An Ode

One of the few, but worthy, benefits of waking before dawn every single day is the dawn itself.  Our apartment is south-east facing, over the Bay Bridge and across the water to the Port of Oakland, and if you are seated in the polka-dot chair in the corner of livingroom, giving Babygirl her 5:30am bottle, you have a front row seat.  The sun breaks over the South Bay hills and spreads its glow across the gray water, and the City comes to life underneath it; the first ferries arrive with the bankers and the teachers who need to be at work by 6:30 or 7, the garbage trucks begin their screeching rounds, the buses queued up at the Embarcadero strike out in their various directions.  Babyman pads in around 6 and sometimes it is so beautiful and peaceful that I have no choice but to slide open the deck door and tiptoe the kids outside to breathe in the chilly air and whisper, Good Morning, San Francisco.

On Sunday morning I took a walk.  I left the house at 7:30 and because we had all been awake for two hours at that point, and my home was at a jumble of child-created chaos — pillow forts and train track mazes and oatmeal crusting on the booster seat — the silence of the outside world was surprising, and I turned on Fleet Foxes on the iPod and headed off, across the Embarcadero to be closer to the Bay.  A half-mile down the road I cut in, up and over the Filbert steps, where the parrots live, and down into North Beach via Union, where the doors of the French-Italian bakery were thrown open, as they always are from about 5am, for those who want their loaves the freshest.  Past the Chinese ladies doing their morning dance routine to tinny radio strains on the edges of Washington Square, and finally a stop at La Boulange, where the intrepid early risers and the parents of wee ones like mine were waiting for a bit of something strong.

Fortified, I moved on, ascending Union now, up Russian Hill and through the doors of time: past the apartment where my husband proposed, on our couch, and then we ordered Thai food and toasted our future at the kitchen table; past the apartment where I learned I was pregnant with Babyman, the Most Beautiful Apartment Ever, but an unapologetic one-bedroom with no room for a crib; past the apartment we wanted after Babyman was born, at the rather romantic intersection of Jones and Macondray Lane, but ultimately passed on because the hill is so precipitous as to require stairsteps to be cut into the side of it, and therefore unnavigable with a stroller.

I grew up in San Francisco, and on mornings like this, silent but for the music in the headphones and the call of the sea lions camping at Pier 39, it can feel like my history is stamped on every block: memory upon memory: of being a child; of being with child.  Of being 23 and so young and in love and alive; of being 33, and having contractions in front of the Omni Hotel on California Street, and feeling so in love and alive in such a different and exhilerating and frightening way.

Much is made lately of the “flight of the middle class” from San Francisco.  And they always use that word, flight, as if the good middle class mothers and fathers are all bundling up their children in the dead of night and driving, fast, across the bridges and through the tunnels — Don’t look back! — abandoning the  city, with its decaying public schools and its homeless problem, to the very old, and the young and carefree, and the terribly poor, and the ridiculously wealthy.

We are all obsessed with the topic, from the mothers’ group online boards to the cab drivers to the Chronicle columnists.  Even in our home, where my pragmatic husband has prepared intricate spreadsheets projecting our income for the next five years against the costs of the best private schools, and the next best, taking into account inflation and rent control; on the neighboring tab is Plan B, in which we too decamp to the East Bay.  We review these, wine glasses in hand, until my husband looks at me wearily.

“Are we making this too complicated?”
“Probably.  I don’t know.”
“We don’t have to decide right now.”
“Yeah, we have time.”

Snap the computer shut, retreat to the deck, bundled in blankets, to listen to the buzz of cars and the catcalls of nightlifers cruising through downtown.

Everything in life is temporary.  So many moments you wish would never end, and then they do.  But a funny thing happens: a new one begins.  I look at my husband and think, it wasn’t that long ago when we were standing on a fire escape about a mile from here, planning our Future, and the dreaming itself was so delicious we almost didn’t want the reality to happen.

The reality is chock full of responsibility and implications, but it is delicious in its own right.   The dawn will break again in a matter of hours.  The necklace of lights on the Bay Bridge will flicker out, strand by strand, as the morning light grows, and we will witness it from our perch, here.

Good Morning, San Francisco.


  1. Gorgeous.

  2. I always love your writing. I always feel like I'm right there.

  3. Wow. I just put on makeup to go to an event and you almost made me cry. Damn you. Beautifully written.

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