the news could be from ANYWHERE.

Because: the climate disaster is striking everywhere.

There were some unflattering quotes from survivors of the German floods saying that they had not believed this sort of thing could happen TO THEM, in THEIR country. (One of them named places where they WOULD expect this to happen, as if such events reflect a personal flaw of the citizens of those regions.)(*facepalm*) It suggested that they hadn’t had sympathy with flood-hit regions they had seen on the news. They hadn’t found it relevant when people in low-lying Pacific islands went to the UN, or when Greenlnd’s high northern communities were suffering, but NOW it is real to them.

Perhaps this is what it takes. Wealthy, developed countries watching flood waters destroy their own cities and towns. Perhaps that is what makes it real enough for urgent action.

*

The news is filled with stories of Americans who are hospitalized with COVID complications, who want the vaccine too late to save their lives. I desperately want us to be smarter than that – not just about COVID, but about our environment. Perhaps we are already in the climate-crisis-hospital stage, and I’m just not accepting it.

Life: At the Fog’s Edge

Market Street mural by Ryan Montgomery
One of countless storefronts that have been tastefully decorated while we wait to emerge from pandemic hibernation. This mural on Market Street is by Ryan Montgomery of Geary and Hyde Design. Such great stenciling!

There was a brief time period today when objects in my neighborhood had shadows. It was gradual: the fog became very bright, and suddenly, everything had a defined edge!

It didn’t last, and that’s okay.

Yesterday, I escaped the fog bank by heading across town northeast, and managed to shoot film for one of my projects in bright sunlight. I was nice to experience that direct warmth, to see how colors pop and objects shine. (*fond sigh*) (You can see phone images from these field trips at the July 2021 section of mobilelene.blogspot.com.) It was also delightful to sit near the waterfront, hear seagulls, listen to water moving, and watch hundreds of people wearing Pikachu visors wander around, staring at their phones while playing some game.

I love this town.

I love so much about San Francisco, even while I’m able to see its flaws.

When my pen pals ask what it is ‘like’ to live in a famous tourist city, I tell them about the diverse local restaurant culture, farmers markets with farmers from around the region (including produce varieties you can’t find in stores), large parks and widely accessible outdoors, local coffee roasters, bookstores, museums, universities, hospitals, mild climate year-round, a robust economy, a strong sense of community and volunteerism, and a welcoming, come-as-you-are cultural history.

The City’s flaws are also present, though the pandemic has confused when/where they are most visible, with life disrupted for so many people in so many ways. These are the sorts of flaws that come to mind when you have sheltered visitors from out of town visit, where you try to figure out how to warn them away from dodgy areas and give them tips on how to cope with visibly unhinged people. Not all these flaws are of local origin: we have housing shortages in urban areas throughout the west coast, and a lack of mental health services throughout the country. We do try to manage them locally, and the pandemic has disrupted our solutions for those things, too!

I’m making time to get reacquainted and see what has changed.

The City’s structure is visually stimulating, and the combination of old and new buildings, spaces, and parks gives me a lot to see and think about. Buildings I photographed in the past have been wholly replaced; shipyards have been turned into parks; brick industrial buildings have been gutted and turned into luxury housing… there is always something new, something old has a new neighbor that provides an interesting new contrast to, or old things age in interesting ways.

ASIDE: This sort of renewal is healthy, though it often feels like it risks pushing key activities out of the county – it should be possible for light industrial to operate without being priced out, to have foods and tools and clothes and messenger bags made here, to roast coffee and sell used books, to NOT require every shop to sell something with an luxury brand logo on it.

We should have some economic diversity – you shouldn’t need to be a brain surgeon to live here! If you think of wealthy communities down the Peninsula that are filled with brain surgeons, you realize that they have nothing to recommend them to visitors.

I missed having daily experiences of the City while I was a frequent business traveler at a prior job (especially from late 2013 through late 2018); I hoped to refresh my relationship with my hometown, yet missed it while working long hours in the first year of my current job (2019); I then couldn’t access anything beyond my neighborhood during our stringent local COVID ‘stay home’ year (all of 2020 until May of this year), which was somewhat beside the point, because many of the indoor things I’d want to access were closed for our safety. So, as I go out now, seeing some favorite places still boarded up while others are back and lively, I feel that I need to refresh ALL of my local knowledge. Which is a good excuse to wander!

