This is the third assignment in Jeff Goins’ blogging challenge – “Blog Like a Pro: 7-Day Challenge.” To read my manifesto from Assignment #1, click here. You can also check out the introductory post over at GoinsWriter.com to join the fun!
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Scenery looks pretty different from the driver’s seat.
As a kid, the quirks of San Francisco held all kinds of wonder. There was the local artist, the steel drum street musician, the chocolatier. I remember Ghirardelli Square, where the rusty silver bell on a shop door signaled my onslaught of hunger pangs. I can still smell the hot rush of air saturated with the scent of waffle cones and vanilla cream. The foggy panorama of boats, birds, and tourists milling about was cheap eye candy. And, of course, Alcatraz was a terror.
I had just received my driver’s license and now begged my dad to let me drive down Lombard Street. My eagerness was sure to win him over. It didn’t. Maybe it was because I emptied his pockets of quarters for the turquoise telescope on the wharf. Maybe it was because I refused to eat fish again for dinner. Whatever the reason, I was still just a passenger without much of a voice. Despite momentary bitterness, I sat contentedly to the right of the wheel and took in the metropolitan scene.
San Francisco was a scary place to my six-year-old brother, who’d never before seen men painted silver. As they interacted with tourists on the street and moved with robotic rhythm, my brother swore he’d be fine never coming to this city again. Artists set up camp on the sidewalks and immortalized colors, faces, textures, and motion on their easels. With a painting implement half-flattened like an old toothbrush, one artist soaked up blues, greens, and fuchsia that bled together on his palette. My brother walked by quickly, but I strained my neck to watch the artist’s next brushstroke and his subject matter’s restless squirming.
Four days ago, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge again. In the car, there was a distinct disconnect in our conversation due to a variety of ingredients: starved stomachs, exhaustion, swerving vehicles, radio static, fences splattered with local art, apartments the shade of tangerine sherbet, rap from the adjacent car.
Then it happened. We passed Lombard Street, and my heart skipped the proverbial beat. Don’t hope for it, I thought. You’re just a passenger: a 24-year-old passenger doomed never to be trusted driving these crazy streets.
Dad mentioned cavalierly that we just passed Lombard, so he swerved around, and we were back in queue. I prepared myself to enjoy this as best I could when he suddenly said, “Switch places.” There were question marks written all over my eyebrows.
This can’t be happening.
It was. He hit the emergency break, and we performed a seamless transition in the middle of the road. Now behind the wheel, I jolted the SUV forward, and we were off. Cresting the hill with triumphant pride, the radio as my soundtrack, I watched tourists line the street and snap photos of the historic moment. Life was happening. The descent down Lombard marked my long-expected coming of age.
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I’ve had trips down Lombard since, but I don’t remember them. What was it about that one street that one time, which held such mystery, such sweet forbidden fruit? It wasn’t the curvy pavement; you can get that in the foothills. It wasn’t the steepness of its layout. Was it the anticipation? The spectators? And why has everything about San Francisco grown a little paler since—like a glossy poster paper image replaced by smudged matte?
Visiting San Francisco today, the cityscape is still wild and arresting. But the colors are darker than I remember as a kid. The atmosphere is no longer simply a novelty—it’s real. I notice sounds, shapes, and colors splashed on every corner, but I also notice the faces trapped inside them. A man cloaked in black, pacing up and down the bus stop, cursing at the sidewalk, unaware of the terrified woman to his left. The group huddled on the bench, sharing swigs out of the same rectangular glass bottle. The makeshift car held together by dirty duct tape. Vehicles corroded by coastal wind. Psychedelic walls that match the cyclist’s spandex.
I remember saying something to Dad about how I’d rather live in a city that has character than in one without it. But I’d never before considered the characters. They were just foreign images on a mosaic. I don’t want to think about them. After a while, each face stings harder than the last. Faces creased or wrinkled from pain, by the unforgiving slaps of reality.
I guess you could say I did leave my heart in San Francisco. But it wasn’t at all a romantic affair. Adulthood never actually is.
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