One thing that I can look back of my time was the experience of driving in a city where a different skillset is required to navigate its 49 square miles.
Back in 1987, I thought that moving to the San Francisco Bay Area was a great idea.
I had it made. I got a transfer with my job, bought a new pickup truck, moved into the house that was a part of my father’s side of the family in San Rafael. I even re-enrolled into university.
In short, it all changed. Then went into multiple revolutions, a few moves, the 1991 Acura Integra, and some ebbs and flows during my nine years in Northern California.
One thing that I can look back of my time in the Bay Area was the experience of driving in a city where a different kind of skillset is required to navigate its 49 square miles.
The first time driving in San Francisco was unexpected. My dad told me to get his 1977 Buick Electra Limited out of a tight parking spot. I failed. I did not ding or damage his car. I just did not have enough experience to get it out.
I was 15 and have not applied for my Learner’s Permit. Way to go, dad…
A few years later, I was thrown the keys to my father’s 1981 Jeep Wagoneer Limited. It was considered a treat, as I had tickets to an Oakland A’s game. I never took the Wagoneer into San Francisco. However, I had a good lesson on how Bay Area traffic worked on the East Bay. Close enough?
That was rectified through subsequent trips. Renting cars and visiting The City gave me a lot of lessons on hill holding, route planning, street parking, dodging trolley busses and streetcars. Over the years, I found success – to a certain point.
In parts of the city, hill holding is a skill you must master. If you have a manual transmission, your feet have to dance between clutch, brake, and accelerator. You night as well have Santana or Sylvester on the radio while you’re doing that. Automatics may seem fool proof at stop signs on a typical San Francisco intersection. You might be wrong half the time. You’ll find your left foot on the brake to speed up your launch time from the stop.
One thing I learned is how difficult driving in San Francisco can be. You can know the city very well without using a map – or a mapping app. However, there is a difference between a map and being on that route in a vehicle.
If you’re looking for a city where its residents sometimes do not follow parking rules – welcome to San Francisco! You’ll find cars that have three-quarters – if not half – of their vehicle legally park, while the rest in a bus stop zone. Some folks try to close the gap between themselves and their neighbors. It is a miracle when they get out if their space in the street with just millimeters to spare between cars.
On the streets of The City, there is a constant struggle between motorists and MUNI. If they live in the city, they should be reminded that their property taxes paid to city hall fund the SFMTA and the network of MUNI cable cars, busses, Metro light rail, and historic streetcars. I know we’re in a hurry, but how many times have you seen an impatient motorist loop around a bus that is 20 minutes late at bus stop on any given morning?
It sucks even more to recall that I took a lot of public transit back then. MUNI, included!
It's not all bad in San Francisco. There are some lovely streets that are worth driving on. I’m not talking about that section of Lombard Street with the famous curves.
Day or night, climbing up Twin Peaks above the Castro is exciting and fun. You always pull off near the summit and take in the view of downtown. That’s what make that city enjoyable.
I always enjoyed finding myself in the neighborhoods west of the Castro and Haight-Ashbury. The traffic is lighter and the streets easy to navigate – for the most part. You can get easily lost inside Golden Gate Park or up through the Presidio. Even along the Pacific Coast and in the Stonestown area.
Keep in mind that my reference points go back to 1996 – my final year in the Bay Area. I developed a love/hate relationship with my father’s hometown by the time I moved down to Long Beach and onward to Washington, DC.
When I returned to San Francisco for the Audi e-Tron reveal event, my nostalgia for The City simply went down the toilet. Things got worse with homelessness and the lack of care I saw on every block I explored – even in my old stomping grounds of the Castro.
Due to our brief time in San Francisco with Audi, I had little time to rediscover the places that I enjoyed the most. That’s fine. All I have are the memories and the stories.
Speaking of stories, I better tell this one…
I do not recall the year specifically, but it was when a big LGBTQ confab was happening in The City. We were all hanging out – locals and out-of-towners alike. There was a guy I was interested in and wanted to, well, you know…
Anyway, I had a rented Pontiac Grand Am and we went up to Twin Peaks to check out the view. After a while, we went down the hill and dropped him off. I took off towards my home in East Bay sometime after midnight.
As I was crossing the Bay Bridge, I noticed someone tailing me. He followed me through Interstate 80 and towards the Caldecott Tunnel. As I was passing Orinda, Moraga, and Lafayette – he was still following me. We ended up stopping at the Lucky’s supermarket in Concord – just down he street from my home. The dude drove past my rented Pontiac, cruised me for a few seconds and took off.
The things that happen only in San Francisco.
Which is why I look at my time in the Bay Area with a side eye. I appreciate what it has done for me on some level. Yet, I just look back and laugh. And, question my life choices. Might as well chalk this up for experience, I suppose.
My advice to anyone visiting San Francisco: Be careful driving there.
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Over the years, you may have noticed the use of "…" at the end of sentences. It is a device that I picked up from one of San Francisco's noted columnists Herb Caen. To learn more, click here…
All photos by Randy Stern