The thing about San Francisco is that it has countless faces … and many moods. I’ve been there innumerable times when the sky was inescapably blue and the sunshine as golden as the hills. But I think I appreciate the City most in the fog, when its mood and romance envelope us. The other Saturday was just such a day. We decided to take our house guest to cruise the bay for a couple hours on a Red & White Fleet trip that took us from the shore to the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge and back.
On our way to the Golden Gate we headed straight into the cold wind on choppy waters outbound from Fog City. We walked out on the deck and tried to keep our balance on the rolling boat as we surveyed the grey world around us. Beautiful.
Against the monochromatic ocean and sky, the skyline looked like a black and white photo.
Like the fortress it is, Alcatraz stood like a sentry guarding the City, the bridge, who knows what? I stared at the waves as they beat cold and relentless against the boat’s hull and wondered if those two escapees really made it to shore all those years ago. San Francisco Bay waters are teeth-chatteringly cold and so treacherous. How could they have survived? Just another unsolved mystery in this, the most mysterious of our country’s cities.
As we made the turn we cruised under the Golden Gate bridge. I’d never been so close to it. I marveled that painting the bridge is a year-round activity — the painters begin at one end and when they reach the other, do the whole thing again. Imagine that mind-numbing job at great heights, facing winds that can be as high as 100 mph.
Since the first time I saw it, San Francisco has always spoken to me, sometimes in whispers, sometimes in shouts. It’s a less foggy city now than it was 60 years ago, thanks to global warming…scientists say some 33 percent less fog, now. It’s a shame, I think, and hard to believe there may come a day when we won’t wear the City’s fog as a romantic cloak, that we might not be able to draw inspiration from the mist that cloaks us.
I write poetry only rarely, but an early morning of walking around alone in the fog inspired this 2004 poem that was published in 2011.
City of Spirits
In an alley behind a bookstore in North Beach
the ghost of Jack Kerouac
through a pungent veil of incense
walk to the edge
Spirits haunt these streets
listen closely for their whispers
beneath the clang of cable cars
Behind the gates of Chinatown
mystics stir potions, conjure
for those who can hear
In the colorless dawn chill
puddled on walkways
dries in the rising sun
Spirits slip behind shadows