Writing is scary. I don’t know what will come out. I have spent a lot of years afraid to let myself write from the heart, instead writing business, MBA and work content. A lot of this came from suppressing pain and feeling, thus suppressing my heart. So when I have let myself open my heart to write, beams have come out, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely and been equally scared. But, I’ve still limited myself to writing about business-related subjects. When I asked Luana, who has been incredibly encouraging, what I should write about, she rolled her eyes and said, “Anything! San Francisco, running, writing, New York, travel. Just write!”. So, I’m writing about what I love.
I first visited the City by the Bay in 2006, and I fell in love. It was December, and Karl the Fog was cunning in his frequent and unannounced visits. I stayed for only a few days, at the Adelaide Hostel, near Union Square. A hostel in an alley, run-down and hidden, but with the friendliest staff and vibe. I still have my journal from my first San Francisco trip, but I’m writing this from memory and feel. I explored on foot, walking the hills and the beaches towards the bridge, meeting people, trying to be a local. There are so many quotes about the allure and mystery of The City, that all fit my and others’ experiences of San Francisco. It is a city that accepts anyone and everyone, that shrouds them in love and just lets everyone be who they are and who they want to be.
“No city invites the heart to come to life as San Francisco does. Arrival in San Francisco is an experience in living.” -William Saroyan
I fell in love with San Francisco, and have always longed for her. This first trip opened my heart to The City, and I have so many fond memories from my time there; meeting Danny the Australian and walking across the Bridge with him; Gabriella, the Hungarian water polo player I met through Craigslist who introduced me to the BART and East Bay; finding the Bacchus, a local pub, which led to finding The City’s gems like the best underground sushi, the Exploratorium, and the best view from a hotel lift (Westin St. Francis).
I returned in 2010, in a painful way. I only visited SFO, San Francisco International Airport, on transit back to Australia from a work trip. I was (telling myself I was) enjoying the corporate high-flying life, a business class ticket home after meeting executives. But I felt pangs as I walked through the news store in the terminal, and saw the SF Chronicle, Golden Gate Bridge artwork, and artefacts that triggered my longing for a life true to my heart. I suppressed, but looking back, knew what I felt at the time.
Then, in 2014, it was time to return with my then-wife. We booked a nice Union Square hotel and had four or five days in the Golden City. I was apprehensive. What if it didn’t feel like the San Francisco that I fell in love with? What if The City had changed? What if Jacinta didn’t like it? What if I didn’t like it? I needn’t have worried about any of that, The City and I reconnected. But, I felt like she knew I wasn’t being true to myself. I was a tourist, I wasn’t myself; Alcatraz, bike touring, degustations, five-star hotels. It was lovely and luxurious, but it wasn’t me, and that is all San Francisco asks of you and encourages you to be. I left knowing something was missing from my visit, something was lacking. I felt incomplete. Photos of me during that trip show an empty smile and sad eyes, maybe just a world weariness. There was happiness, but it was heavy.
Upon returning to Melbourne, I longed. I read SF Chronicle articles, I subscribed to the Chronicle, I looked for San Franciscan jobs. Then, I suppressed again.
It wasn’t until I began the painful process of remembering and letting myself feel pain, hurt, emotion, sadness, happiness again, that I lifted my gaze and thought about visiting The City again. I avoided San Francisco in March 2015, in case it brought back painful memories. So, I skirted her and visited what John Lennon referred to as “the big parking lot,” Los Angeles. San Francisco was close, but I wasn’t ready. When I returned, I wanted to embrace San Francisco as the city I fell in love with again, and be true so she could embrace me.
“San Francisco is 49 square miles surrounded by reality.” – Paul Kantner
Luana and I prepared our trip for July 2015. We were apprehensive, particularly about pain and sadness triggers The City might bring about for me. I countered these by arranging minimal overlaps between my trip with my ex, and this trip. I think I knew I would be OK, or maybe it is with retrospect, that I see in being true to myself and going to the places I wanted to, and Luana and I wanted to, everything was OK. We even managed to time our visit with the San Francisco Marathon, where I would combine my love of running with a city I adored. 42.195 kilometres from The Embarcadero, around Fishermans Wharf and Marina, out and back Golden Gate Bridge, and then slogging through Presidio, entering Golden Gate Park’s endless loops, up and down Haight-Ashbury, before swinging back past AT&T Park and The Bay Bridge to the finish line and Luana. It was a beautiful run. Compared to the Los Angeles Marathon a few months earlier, which was bold, flashy and on display; the San Francisco Marathon felt understated, cool, pure, and without all the hype. Oh, and I am very sorry San Francisco, for soiling your sidewalk pre-Marathon, post-coffee (runners will understand).
Our July 2015 trip to The City was amazing. Luana also fell in love with San Francisco. After driving from Los Angeles (which she wasn’t too impressed with, understandably), we both loved our first glimpses and experiences in The City. From feeling the cool, foggy breeze, climbing the hills, running into a coyote at Coit Tower, seeing the Transamerica Pyramid from our rooftop, laying on Ocean Beach, burying a love note capsule, finding an old map shop. Watching and interacting with our neighbours at sunset from our rooftop in Nob Hill, with a glass of wine, felt like 70’s America; communal, free and without a care in the world.
A weight started to lift from from shoulders on this trip. If my escape to LaLaLand in March was a pressure release, this trip was R&R, convalescence, an opportunity to heal. Laughing in the streets, drinking and playing, running and laying in the sand, falling in love, being happy.
Now, San Francisco inhabits that place in my heart and my head that I long for. I know she isn’t perfect, and she knows I’m not. I realise that’s why I love her, and she helps me see that I need to accept and love my own imperfections.
“Leaving San Francisco is like saying goodbye to an old sweetheart. You want to linger as long as possible. ” – Walter Cronkite