When nothing else is happening on a quiet weekend afternoon, I will often go for a walk through our neighborhood, South of Market (SOMA) and South Beach. Our neighborhood is in many ways more like New York than the rest of San Francisco, with its old industrial buildings, dilapidated piers on the waterfront, and new condo developments. But perhaps that adds to the sense of familiarity, and of “home”, amidst the concrete.
Our walk usually begins on Townsend Street, heading east towards the waterfront. This area is dominated by AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. But while crowds head towards the stadium in the summer, we often head in the opposite direction. There is a little park at the end of Townsend along the Embarcadero, where I often see older Eastern European folks. Across the park is the cul-de-sac that marks the end of Delancy Street, a name reminiscent of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Here I often stop at a small cafe – it has a large garden that can be enjoyed on its own or for the glimpses of the bay it affords.
|There are some books I only seem to read when I’m out at places like this, rather than at home. One such book is The Cat: A Tale of Feminine Redemption. I will stop and read a chapter while enjoying a coffee and the views. Though sometimes I opt for one of our free weekly papers instead. I like the idea of being contrary, reading esoteric books while a major sporting event is going on nearby. But in a large, cosmopolitan city, there are always people doing their own thing. One is never really alone.|
Beyond the cafe is the southern portion of the Embarcadero, which contains glimpses of a seedy and crumbling past while being revitalized with the stadium and frenzied development.
Heading south along the Embarcadero, one approaches the Bay Bridge. Commercial buildings, as well as residential complexes, have sprung up in its shadow. I enjoy seeing these buildings fit comfortably beneath the bridge:
Some of them have appear older, more reminiscent of the 1970s or even earlier, while huge new high rises are going up all around them.
I then often turn back inward from the waterfront on Bryant Street. This is generally a wide street that crosses SOMA and the Mission District, but here it is a narrow alley between the steep approaches to the Bay Bridge and a residential block.
Again, the feeling is more of a residential section of New York, perhaps Riverdale in the Bronx, or the Upper West Side. Of course, the fact that this block interests Delancy Street adds to this impression.
Longtime residents and admirers of San Francisco often look down upon this area, but I find it a comforting place to walk and explore. Certainly, there is familiarity coming from New York, which has always defined “city” for me. And perhaps the sense that I am finally living the city life that I should have done long ago – I am finally home.
The narrow streets and tall buildings abut the hill and the approach to the bridge, with a complex array of staircases and ramps. I often find an excuse to climb at least one, such as this that connects the lower alley section of Bryant Street to the main section that begins on top of the hill.
At the top, one is amazingly close to the freeway and byzantine ramps that feed onto the bridge:
Heading back down the hill towards the west, one can take a detour through South Park, which has nothing to do with the popular cartoon. Instead, it is a small park surrounded by two-story residences that feels more like a neighborhood in Brooklyn. Although it is not far from the this section of freeway we featured a few weeks ago, such things seem invisible and far away. But step outside this oasis, and one is back in the “concrete jungle” and the streets that lead home.
So how to continue our “primary highway series” when so many states are voting at once? Well, we can't visit them all, but we touch several important places with a trip along Interstate 80. I-80 runs the entire width of United States connecting New York City to San Francisco, two cities to which I have connections. In between New York and California, it crosses three other states voting this Tuesday: New Jersey, Illinois and Utah. We have already visited two other states crossed by I-80, Iowa and Nevada, during earlier contests.
Actually, I-80 never enters New York. Rather, its eastern end is in Teaneck, a town on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge:
It would have been cool if I-80 crossed the bridge along with I-95 into New York. Perhaps then splitting at the Bruckner Interchange in the Bronx (yes, I had to get the Bruckner Interchange into this article) before heading out to Long Island.
North of New York City is Chappaqua, “hometown of CatSynth and Hillary Clinton,” as I have mentioned a few times on this site. And while it is my hometown in that I grew up there, Hillary's original hometown is a little bit west of New York and New Jersey, in Chicago. But of course you can get there by heading west on I-80, which passes through Chicago's southern suburbs.
Chicago is all the home of Barack Obama. So we have two candidates with Chicago roots, either of whom I would be very happy to support.
What a strange position to be in, to have such a choice – and I admit I have had a hard time deciding. There are historic opportunities with each, connections to various aspects of my own life (geography, education, mixed heritage). I guess it's much better than 2004 when I was excited about no one.
Traveling further west along I-80, we eventually come to Utah, a place of striking natural beauty that I would love to visit again soon. In the south are canyons, stone formations and other wonders of the southwest. In the north, along I-80, are the Great Salt Lake and the Bonneville Salt Flats:
When they say salt flats they mean flat. It is an incredibly stark landscape, and that's part of what makes a great experience. And the silence. Longtime readers know how such things appeal to my personal and aesthetic sensibilities. Although I have been to the Great Salt Lake, I did not get to see Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, which is considered a major work of modern American art, and which I have seen reproduced countless times.
Heading further west, we cross Nevada and then arrive in California, where I-80 crosses the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, my new hometown.
I-80 actually ends as the western approach of the Bay Bridge, although most people (and road signs) suggest that it continues into San Francisco to US 101. This section of freeway actually cuts through my South-of-Market (SOMA) neighborhood, contributing to its urban, industrial feel.
I did manage to find my polling place, and will soon have to make a choice as this election season reaches home. But it is great that those of us in California finally get to make a difference. Same for the folks in New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Utah. So many of us have had very little opportunity to actually have a say in the process, long dominated by Iowa and New Hampshire and the South. The rest of the country will finally have to listen to the people in our major urban centers and in the west. And I'll be satisfied with whomever we end up choosing (at least in one party).
Tonight's posts are coming to you from Berkeley, my home for six years while I was a grad student at the university. I was invited up for a two-day mini conference by my former colleagues at the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies and the recently created research group for parallel computing (aka “the View from Berkeley”). The interesting technical topics will have to wait for some other time – though I can't imagine the EECS faculty would enjoy seeing their research reviewed by a blog about cats…
For now it's simply worth noting that I'm sitting out with my laptop and a hot cider at an outdoor on a summer night. It's one of many things to miss from this much larger town, even as conference participants told me how lucky I was to now be living in Santa Cruz. I of course enjoy the ocean and the interesting cast of characters in my current home, but regular readers also know that I often miss being in a more urban environment…
It is interesting to compare Berkeley and Santa Cruz. Berkeley is much larger, more urban and culturally vibrant, better food, and spectacular streets to wander in the hills – stay tuned for more on that in part 2. Santa Cruz has the ocean, it's calm laid-back character, and an interesting community of creative and artistic people. Interestingly, Berkeley had little to no “night-life” in terms of live music and clubs during the time I was there. The nightlife in Santa Cruz is nothing to brag about, either, but it does have several live music venues that have managed to stay open despite the best efforts of residents to close them down – I never understand why people who hate nightlife live in downtown areas. In any case, almost every place in Santa Cruz closes by 10pm except a few clubs/bars, while in Berkeley things at least stayed open until 2am or later. I'm not sure one can conclude much from this comparison, except that either town would be a better place to live than most…
Not too much interesting to describe from a travel point of view, unless you count the Bay Bridge, which I don't think I have drivin in quite a while. There is a lot of contruction on the San Francisco approach, it looks like they might be trying to fix the remaining “errors” left over from the earthquake and subsequent demolition of the Embarcadero Freeway. With the changes to the 101 freeway described in a previous post, the 80/101 corridor might start to look civilized.
Then there is of course the new eastern section of the Bay Bridge (to replace the current seismicly dubious eastern span), which remains under construction. I wonder when they're planning to finish that…