Having just arrived in San Francisco to visit my daughter in her new apartment, I take Riley for a walk around the block. I watch him sniffing around, looking for a place to relieve himself–no dirt, no plants or trees on the whole block, just concrete sidewalk and paved road, with rows of 2-3 story buildings lining both sidewalks. There isn’t even a gap in between the buildings. What happens to setbacks in the big cities? Or were these homes built before we had those kinds of regulations? I wondered how they were even built–how can you put up siding when the walls are touching the neighbor’s walls? The population density was such a stark contrast from the tiny town in the desert where I’ve lived this past year, where Riley has free run of the countryside. Eventually he finds some discarded Christmas trees to pee on and corners of buildings that are damp from other canine markings. He wasn’t willing to poop on the sidewalk, though–he’d have to be pretty desperate for that!
When Kira gets home from work she admonishes me, “Mom, I told you not to bring Wanda! She’ll get broken into. You can’t leave anything in your car here or it will get stolen and you have so much in here.” Of course, I say, I’ve been living in my van for some of the past week while I was in Santa Cruz for a writing retreat, so it didn’t make sense to bring my car. After driving around the block for 15 minutes, I park illegally on the corner with the emergency lights flashing and we run up and down two flights of stairs carrying my clothes, two bags of food, laptop, swimming gear, Riley’s food, outdoor gear, my basket of supplements, my new hiking boots, dog beds, and my nice air mattress. I hide my solar camping lights, hiking sticks, camping equipment, bedding, box of journals, and empty grocery bags in cabinets or behind the back seat so it looks like there’s nothing valuable inside. I pray that no one who would break in knows about the secret compartment under my bench seat where I store all my tools, then we drive a few miles away to park Wanda in a wealthy area of town where there’s a security camera and a guard who sits outside all night. We call an Uber driver to give us a ride back to her house, but the next morning I have to come back to move to a new space since it’s only 3 hour parking on weekdays without a permit. I can see why Kira has decided not to get a car!
My daughter is glowing with her new life in the big city. She loves her job, the neighborhood she lives in, and her new housemate. She looks fantastic and her third story apartment is adorable with big windows looking down on the street scene below in front and across rooftops toward the distant tree-covered hills in the back. I am dubious about living in the city–the traffic, lack of parking, abundance of pavement, busy-ness, and constant noise are such a shock after living my simple life in peaceful Darwin. I miss the night sky of the high lonesome desert and only hearing coyotes yipping or the occasional burro snorting when Riley and I get too close on our nighttime walks. But I have to admit, the excitement of being in San Francisco is quite alluring.
I seem to take trips to the coast about once a month–usually for a training with the Hendricks Institute or a writing retreat with my favorite writing teacher in Santa Cruz. I stock up on shopping for things I can’t find in the eastern Sierra, linger at farmer’s markets while salivating over all the choices of fresh organic produce, hit up thrift stores, and always take a long walk along the ocean to breathe in the negative ions and feel rejuvenated by the pounding surf. I also visit with some friends, but honestly I get a little overwhelmed with scheduling too many meetings or seeing too many people–I’m so used to being alone and quiet most of the time. As my life gets less busy, I get more protective of my space. I never knew how much I craved solitude! One thing is especially interesting to notice when I go back to my former community–the things that are most important to me are often not the things I spent the most time doing when I lived there.
In the morning we take an Uber to get Wanda, then head to the ferry buildings to take a tour of Alcatraz. With traffic and parking and delays in trying to find an Uber driver that would take dogs, we arrive 5 minutes late and miss the ferry for our tour, but we get on the next one a half hour later as standbys. The tour includes use of headsets that tell you where to go to hear stories of what life was like in Alcatraz, told my actual inmates, guards, and children of the guards that spent time there. What a dismal, cold place to be locked up–within earshot of people having fun in San Francisco when the wind was blowing just right. I am fascinated learning the history and seeing the insides of a high security prison, even though it is my third time taking the tour!
