I vaguely remember the days when standing in someone’s sweaty armpit on a crowded bus for 45 minutes constituted my morning commute. The days when sometimes the bus just wouldn’t come, or would pass our stop because it was already full. The days when someone was playing music loudly or aggressively harassing the other passengers and there was no way out. Now, I only have to rely on my own two feet (and of course the ability to wake up on time to get me to work every day).
The joy of walking to work for me isn’t just the reliability and lack of a crowd, but the tiny moments I experience. I’ve been walking to work in some capacity for the last 8 years. This allows for the study of the buildings, people, streets and sidewalks along the way and to witness the changes to these elements as they grow and change. My 30 minute walk each way allows me glimpses of the ever-changing city through tiny vignettes. Here are three of my favorites:
1. Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral:
An existing parking lot at Clinton Park and Valencia is slowly evolving into a grand new church. First they dug a giant hole in the ground for a foundation and underground parking garage, then nothing happened for months. I kept wondering what was being built until one day I walked by and the structural steel for the dome was up. Even with just the bones of the building visible, it’s obviously a cathedral with all the formal elements (nave, aisles, domes, etc). I can’t wait to see what it will look like when it’s completed.
2. The revolving door of Valencia Street restaurants:
In the last 8 years, I’ve seen the restaurants change on Valencia through good and bad times. When I first moved to the city in 2007, there were still many vacant storefronts on this street. The Mission was definitely in the midst of gentrification, but it still had ragged edges. Building up to the recession, 2-3 new restaurants were going in every month. At one point the City had to issue a moratorium on new restaurants due to over-saturation. Then nearly all of the new ones shuttered. I remember being shocked when the very successful Wo Hing General Store closed after only 1 year of running (the food was really good by the way). That was a true sign of the times, when even one of the City’s most successful restauranteurs couldn’t make it work. Now, it seems that all of the old institutions (Elbo Room, Therapy’s furniture store, Touch Vintage, and others) can’t afford the rents and are moving to other parts of the city. Just another phase of the ever-changing scene along this corridor, but odd to see businesses come and go so speedily and without notice.
3. The red-haired boy:
I don’t see him every day, but it’s a delight when I do. First his mother escorted this freckle-faced young boy to school, reluctantly dragging behind her—looking down as if embarrassed by her presence and slumped under the weight of his gigantic backpack. Then a few years later he started walking (actually running) by himself to school. Clearly excited but also a little freaked out to navigate his own way. Now, he’s grown about 2 feet taller and walks with his head held high listening to music through his headphones. Completely lost in his own world. His backpack has gotten lighter, but the freckles and sweet smile are still there. The people are really what intrigue me the most on these walks. Here is this sweet kid that I have watched grown up over the years…and the strange thing is that I don’t even know his name. Sometimes city life can be so equally intimate and alienating all at once.