unit a. mission district, sf. photo by dailytransit.
WE SAIL LIKE EAGER PIRATES over the pavement, sweeping down Columbus Street in search of food. Two circles of rubber meet road as lungs suck in gray sky for sustenance. Now we’re on Market Street, pushing pedals past Fourth, Fifth and Sixth. This ride is our morning salutation to the city, a yoga of caffeinated cadence. The periphery is a blur of human scenery.
Many rotations later we arrive at Momi Toby’s, a favorite Hayes Valley cafe from my last visit to the city. My teeth already have plans for an onion bagel smothered in cream cheese. We lock the bikes across the street, a breeze gently invades my hoodie and laps away the sweat. I open the flimsy screen door, and step inside.
The crimson walls are just as inviting as I remembered, almost as welcoming as the owner; when we don’t have enough cash and the ATM around the corner is found in disrepair, he offers us a freebee (no need in the end, I found an extra $5 tucked away). Sipping coffee out on the sidewalk and full of that desired onion bagel, Nick and I discuss how genuinely happy we are to be here; here, where the weeks don’t fly like days. The monotony is broken, an escape made, life feeling adventurous as we savor late summer.
“Summer hasn’t felt like summer since back in ’04,” I say. Working jobs killed youthful days.
We mosey a bit, check out the park, then roll to the Mission District. We walk there for hours, checking out bookstores and dining on painfully satisfying tacos at Pacho Villa (the hot sauce will love you, but hurt you in the end). But the highlight is when Nick gets mops randomly dumped on his head at 826 Valencia – what else can you expect from a store operated by pirates and writers? We marvel at how a block can divide worlds: Valencia and Mission are parallel in reality, but are really parallel universes.
The spicy beans in my belly are fuel to power up hills – or so I tell myself as I feel burning in my muscles and gut, pedaling a bike with one gear up the formidable rollers of Lower Haight. At the top now, nearly dying but feeling proud that I didn’t walk it, we cruise and memories float back; it seems like minutes since I was here last April, Nick says the same about being here three years ago. We marinate on that, then we ride through.
We flirt with Golden Gate Park before leaving the green for the busy streets of the Richmond (north of the park). Past the Chinese shops on Geary – like a whole other Chinatown – we roll (actually struggle) up to a nice viewing point in the Presidio, and take in the Bay as it begins to soak in the pre-sunset orange light.
The ride back to the hostel is a bit grueling, a bit hairy. Excepting ridiculous detours, there’s no real way to make it back without mashing up and down some serious hills – we are, after all, going through Russian Hill. We do what we have to, finally coming to the Broadway tunnel. Here the sidewalk/bikepath is not paved but is metal paneling. Friction hardly exists, and we have perhaps six inches on either side as we zip towards the light – on one side is wall, the other is railing, and cars. Keep ’em straight.
An hour later, the bikes back at the hostel and our muscles weary, we stroll through Chinatown in search of cheap, delicious fare. Sam Wo’s is our answer – customers step through the kitchen on the ground floor to be seated in the low-ceilinged second-story dining room. Noodles (of any kind) are the specialty, and the waitress will kindly tell you what not to order (“Beef no good, how about chicken?”). And at $3 to $5 per plate, the price is right.
Sufficiently fed, we hoof it back down to Hayes Valley, amazed that what is a 15-minute trip by bike is a 40-minute trek by foot. But we have some drinking planned, and think that stumbling shoes are likely safer transport than wobbling bicycles.
We show up at my friend Danielle’s apartment and are promptly greeted by Sissy (a small, ferociously harmless dog) and the roommates. I see the small room where Jan and I stayed during our last visit and become unexpectedly nostalgic. Danielle offers champagne – she’s all dolled up for the Roots show tonight – and we toast and drink before taking to the streets again. Danielle and her roommate go off to to the concert, and Nick and I walk up Fillmore in search of a bar with thickly chilled atmosphere. Hello, Florio.
The room is saturated in a red glow. Nick orders a gin and tonic before heading to the bathroom, and I ponder whether I should splurge on some Chimay- I do, and I’m quaffing delightedly by the time Nick comes back for his bar stool. We chat and ponder, lulled into a buzz by our exhaustion, the city and alcohol.
Outside the sidewalks are quieting down – it’s only Thursday, after all. Not even two days in and we’ve done a citywide crash course, hitting up the four corners. The fog is rolling in, so we decide to shove off in a cab, and call it a night.
(Next: More San Francisco…)