Weekend Under Clouds

Is it time to add another banner? I think it is! This isn’t recent, but I like the texture.

It was a good day to wear a jacket here in San Francisco, but just two and a half hours east where my parents live, it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It was 107 there yesterday. The fact that there could be a fifty degree difference over such a short distance is amazing. I am grateful that the difference is in my favor. Hooray for the cooling waters of the Pacific! Hooray for the insulation of San Francisco Bay!

While my photographic plans today were foiled (they required direct sunlight from the east prior to 11am), I did travel to the eastern edge of town after lunch, and so enjoyed having a shadow for a few minutes.

*

The City still feels… off. Sleeping Beauty isn’t awake yet, and the sounds and sights remain muted. It is lively in spots – Japan Center’s Kinokuniya Building was HOPPING at 11am! – but then I can walk blocks without encountering another human.

Some favorite places are still boarded up. Paper covers too many windows. There are still holes in our urban fabric, and a sad sense that even more people are suffering than usual.

*

A friend has admitted that she dreads full re-opening and what passed for normal, because “normal” was too frantic for her, involved too many obligations and interactions that didn’t really suit her. It was an unexpected insight from someone who had previously just avoided the news.

It is worth thinking about: what the smaller impacts to daily life are that manifest along the edges of this still-unfolding tragedy which we might learn from.

(Aristotle described tragedies as being caused not by intentional villainy, but by a flaw in the character of the hero-protagonists. (See the explanation of Hamartia in Brittanica.) There certainly are a lot of human flaws on display during this pandemic!)

We could all benefit from living more thoughtful lives!

Life: Peeking Outside the Fog Belt

While I grew up on the sunny side of San Francisco, I currently live near the edge of the fog belt. I love fog, but not every day – I like variety.

When the fog belt limits visibility, I often believe that it is foggy EVERYWHERE, but sunny weather may be just a streetcar ride away! As a lighting-obsessed photographer, always interested in which buildings and other features are lit from which direction, I began to rely on live webcams back in 2004 to tell me if the fog belt has an edge.

The fancy webcam I currently use and recommend is at the Exploratorium (exploratorium.edu), now located at Pier 15 along the Embarcadero. (Embarcadero = the pier(s) in Spanish.) It looks eastward from the pier, toward the east bay and our Bay Bridge, day and night. It not only provides a view, but also weather station and other monitoring equipment measuring the wind, any rain (we wish), water depth, salinity, and other cool data. This screenshot gives you a preview of what I mean:

It’s not looking good for the sunlit scenes I was hoping to capture today…

At the moment, I can see that it was too optimistic of me to take film out of the refrigerator before I even had breakfast this morning, but at least I know now, rather than after I’ve geared up and headed out.

The link for your enjoyment is here:

Yes, there is a Wikipedia page devoted to June Gloom, which also names “May Gray,” “No-Sky July,” and “Fogust” as some of our regional nicknames for these anti-postcard weather patterns, if you need to sound like a local over your artisanal, locally roasted cup of coffee.

San Francisco: New Historic Streetcar Locator

I’m a huge fan of San Francisco’s collection of antique, operational streetcars from many cities with similar rail sizes, and now I have an ADORABLE new way for tracking them! I can just go to streetcar.live and see cute icons of the trains on the F-Market and E-Embarcadero lines, and click into the image for more details about that particular streetcar.

(Yes, you can buy stickers or pins of those cute icons at the Market Street Railway online store, or at their museum near the Ferry Building.)

Life: Windy and wavy at the beach

I went outside yesterday, and I’m glad I did. It wasn’t warm, but it was good to exercise.

San Francisco’s Ocean Beach is a wonderful place, even on windy days. It was easy to remain masked and physically distant from others.

There are high surf warnings on through Sunday: always remember not to turn your back on the ocean.

SF Life: Slow Streets

Another thing that we’ve implemented in San Francisco that we should keep and expand is the Slow Streets program. With so many people cooped up and isolated in the city due to pandemic precautions, all needing to exercise and enjoy fresh air safely, this is a program whose time has come.

It’s like an expansion of the brilliant and popular Sunday Streets program (sundaystreetssf.com), organized by local non-profit organization Liveable City (livablecity.org).