I felt displaced in the San Francisco hills. It was unnerving in ways I never expected – to be on the end of one street and tilt my chin up to look at the other running lengthwise. Equally, it had been two days and I hadn’t found a proper cappuccino, with right amount of steamed milk. What visual solace I could find existed in the way the pavement seemed to jut either up or down from the startling flatness of the buildings lining the residential streets.
Walking through the Little Saigon area in the mid-afternoon, I was accosted by a woman on the sidewalk – I can’t recall the street. “I’ve lost…”, she was saying, but I was too determined to find a post office, and too guilt-ridden for not stopping at all, to listen further. Before long, I was a block away. The sun was bright enough to make the hill ripple further, and going back seemed almost impossible. San Francisco isn’t known for its heat, unlike the rest of California. Rather, San Francisco is known for the shock of mist coming off the wharf, almost forcing anyone near the edge to look at Alcatraz, a grim little station approached every so often by an aged boat of tourists.
I was crowded into a cable car on my way to Chinatown (incidentally the oldest Chinatown in North America), listening to the echoes of people around me over how authentic this particular area seemed. To me it seemed the various tourist traps contained too much of the city’s history to be ignored. Those same two words from the early afternoon felt, for some reason, further realised in Chinatown’s monotony of printed linen scarves in pastels just translucent enough to see a hand on the other side, the parasols for sale in plastic urns arranged along the thresholds of the many shops. Once I’d reached the end of that main street, hours had passed looking down at those urns and their contents. Now, in the sunset, the people around me seemed to ripple with similar observations, claiming to have lost time or, in one case, a set of little boys in matching blue Converse, but those were easily found.
After recovering from the shock of people who managed to lose such a loud set of children, I took one of the night’s last cable cars to the Buena Vista Café, famous for its proximity to Fisherman’s Wharf and the café’s 1952 owner who challenged a known travel writer of the time to replicate a proper Irish Coffee. To this day, the café serves Irish Coffee famously along with bread pudding. My waiter faked a groan at my order, then complimented my taste. When I asked if he got bored by the monotony of Irish Coffee orders that surely came his way on an hourly basis, he shook his head and grinned. “I always cut the cream if they’re being obnoxious,” he said, and swept away from my table.
Featured Image: Alexandra Rego