Remembering an Afternoon in San Francisco Without Instagram

San Francisco is a city filled with IRL treasures that exist with or without an IG update; two years ago, that sentiment came fully into frame.

Far too many of my days are spent inside my otherwise charming domicile. Time tends to collapse in there, typing away at my keyboard, the available space in my Google Drive inching closer to capacity.

There’s one specific parrot that will routinely perch on a ledge outside my window — the only one in the apartment; a glass pane that opens up to a concrete pillar where rain refracts onto the potted plants below — alerting me to life outside.

Comically, this shrill animal we humans commonly cage for our amusement is conceivably freer, less caged than I am.

That same bird visited my window that day in October of 2021 when day Facebook (which I only check for work), Instagram (which I use for several indulgences), and WhatsApp (which I don’t have installed on my phone) went dark.

And in honor of us taking a lil’ mental health day, it seems as good a time as ever to revisit how I spent that day in San Francisco… when Meta’s products went dark.

It felt as good a time as any to spread my wings and reacquaint myself with San Francisco during the afternoon… when the city isn’t shrouded by either an early morning haze or the soft orange glow of a street lamp.

“You still can’t refresh Instagram, can you,” the clerk at my neighborhood bodega asked at check out, his iPhone unlocked and upright.

The man, who I’ve seen more than my own mother over the past two years, looks frustrated; his right thumb hovered over Instagram’s colorful app icon as if waiting for the exact millisecond it came back online to satiate his next fix.

I never learned this man’s name. But the sentiment of addiction, digital or otherwise, transcends surnames.

“Nah, I still can’t get on, it’s driving me a bit bonkers,” I said. I noticed the white cast from my mineral sunscreen had still clouded my hand tattoos.

I, too, recognized that I’ve yet to scroll through my Explore Page — a collection of posts that now span the gambit of political and environmental news coverage, drag queens death dropping, and scantily dressed men posing behind scenic vistas in faraway countries. Neither my brain nor my genitals had yet been stimulated by Instagram’s algorithm.

“I’m trying to say fuck to all those things today and get out of my head a bit,” I spoke, vocalizing my intention to him, simultaneously confirming it to myself.

The clerk — a man standing just shy of six feet tall, his hair buzzed in an attempt to hide his receding hairline — paused, looking up to his right.

“Amen, man. I think I’m going to do the same.”

His phone locks, and its screen goes blank and black. As I leave with a Diet Coke, the can itself drenched in condensation, I noticed his phone turned over. The distance between him and this, superficially speaking, now the obsolete device is well over ten feet away as he goes about stocking shelves with small bottles of liquor.

The average human thumb is just shy of two inches long; even the tallest of men rarely have an arm that spans longer than a yardstick. There are at least six feet of space between the man’s opposable digit and the phone he’s chosen to let sit dormant and out of sight.

I thumbed over the Instagram icon one last time as the bodega faded behind me on Polk Street. I thought, too, if he’d bothered to check as well.

I hope he hadn’t. I wish I hadn’t.

San Francisco is home to well over 200 public parks — one municipal nicety I often forget exists. But in my growing adulthood, I’ve matured into quite an urban creature, never mind that I spent my middle school youth in Upstate New York crisis-crossing creeks in search of amphibious life. I remembered how innocent, how loose I felt at that point in my time on this planet. It’s a level of unbridled pureness I’ve been chasing for some time now… to little success.

Walking up Market Street en route to Corona Heights Parks, I felt more in stride with that ethos. Maybe it was because I was looking up, making eye contact, and taking note of the number of queer-designed storefronts and canines on long leashes.

Perhaps it was the carousel of humanity present at that time.

How vanilla kisses between same-sex couples came across with a gentle sweetness, rather than a guttural disdain. The passing Bluetooth speaker playing Bob Marley invites a certain calm into that moment. A father and young daughter strolling hand in hand, the girl enthusiastically aiming her finger at the Pride flag on Castro and Market streets — “I love that big colorful flag, papa.”

It’s during these mundane communions with San Francisco that I find myself most thankful for the city I’ve chosen to fall in love with. Granted, SF’s basket case of problems — a growing homeless population and worsening fentanyl crisis; a mayor whose morality ebbs and flows on any given day; a cost of living that’s nothing short of inhumane — don’t disappear amid those episodes of harmony.

But at least these issues live alongside momentary gratitude.

The summit atop Corona Heights Park has long been one of my favorite places to just be in San Francisco.

It’s the place where I realized I loved a boy, the person who I meet one drunken night stumbling out of The Mix — the same boy who would later become my first heartbreak in San Francisco. The same boy who I would come to learn died in a car accident four days before Christmas.

I would bring my gratitude journal up to this peak often, attempting to sift through life’s small joys. Likewise, I wrote letters to myself and friends and loved ones here that, more often than not, were tinged with red dirt that the wind managed to sneak into the envelopes before they were sealed.

My apartment exists in the panorama served at Corona Heights Park. As does my favorite coffee shop. My favorite bodega. My best friends; the future loves. The next essays. The next chapters. In both my career and life.

All that exists here in San Francisco. With or without an Instagram Story update.

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