Turning to Gratitude

I’ve found it easy to get frustrated with life in San Francisco recently. The city is more expensive than it ever has been (how did I just spend $52 on a small bag of groceries?), there’s construction going on on both streets that border my corner building (who wouldn’t think 7 am is a great time to start jack hammering?), and it’s been a while since the last rain, so the smells of the city can be overwhelming. So tonight I decided I would be intentional on my walk. I’d only focus on what I’m grateful for in the city.

I’m grateful that I can walk two blocks and eavesdrop on conversations in four different languages.

I’m grateful that there are still so many mom and pop businesses in my neighborhood that are thriving, and that we’re on a first name basis.

I’m grateful for hills that get my heart rate rising.

I’m grateful for sidewalks and for cars that yield to pedestrians.

I’m grateful for living in a city for so long that virtually every corner I turn I have a fond memory (the building I lived in when I first got divorced and the pancakes we made on New Year’s Day, the bar where we saw a friend’s band play and drunk them out of Jack Daniel’s, the now vacant lot where I got my first Christmas tree in San Francisco).

I’m grateful for the water that surrounds this city, offering calm and peacefulness.

And I’m grateful for living on the west coast, and watching the sun set at the end of the day.

My Heart Belongs to You

Many nights I walk through Union Square on my way home. For some inexplicable reason, I consider it a treat to cut through the square, rather than walk on the sidewalks bordering it. I generally will only cut through the square late at night, when the hustle and bustle of the tourists are gone.When I’m likely to be the only one there.

At each corner of the square, there is a heart of San Francisco, a large heart sculpture painted by a different artist. Tonight I noticed a new one had been installed, midnight blue with beautiful white flower stalks arching over it. I watched tourists pose in front of it, giggling and making hearts with their hands. It was a tiny reminder of how lucky I am to walk past the hearts every day.

I continued across the wide plaza, empty of the cafe tables and chairs or art vendors that are often there during the day. Walking across the plaza, surrounded by towering department stores with their windows aglow, I love the city. I love the stillness, the emptiness of the square at night, when no one is there. I love the flatness of the square, the greyness, the smoothness of the stone. When I walk diagonally across the square, I’m starring in my own version of That Girl, taking place in San Francisco rather than New York.

As I exit the other corner of the square, my favorite trumpet player is playing. I intentionally slow my pace in order to miss the light. I stand at the corner, listening to his soulful notes echoing through the still night air. Oh, San Francisco, once again, you’ve captured my heart.

A Most Perfect Birthday Picnic

Eight Years Ago
I was very close friends with four other women. We had a tradition of indulgent birthday celebrations. Whatever the birthday gal wanted, the other four made happen. We took ski trips to Lake Tahoe, saw musicals, planned trips to Vegas, the sky was the limit. When my birthday came around, they asked me, “What do you want to do? Anything you want, we’ll do it.”

“I’ve always wanted to go kayaking on the Bay. Could we rent kayaks for the day?” They exchanged looks. Finally, one of them spoke. “Well, we’d prefer not to do that. What else would you like to do?” (To be fair, one of the gals had recently had surgery on her arm, so kayaking might have been difficult.) “How about if we hike to Point Bonita Lighthouse and have a picnic?” A few moments of silence passed. “I think that would be really windy. Do you have something else you’d like to do?” Feeling somewhat defeated, I suggested the back up option that always seemed to work. “Okay, how about we go wine tasting in Napa?” “Yeah, that would take all day. We don’t really want to do that. But let us know what you want to do, and we’ll plan it.”

Not wanting to be rejected again, I said, “What would you like to do? Why don’t you plan something and we’ll do that?” And we went to dinner and a movie. Which was perfectly lovely and we had a great time.

Earlier This Year
My dear friend Emily and I were hiking at Land’s End. As we walked along, admiring the Bay and reflecting on how lucky we are to live here, she noticed a lighthouse across the bay. “I wonder if we could hike there. It looks like there would be great views from there.” I stared at her, on the verge of laughing. “Emmy Lou Lou.” She looked at me. “That’s Point Bonita Lighthouse. I’ve been wanting to hike there for the past eight years.” She smiled. “Great! That’s what we’ll do for your birthday this year!”

