Friday Footsteps: San Francisco Nostalgia

Early morning, early in a new year. The fog has attached itself to every building downtown, like scarves draped across shoulders. It's cold, but not cold enough, so I strap on my shoes and decide to go for a run through the town.

Almost by divine hand, I head towards the waterfront, setting my sights on the Ferry Building. Any New Year's run through San Francisco is going to be as much a run into the past as a run into the future. For some reason the Ferry Building seems like the obvious starting place, a phoenix that has arisen just like the waterfront around it. I can still squint and make out the outline of the Embarcadero Freeway, strangling our shores like a concrete python. Then it went down, the sightlines came back, and everyone remembered what was there all along.

A hard left and I start working my way north along Herb Caen Way. Running along the waterfront always creates a collision of past and present. Refurbished finger piers stand next to their condemned brothers next door. Once little steam engines used to trundle up and down the waterfront, depositing cargo for the freighters that lined our shores down to India Basin. I wonder if those little engines ever had dreams of becoming Market Street trolleys?

No time to think about that as I continue to slog my way north. TCHO Chocolates now occupies Pier 17, and yes, I have availed myself of a tour there... which I am regretting this particular morning with each footstep. I was first introduced to TCHO courtesy of Russell Jackson at Lafitte, who weaved some of their early products into the best ice cream I have ever tasted.

Places that are here, places that have passed. A waterfront that no longer bustles with shipping, a sad reminder of all the things that Harry Bridges fought for and now are long gone. I peer up Broadway, seeing in my mind's eye where the final ramp would disgorge the cars from the Embarcadero Freeway onto Broadway, dropping tourists and commuters smack dab into the middle of our red light district. How is that for thinking ahead folks?

But shipping and Carol Doda and Earthquake Magoon's are disappearing behind me in more ways than one, bits and pieces of our collective history chipping off our city and sliding into the bay like a calving iceberg. Now our shipping is constrained to the terminal for the cruise ships, but this foggy morning there are none to be seen.

I do the big turn around the Christmas tree at Pier 39 to start my way back. The Eagle Café sits snuggly on its perch, a long way from where it started. Actually, I am being literal about that. The café used to live further down on the waterfront, and was literally put on wheels and rolled down to its current location. That is San Francisco in a nutshell... a little bit of our past together with a little bit of our present.

But I can't think about that too much as I start pounding back down the waterfront, because something very strange is happening. As I start to work my way back, I start to see more of our past, as though my sight has suddenly gone into reverse. Flicka McGurrin's Pier 23 is still here, and as I jog past I can almost hear the San Francisco Jazz coming out the door. Not ragtime folks, please never call our music ragtime. That would make Turk Murphy roll over in his grave.

I am starting to find a new gear as I steam past the Ferry Building, and for a moment I can see the little wooden control tower that used to stand outside, controlling the chaos known as the "Roar of the Four," when multiple trolley companies competed on the four great pairs of tracks that ran up and down Market Street.

The past is all around me now. I run past the Ferry Building and peek behind, seeing for a moment a gaggle of Key System ferries jostling for position before they head across the bay. As I move south I can see the pilings of piers that have long since fallen into the bay... but now I see them all. Red's Java House is now pulling into view as I pick up speed, but I have other plans in mind. I am heading all the way down to China Basin, because I don't see a ballpark or expensive condos, I see fields and railway yards and a small shack on the bridge called Blanches, and a burger is calling my name.

I wonder where my kids will run? I wonder where their mind's eye will wander. We live in a magical place where sometimes we forget that one scratch on the present brings up history, gushing out with names and places. Do you care? Does anyone anymore? I get the word this week that the venerable Gold Dust Saloon on Powell is going to be pushed out for another baubles and bottles boutique. Does anyone care? We will find out, because Saturday at 6pm what is being called "Occupy Gold Dust" will happen. We will meet there together, we will remember our past, and just maybe, the next time I run, I won't have to run to the past... it will still be here.