Vintage Beatles is playing at breakfast today. “She’s got a ticket to ride, but she don’t caaaare”; “I can show you a better time, baby, you can ride my car”; “Roll up! Roll up to the magical mystery tour. It’s waiting to take you away!” I do love the Beatles, it’s England’s redeeming feature this morning after the Tory feast at the London mayoral election. I ate my Pacific Coast dinner of quinoa salad and superfood smootie in vegan protest against all things British last night. I love my home city but right now I think it’s best if we don’t see each other for a little while. So on that account, things are working out.
San Francisco has left me sore all over today. It’s a passion injury though: my hips got it from carrying the backpack up the hills, my calves got it from walking down them, and my arms got it from holding on for dear life as I had standing room on the ledge of the cable car as it soared down Hyde Street. “I believe I can fly,” sang the gripman, having been cheerful to his carriage-load of tourists all day, and flirty with the locals who commute with him up some of the steepest hills. I’m not usually one for excessively touristy things, but I love the cable cars. The chipper clanging of the bell, the sound of the cable buzzing under the tracks, continuously rolling so the cars can grip on to them to move. You can smell the smoke from the wooden brakes as the cable grinds against them on the downward run, as Alcatraz comes into view and those of us hanging on the outside of the car are whipped around by the wind.
Coffee from Peet’s and chocolate from Ghirardelli were among other local experiences yesterday, plus the big ramen at Katana-Ya, and getting my Clipper transport card and an American SIM card. I walked down Market Street to Union Square, where they had a local arts show on just like they did the first time I ever got there. I sat and watched for a while at the Powell Street cable car turnaround, where the gripmen spin the cars around on the turntable so they were ready to go the other way. They slam back into place, rocking back and forth, before the burly men nudge them forward onto the cable. And yes, I did make it to the Golden Gate Bridge too, finally. You can hide, but you can’t run. The sky was golden and the air was misty as I walked towards it, past Fort Mason and the Marina. On the way I came across a little hut called the House of Days, where a sky diary is kept. A photo is taken every hour of the day and you can scroll through them by looking through the window, each row representing a day. I walked out the Wave Organ, listening for music through the pipes drawing sounds from the waves tinkering below. I’m still not sure it really works. I sat and watched the bridge for a while, still trying to work out whether it’s real and not just a mirage. But look at that view.
I’m really noticing just how friendly everyone is in this city. People stop and chat to each other in the street, shop staff are smiley, going above and beyond what would be required of them and not just from an English perspective. I spent fifteen minutes talking to the girl in the Apple Store, most of it about things other than computers (hello little MacBook Air, who’s a pretty boy), not to mention the moment I had with the one-year-old twin boys with the ladykiller eyelashes who offered me crisps. And everywhere there’s music: the busker with the James Brown mean streak; the singer with the red top hat and gloves, belting patriotic songs; the singsong protest marchers; the five-piece orchestra of Chinese gentlemen on the corner of Broadway and Columbus, just as the dim sum smells were wafting through; the Pan Man with his pots, pans and plastic buckets, wailing it with those drumsticks to fascinated passers-by on Market Street.
I’m not sure what to call it, this San Francisco attitude, it’s almost happy-go-lucky but it’s not because people are not aware of their good fortune. They just seem really good at enjoying their lives, in an infectious way that has me wondering why exactly we Londoners walk around with such a grump on. Maybe I should take some of this attitude home with me. Or maybe it’s not fair to compare, because as Armistead Maupin said, San Francisco is the city at the end of the rainbow. Looking at the people who live here, I think they know that.