That night Kira makes dinner for a couple of her girlfriends and me–a delicious Thai meal with coconut tofu soup, tamarind chicken curry, and glutinous black rice pudding with coconut cream, mango, and red bananas. She walks down the block to get groceries at an Asian market, then whips up a feast for four within an hour. I think of how I drive 90 miles one way to get my groceries which requires careful planning and often doing without or getting creative with alternative ingredients.
Saturday morning Kira walks a block to go to her favorite yoga class and returns home with a glowing body and exuberant smile, raving about the new teacher she discovered. That afternoon we catch an Uber and head to the Financial District to walk in the Women’s March with two of Kira’s friends. The streets are blocked off, including buses, for 1.7 miles and women, men, children, and even dogs spread across the road, carrying signs and chanting their desires, disappointments, and outrage about our president. The energy of so many coming together for a common cause captivates me. Even though there are far fewer than there were for the first march 3 years ago, there are still way more than there were in the march I did in Santa Cruz two years in a row. I wear my pink pussy hat with “NASTY WOMAN” printed on front. The march ends at the Ferry Building, which is filled with vendors offering samples of all kinds of delights: specialty cheeses, flavored olive oils, dried mushrooms, herbed sauces and spreads, and baked goods beckon us to stop and treat our taste buds. I need a bathroom, but the line is about 40 people long. Fortunately Kira’s friend knows of another less obvious one, but I still have to wait. We buy empanadas and head out to the waterfront to sit on a bench and enjoy the scenery, zipping our jackets up high when we’re met by a cold, damp wind.
That night Kira offers to take me out for a special dinner at a famous Burmese restaurant two blocks from her apartment. She discovers you can get on a wait list through Yelp, which tells us we need to check in within 2 1/2 hours and are something like 81st on the list. We walk down the street at 8:30 pm to check in and are told we still have around 40 minutes to wait. We wander farther down the street, passing a wide variety of restaurants: Japanese, Thai, Mexican, Turkish, Cajun, Korean, Italian, crepes, Chinese, Vietnamese, and places to get a drink, but we hold out for the famous Burmese food and it is amazing! Green tea salad and curries with unusual flavors have us oohing and aahing over each dish. Worth the three hour wait!
Sunday morning we walk down the stairs to the 2 block long farmer’s market on her street, complete with live music, an area for kids to play, and a wide variety of vendors in colorful booths. We walk across the street to a sweet little coffee shop and buy rum-almond croissants from a street vendor, then eat breakfast on the landing above the stairs leading down to her little back yard. Later we walk less than a block to a hardware store to get some things she needs for the house. Wow!! I drive 40 miles one way to my closest hardware store, but often I’m lucky enough to find what I need if I ask enough neighbors or go to the building behind the post office where people have donated all kinds of supplies.
Later Kira and I take Wanda to the other side of town and go shopping for a dresser. I can’t believe the variety of stores and items in each store–nor the prices. Most things we think are cute are well over $1000, and that is used! Finally we find something for just a couple hundred dollars at a thrift store, so we load up Wanda and drive back across town, unload and carry the new furniture up the two flights of stairs, then park Wanda back in front of the security camera for the rest of the day. This time we walk back to Kira’s, which takes about a half hour. I notice that Riley is totally into being in the big city. He sniffs and watches everything and seems full of excitement each time we walk. I discover that I’ve walked on average 5 miles each day! Hmmm… guess there are many benefits to living in a big city!
Monday morning I take an Uber to retrieve Wanda, then I carry all of my things down from Kira’s 3rd floor apartment–I walk 0.8 miles just going up and down the stairs, according to the exercise app on my phone. I’m sweating and out of breath by the time I finish, but very glad that my new knee is holding up so well. Surprisingly, there is no traffic as I drive out of town because it’s a holiday. Wanda, Riley, and I head to Santa Cruz so I can get my new crown attached and to do one last shopping trip before making the eight hour drive back to my tiny town of Darwin. I stop at a fish market on the way to bring fresh oysters and fish to share with some of my neighbors. I’ve had the perfect amount of City time, and I love that I can indulge in all the benefits now and then, while residing in much quieter surroundings, living a simple life, and feeling so connected to the night sky and the whims of Mother Nature…