Saturday, June 14, 2014

"You Can't Be Sad Here."

I had to move to a different part of town today. I'd only booked that place in Bernal Heights for my first month here so I could get on my feet. I'm still not really on my feet (and am not sure I'll ever be, but more on that later). This second temporary location is in the Richmond area (at Geary and 25th Avenue, for those who are familiar with the place).

China Beach description
The monument thing at the top
of China Beach.
I was sad to leave my little room in Bernal Heights. The area was a bit too quiet and a lot too hilly, but I'd really settled in during my month there. A month is a long time to stay somewhere. You start to unpack and get into routines, see the same people on the buses every morning, get to know the workers in the stores you frequent.

Richmond seems to be a bit more of a happening area, even though it's still slightly removed from downtown. Not that Bernal didn't have things to do, but it felt more like I was in a little town rather than a big city. Geary Boulevard around here is packed with people and shops and restaurants. It reminds me a little of certain areas in NYC, although with much nicer weather. (It's also not far from Japantown, which is a very, very good thing. But bad for my wallet.)

On the way up here this morning, my Uber driver told me I'd be a short walk from a couple different beaches. It hadn't even crossed my mind that I'd be closer to the ocean. I'd just been really desperate for another place to stay when I got this one and barely looked at where it was on the map. Plus, Bernal wasn't near walking distance to any beaches, so I'd gotten used to living in a seaside city and never seeing the ocean. It took me three weeks of living in San Francisco before I even saw the ocean or the bridge, and that's only because a friend finally drove me there.

After I'd settled in and rested a bit, I looked at a map and decided to walk down to China Beach. It was about a twenty minute walk, which would've been annoying in hilly Bernal, but the terrain in this area seems to be much flatter, so it was fine. The walk took me past some impressive churches, small shops, tidy houses, and, as I got closer to the ocean, through a few richer neighborhoods, past mansions with Mercedes parked outside. I wondered where those people get their money and how they make their livings. Even a studio apartment here is out of my price range, so I can't imagine where one gets the money for a multi-million dollar mansion.

China Beach

China Beach was gorgeous, but I also didn't have any built-up expectations. I hadn't looked at photos of it before I went. Actually, before today, I didn't even know it existed. It never even occured to me the Golden Gate Bridge would be visible in the background, but there it was. Kids were swimming and adults were tanning and a few people were fishing from some rocks by the cliffs where the mansions clung. I stood for a while by the water, but then walked partway up the cliff and sat on a bench that overlooked the whole scene.

After I'd been sitting there a while, a woman walked up the path and stopped for a moment, standing beside my bench. She looked to be in her mid-forties, and was dressed as though she'd been hiking--khaki shorts, a jacket, and those ugly-but-probably-very-functional sunglasses that active people wear.

China Beach "It looks like the tide's coming in," she said after a few moments. There was no one else around, so it was clear she was addressing me.

"Oh," I said, shifting my gaze in the direction she was looking, "yeah." Living landlocked my whole life, I know nothing about tides and currents. The ocean just looked like the ocean to me.

"Have you been here long?" she asked.

When people at work ask me that question, they want to know long I've been in town, because they know I'm not from around here. But this woman was obviously asking how long I'd been on the bench. It struck me she thought I looked like I belong here when I feel so out of place. She was addressing me as a local.

"Just about ten minutes," I replied.

"Yeah, it definitely looks like it's getting rougher out there," she continued.

"The weather sure is great, though." I tried to shift the conversation away from things I know nothing about. Even though I consider small talk about weather to be one of the laziest topics, I didn't want to give away my naiveté.

"It really is," she said, still looking out at the ocean. "We're really lucky to be here. You can't be sad here."

She said it without much expression, and I couldn't tell if she really meant it or if maybe she was trying to convince herself it was true. I mumbled an agreement, even though I'm very much sure it isn't true. But I'm not the type to get into deep conversations with strangers about life and happiness. That's not what she wanted to hear, anyway.

"Well, have a good day," she said, before continuing up the path.

I sat about five more minutes before I finally got up and started heading back to my temporary apartment. Back past the mansions and Mercedes and then the tidy houses and small shops and impressive churches. And I wondered how often--if ever--other people here have to remind themselves they can't be sad in San Francisco.

-joe

China Beach
The view from the bench.