The suspension of disbelief begins as you descend from the sky toward San Francisco International Airport. The plane drops and drops again, closer and closer to the sea, never revealing the land it is aiming for until you're right above it. And then, after so much anticipation, it is over and you are taxiing nonchalantly along the runway.
The airport personnel are as warm as the temperate climate, such a change from the false, frozen grimaces of those in the North. They may have forgotten how to smile, but in San Francisco, you remember.
Your first sight of the surrounding hills, some rising 1,000 feet on the way into the city, is impressive. Everything is unexpected for someone who has never spent much time in the desert or the tropics. It is so arid the few sparse trees and buildings cling to what’s left of the sandy turf. You can imagine the houses to be made of dried clay.
In town, locating a specific Hill named Nob is a kind of baptism by fire. Vastly underestimating the weight of your over-stuffed carry-ons and drag-throughs, you navigate the impossibly steep slopes. Hangers-on in not-so-savoury neighbourhoods seem alternatively helpful and menacingly inquisitive. On one block, you feel curiously entertained. On the next, threatened. This is a city you have to respect, for beneath the juicy lipstick there are pointed teeth.
The hotel is as eclectic and cluttered as it appeared in the ads. There is a doorman, but you get the feeling it may be something less than a part-time job. He’s wearing a uniform and he helps you into the ancient cage of the elevator with your bags, but later you see him down the street on a stoop, smoking a stogie.
This is somewhat characteristic of the place – the intermittent yet frequent experience of surprise. And the danger is real. People do literally swing from cable cars, jumping on and off with a certain reckless abandon. You have to make it quick. The cable car may grind to a stop at an intersection on the crest of a hill, but the traffic around it continues.
The author is an artist, writer, and instructional designer with an overactive imagination and too little time. Ceci en est un exemple...
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