Posted by: cassymuronaka | January 30, 2009

I left my heart, but not my car, in San Francisco

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If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to take a lot of cash, along with those flowers in your hair. I have been visiting the Bay Area regularly since I was in high school, but going to “The City” now is like visiting Manhattan, a town where you almost need to drag an ATM machine behind you to keep up with your perpetual expenditures.

And as metropolises go, San Francisco now is possibly, the most anti-car city in the nation. And that’s saying something for a highly urban area of California, where people are umbilically attached to their automobiles. Parking spaces are an ever-diminishing commodity, and now there is talk of banning cars from certain parts of the city and charging people for simply entering or leaving it. But if you cross the Bay Bridge every day, you’re already coughing up $4 a day for that privilege.

The last time I drove up to the Bay Area, I managed to time it so I arrived at peak downtown rush hour on Market Street, a bewildering corridor that has appeared to be in a constant state of construction for the better part of my life. After getting off the freeway, I was forced to stop halfway through a crosswalk after the man in front of me threw on his brakes. This, unfortunately, happened as the stoplight began to change. Before the damned thing had even turned red, scores of pedestrians bolted off various corners, blocking me from completing my turn – or even backing up – and stranding me uncomfortably in the middle of the crosswalk, looking like a total jackass.

As the impeccably-dressed San Franciscans stormed past me, not one of them failing to give me a contemptuous glare, one mustachioed man in a fedora felt compelled to thump the hood of my car, wag his finger at me, and yell, “If you can’t drive….. PARK!”

With a shock, I realized that the thumpee was the town’s mayor, Willie Brown. And he moved too quickly through the crosswalk before I could shriek back, “I would if I could ever find a place to park!”

And let me tell you, that guy gets around. A few years before this particular voyage to The City by the Sea, I ran into Brown at Drogin’s, a San Francisco institution, where both of us were consuming a leisurely breakfast. Brown, who for more years than I can count also was a dynamic Speaker of the State Assembly, appeared happy and powerful, which is apparently his usual state of being.

Drogin’s is primarily a breakfast joint, so it is not as pricey as you would normally expect of a legendary San Francisco eatery. And despite the city’s less than covert hostility towards bumpkin drivers, it is still possible to entertain yourself in a cheap date kind of way in the town. Ironically, just driving around San Francisco is my favorite. However, as a lifelong driver of stick shift automobiles, I have to first go through the Seven Stages of Death before eventually arriving at “Resignation,” as I contemplate some of the town’s more terrifyingly-steep street climbs. But once I have achieved that state of Zen where I know I am not going to stall my automobile in front of a streetcar riding my bumper, there is eye candy everywhere.

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