It’s the most honest time of the day to go for a walk in San Francisco — and… like, just be with yourself.
Turning the corner of Castro Street, I pass the Mollie Stone’s Markets location on 18th Street where we make out underneath harsh overhead lighting. His lips are smacked with mango chapstick; it was his coy way of concealing the American Spirits he smoked outside The Edge. The lustful combination of organic tobacco and synthetic fruit sent electricity through my fingertips — the same ones that clutched his soft mullet before typing my contact information into his iPhone.
The moon is now positioned high in the sky, opaque through yet another thick marine layer enveloping San Francisco. The city is cool, crisp, echoed with the humdrum of passersby with hands holstered inside coat jacket pockets. They seem happy. The people seem alright. And I find myself smiling for no particular reason, biting my lip to remind myself of the flavor of cheap lip balm.
I look down at my watch; it’s mechanical, the black stainless steel chain clanking against my beaded bracelet. I’ve become increasingly privy to analog devices as my everyday objects morph into digital iterations.
The time? Twenty-seven minutes past midnight. I’m in no particular rush, so I walk down Market Street with no clear destination. Presence — a radical stillness with the hands of my watch going around — is my lone guiding star.
It’s clear now that summer has gone away. San Francisco doesn’t exactly teeter between seasonal extremes, but I regret not wearing a slightly thicker piece of outerwear; my wind jacket, ostensibly cut from tissue paper, isn’t sufficient. I quicken my pace, heating my blood and loosening my soft tissues and hearing my huaraches beat the sidewalk in louder strides.
My pace, regardless of its speed, always slows when I reach Twin Peaks. This space exists as a metaphoric nexus for why San Francisco is home: A rainbow flag undulates below a parked historic street car as people laugh in palpable merriment, all of this backdropped by steep hills that gleam with the soft yellow glow of light peeping through open windows.
Whatever rust wraps my heart inevitably dissolves. Any bitterness I hold in regard to the current state of San Francisco sweetens. If it’s been a particularly bad day, week, or month, I cry; a welcome release runs down my cheek. In those moments in time, everything is OK — acceptable, tolerable.
A deep breath before turning a right onto Market Street. I turn off my iPhone, though not before noticing a new text message bannered on my lock screen from an unsaved number phone saying “hey, handsome.”
Market Street is probably the most well-lit road in all of San Francisco. As a creature of the night — one who duels with notions of becoming a morning person with a regimented chai tea routine — it’s consoling. I don’t necessarily avoid eye contact with strangers during the daytime, but I don’t exactly present myself as an open book for convivial small talk… I’m more akin to a magazine with a few dog-eared pages. I’m rarely seen without my AirPods in and a black cap protecting my scalp from damaging sun rays.
It’s forty-eight minutes past midnight when I realize nothing is decorating my head. The roar of tires is jarring to unobstructed ear channels. I wonder if I’ll catch a flashing glance of an ex while passing the Lookout.
(Relationships doomed from the first dinner have a way of lingering in your soul. They sit there as examples of failure and pain and things left in boxes that could’ve all been avoided and decluttered. Lust has a certain influence in the presence of chronic loneliness.)
I forget the Castro Safeway is no longer open twenty-four hours a day. It closes at 9 p.m. these days. Its steps still throng with individuals who San Francisco has failed. I’m worried about how numb — rather, accustomed to — the outright suffering of my fellow human kin I’ve become in this city.
The gaze of a man, whose entire life was contained in a pair of duffel bags, meets mine up from the concrete. We smile, and we wave. We move on with our lives. To not learn each other’s names.
Passing through Union Square comes with a faint whiff of stale urine. It, too, also puts me in front of the headquarters of a company that ran a publication to the ground. Ran is perhaps too polite of a phrasing: flung at a meteoric velocity toward the Gulf of Mexico after I warned the model they had in mind for it would force it to go the way of the dinosaurs. Alas, this seems to have happened; I’m balancing the duality of “I told y’all” and “fuck, it’s so sad.”
Late-night walks such as this serve as a reminder to release control of what’s no longer mine; I’m learning to let my preparations meet moments of opportunity — my form of “luck,” if you will; I’m not quite there yet.
As I walk by the Proper Hotel, its glowing rooftop now emptied of techies who synonymize its $17 drinks with culture, I come up to my friend’s art studio. This is the friend who offered me office space for my new business inside one of his unused rooms. The very plastic bag of proteins and enzymes that built a custom desk for me with a hand-painted sign that reads “Underscore_SF” atop it.
Fate has an interesting manner of proving what matters in one’s fleeting life.
My hands lazily dangle over the railings at Pier 3. The cool Bay breeze is consoling — centering as it is illuminating. Gratitude dews over my cuticles. It’s impossible to spiral whilst writing a “Thank You” letter in your mind. Folding it inside some corner of your brain only mitigates the chance of emotional descent further.
Staring at the Bay Lights, facial muscles tense in creases of joy. I live here. I’m satisfied here. I’m enough here.
No matter how much past midnight it is.