A first date with San Francisco

I just spent the last week in San Francisco for the a conference on interaction design. I had a great time at the conference and got a new perspective on a lot of topics. But I’ll talk about about that later when the videos come out about the lectures so that I can really share them with you. 

I felt like I was meeting the personality San Francisco. Like the city was someone I was meeting on a first date. I had already heard a lot about it and had this idea of what it was going to be like in my head, but expectations and reality are different things. I had spent an early morning and a long (and unexpected) layover waiting to fly in. Anticipation was growing. When I finally got in the plane, I was absolutely enthralled by the vision outside my window. Staring out the window is always pretty, right? But I’ve never seen so many beautiful colors and intricate shapes as I saw on the way to San Francisco. I was even confused by what exactly I was seeing and spent more time than usual staring out the window as we drove into the sun.


Sorry in advance that I forgot to bring my real camera. 

I mean, no one really likes looking at other people’s airplane pictures, but after a substantial amount of time trying to figure out what I was looking at, I had to take a picture. Like, what are these circles? Are these grids really little cities? Because it looks they they’re going into water or mountain ranges. What are all these perfect circles?! They can’t be farms…can they? It looks so snowy and grim. You can see them especially towards the middle of the picture. In some parts there were just all circles and hardly any gridded parts.


Once we got closer to to the airport were were flying through and the lights from the plane made it look like we were gliding through silver thread. It was dense and glittering past our window. It was also a little scary because the weather was so bad and I felt like we circled the airport for a really long time.

I was exhausted and hungry during the taxi ride to the airport. I just wanted to put my face into a pile of cheap Chinese food and sleep. It was dark, cold, and rainy. I remember once we got into the city and closer to where were staying (Hait-Ashbury), I noticed we were going past palm trees and over massive hills. Everyone knows about the hills in San Francisco, but driving over them must be truly experienced to be understood. They are incredibly huge! The angles are so steep it’s a wonder that the hills don’t bang into the cars.  Like when you go over the a speed bump too fast. The hills woke me up out of my post-traveler’s stupor and I looked around me at the architecture and landscape of the city. Hello, there!


What stands out to me most are the little moments where I found myself surprised by the people. Although I went with a group of people, we spent a lot of time doing things by ourselves and I feel like it was in those small interactions that I got to know the city the best. I got lost often and people were so nice to me.

One night in particular, I had forgotten my cell phone and had to get home sans Google maps. While on the bus a large man through his empty drink bottle out of a bus at a stop. He aimed for the trashcan but missed. I was really annoyed by this. This man became my enemy. Later, on our journey it was just the two of us on the bus. He saw something funny on his phone and laughed uproariously. Eye roll. Then the bus stopped. I was definitely not where I was supposed to be. “Last stop!” the driver announced.

Oh dear.

I got of the bus. We were at a large public transit terminal. I looked around briefly and guessed my next action was to find the other side of the street and wait for the same bus to go in the opposite direction. Before I could do anything the man who road the bus with me (The Litterer) called out to me: “Are you trying to get to Hait?” He probably heard the bus driver yelling at me and my confusion. I told him I was and he very confidently told me that I needed to get on the other side of the terminal and wait ten minutes for the same bus. “The bus has to go all the way around first. You have to get to that other street over there. Got it?” He made sure that I knew where I needed to be. People are complex.

I asked a bus driver about to crack open a Starbuck latte on break where, precisely I had to stand because I didn’t see a stop marked ’71.’ Instead of being annoyed at my interruption he very happily told me where to go. When he road past me later he reassured me that it was coming in a few minutes. He had plump grandfather cheeks.

Once I did get off at the right stop, I had to figure out which direction to go. It was maybe 9:30 pm and very dark. The streets were empty and I was next to a park. I realized that I could look at the map in the bus shelter and see how far I was from my street. It was posted really high (in my humble opinion) so I stood on the seat to read the map. I heard someone going by but hoped they’d leave me alone. When I jumped down and onto the sidewalk behind the bus shelter and I heard the man walking by gasp. He looked like one of those over-grown high schoolers in baggy clothes and a backwards baseball cap. He was holding his hand to his chest, right under a metallic necklace, and he said “you scared me!” How funny that I happened to scare someone I might normally be wary of.

I asked a woman smoking on the steps where Broderick street was and she stood up, looked around and said it was one block over.

Then, while I was walking down the street I saw a man walking a Pembroke welsh corgi.  The owner laughed good-natured-ly. It was a good sign in my book. I said ‘hello’ to it and he turned to me and pulled at the leash to greet me.

With the help of a lot of people, I managed to make it home ok. And this is only one of many times I would get lost on the trip and get help from other people.


What I will say though, is compared to New York City, I felt a little more unsafe. It might have been because the people I was with were constantly reminding me to be careful, but I also noticed it as well. In NYC, I always felt like one in a crowd. In San Francisco, I felt like I was walking by myself more often. I felt like strangers were reaching out to me more often or making comments at me more pointedly. I guess in New York, I didn’t see homeless people in groups as often. But then, what I was learning was maybe my perceptions were wrong.

Something I did learn and appreciate was that composting is a city service in San Francisco. I think every restaurant I went to had a compositing bin as well and everything we used at the conference was compostable: the cutlery and even the plastic wrap surrounding the cutlery! It was pretty exciting for me. How lovely is it that there is a city-supported effort to be more environmentally friendly?


I did feel like the beaches were much prettier than the two I’ve been to in New York. :) After walking around Golden Gate Park and the De Young Museum for a while, I hopped on the N Train to Ocean Beach (after more help from another very friendly bus driver). I loved the cool air and the soft sand. Everyone else on the beach seemed wrapped in their own world as much as I was. I didn’t make it to Land’s End like I wanted, but it was still worthwhile.

So I guess I didn’t spend Valentine’s day with anyone, but I am dating cities.

It’s always kind of exciting meeting a city for the first time. You stop a smell the roses.


Your Turn:
  1. V says:

    Beautifully written
    Hopefully a relationship in the future :)

  2. Sarah Varca says:

    Awe. I hope it will be a relationship of mutual love and support. :*