San Francisco: A Map of Perceptions

This book perfectly captures the mood of the city… until it doesn’t. I was dreamily reading along, appreciating an outsider’s perspective on my city, loving the descriptions of fog, small paragraphs about disparate topics, peppered with watercolor drawings of the city itself. But then our opinions differ and he seems to crap all over my neighborhood while glorying in all that North Beach contains (clearly the preference for any Italian). A callous attitude about homeless here, a snide comment about the committee to prevent the Manhattanization of the city there, then he loops the Bay from Berkeley to SF to Marin to Richmond to Berkeley to end the book. Strange.

He’s absolutely in love with the Beats, claiming that “with Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s last breath, San Francisco will become a different city.” Alas that time has already come while Ferlie is still alive, although he’s approaching 100 years of age.

Perhaps the best section was describing the Embarcadero Freeway (R.I.P.):

An architect friend of mind told me, in the long-ago 1980s, that speeding into downtown San Francisco on the Embarcadero Freeway was one of the most exciting experiences he had ever had. The Embarcadero exit was the last turnoff before the elevated freeway entered onto the Bay Bridge in the direction of East Bay. Drivers felt as if they were riding a hyperurban roller coaster, flying along for at least a mile in the midst of skyscrapers very close at hand until, after a broad curve, they glided into the heart of North Beach. Seen from the ground, the freeway had a completely different flavor: it was an incongruous, Brutalist wilderness of enormous concrete pilings, a barrier separating downtown from the front along the bay. The long piers and the beloved Ferry Building were cut off form the rest of the city, relegated to a narrow space, wedged in between the freeway and the sea.

The freeway ended at North Beach, but the idea of its original designers was to continue it all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. This would have meant six miles of uninterrupted destruction of the most beautiful waterfront in America. The advantage was that it would save motorists the inconvenience of having to pass through the residential areas of North Beach, Russian Hill, and the Marina. A potential premeditated urban murder, this insane plan was luckily never carried out.

But great descriptions of fog swirling around the streets. Not terrible, but slightly disappointing.