Currently I live in the East Bay, on the island city of Alameda. Every day I take casual car pool into the city and am dropped off in SOMA at the base of the FiDi. The walk to work is almost mile exactly. I find that as street lights change I walk a few different routes to get to where I am going, but almost invariably, I find myself using a small throughway that connects Battery with Sansome at the head of Commercial.
The path has brick work circles that radiate over one and other in a repeating pattern. On one side, a empty fountain boasting a large patinaed copper sphere that would spew water from its many crates and craters if there were water to spew, on the other is a Dimitri Hadzi bronze work that I have never been able to bring myself to like. By all account this is just a narrow pedestrian ally, but I gravitate to it everyday (or at least five of seven).
A few days ago I set my mind to figure out why I like this walkway so much, as it really has a lot of strikes against it. It is dark, a little under-peopled, and even though it is kept very clean, by city street standards, it is always ripe with the smell of cigarettes. What I came up with is this: under the mundane facade, this is one of the secret places of San Francisco.
As I write this post I am finding it very hard to convey what is so compelling about this short stretch. In the end, I don’t think I will be able to get it down exactly. There is the oddly fancy exterior ramp-stairs-thing that is artfully built between the two buildings it joins. This path lets the few who use it enter their office buildings from the second floor. There are the works of public art. There is the ash tray (one of the only public ones I can think of left in the city). In short, this is a place apart. There are no cars and few people. Those that know about it, found it through happenstance, not because they were looking for it. Every day I pass small congregations of smokers stepping off the street for a a moment of quiet and to enjoy of something they know they should not like.
This is a haven hidden just a block from the Transamerica building, and a few scent more from North Beach, and Chinatown. A tourist has no purchase here. Even if one were to find it, it would hold no weigh for them. It would not be a secret smocking spot, or a under peopled short cut, or back way into the second floor of their building. It would simply be a forgettable ally with a very forgettable Hadzi sculpture (would it really have been so hard to snag one of the amazing Armand Arman ribboned figures that seem to litter this stretch of the FiDi?). Certainly not a stretch to be remembered, let alone camera-worthy.
Every city has innumerable places like this, but it take a lot of time to find them, and even when you have, it take a lot more to recognize them for what they are. A few weeks ago Katie put up a post about all the places we want to go on our trip. I love the idea of a gap year and I really do want this thing to be an around the world trek; quite literally I want to travel this world’s circumference. But what I am coming to terms with more and more as we get closer, is that we cannot really think about this like a vacation. The constant need to try the best thing and never waste a second and always eating and seeing and doing is just not doable over the course of an entire year. And what’s more, that is the best thing about it. In a year we have the luxury of time. Even in the locations we end up staying for a month or more, I don’t think we will have the opportunity to find the secret places – but we will at least have the time enough to try.