Ten of us met at a picnic area. I was shocked there weren’t more people there. It provided a perfect view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay. After a glass of wine and some appetizers, we set out on the easy hike. We walked down a winding path, towards the point where the lighthouse stood. We walked across the suspension bridge, swaying with the wind. We reached the tip of the point, where the lighthouse still stood from 1855. We marveled at the beauty of the sea, the lighthouse, and the surrounding cliffs. It couldn’t have been a more perfect day. Usually enveloped by fog, today Point Bonita basked in rays of sun. We walked back to the picnic grounds and lazed the remainder of the afternoon, enjoying great food and even better company.

It may have taken eight years to execute, but it was well worth the wait. I couldn’t imagine a better birthday celebration.

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Two Days at the DMV

Today I took my motorcycle license exam. I was nervous about making the appointment. It’s been six months since I took the motorcycle safety class. Part of the class involved the driving portion of the license exam; I had one year from completion of the class to complete the written portion of the exam, which could only be taken at the DMV.

One of the last times I was in the DMV involved a fairly traumatic and embarrassing experience. It was September, 1992. I had just moved to San Francisco. I wanted to get my CA driver license as quickly as possible, to start the clock ticking to qualify for in-state residency (I thought I wanted to go to a UC graduate school. I ended up in Egypt instead. That’s another story.). I went to the DMV, stood in line, completed an application form, showed them my NC driver license and they told me I’d have to take an exam. I was a little surprised (I already had a license), but figured I was there, so I might as well take it. How hard could it be? I had been driving for years at that point. I took the multiple choice exam and handed it to the examiner. She marked one question wrong with her red pen, then another, then another. I was slightly worried, but not really. You were allowed to miss up to ten questions. There was no way I’d miss more than ten. Except I did. I missed 11. The examiner handed me back my paper with a huge “-11” circled in the middle of the page. She gave me a study book and nonchalantly said, “Why don’t you study for a few minutes and come back to retake the exam.”

Here’s the embarrassing part. I had never failed before. Especially not on a test. I looked at the study guide, burst into tears, and ran out of the very crowded DMV, sobbing.

In hindsight, I’m truly grateful for that experience. I have failed at many things since then, which has made me realize it’s not that big of a deal. The world doesn’t end, I grow a little more resilient, and I take bigger risks. And occasionally, there are tears.

I studied for the motorcycle exam, as well as the regular driver license exam (both were required). I took all the sample tests online and read the manual. Multiple times. This morning, I wore one of my favorite dresses and my friend Warren drove me to the DMV, providing a pep talk and moral support.

The DMV is a soulless institution. There is a prevalence of drudgery in the atmosphere. It was as though I had stepped out of a Technicolor world, into a black and white scene. I took my number. I completed the form. I answered the verbal questions, had an eye exam, and provided my fingerprints. I stood in line again. I took a photo, paid a fee, and took an exam. And then another one. I waited in another line. One by one, our tests were graded. I was nervous. I greeted the inspector with a smile. The rules had changed. Now you’re only allowed to miss three questions on the regular driver license exam and four on the motorcycle exam. He graded my regular driver license exam first. With his red pen perched, he wrote a number in the center of the paper and circled it. 100. He looked up. “Not bad,” he said. “Let’s see how you do on the next one. That’s the one that people usually mess up on.” I smiled. His red pen hovered. What was probably only a minute or two passed, although it seemed like much longer. “Not bad at all. You only missed one. Hm.” He looked up. “You’re going to ride a motorcycle?” I nodded and smiled.

This time, instead of crying and sobbing as I left the DMV, I was beaming and doing a “Life is good and I have my motorcycle license” dance. A much better way to leave.

Local Vacation

We saw an advertisement for “San Francisco: The Game.” I’m such a fan of scavenger hunts – what could be more fun than solving riddles and discovering new facts with good friends? Knowing that this was probably aimed towards tourists, we decided to go for the granddaddy of all tourist locations – the Fisherman’s Wharf scavenger hunt option.

We started the day with breakfast at The Buena Vista Cafe – home of Irish coffee and locale for many movies shot in San Francisco. While sipping our respective beverages, we noticed the woman beside us at the bar arranging two sock monkeys among the condiments. We asked what she was doing. “Just posing my children for a picture.” This was going to be an interesting day.

The scavenger hunt took us to stores on Fisherman’s Wharf, to the historic Hyde Street pier, to wax museums, and to the Wharf Visitor’s Center. However, our absolute favorite stop on the scavenger hunt was the Musee Mechanique, a privately owned collection of antique arcade machines. And it’s free!

We laughed along with Laughing Sal:

Got our palms read:

Arm wrestled with a luche libre:

And created a souvenir penny to remember our day:

A very fun way to spend a Saturday morning in the city!