I was thinking about the layers and fabrics on my afternoon bike ride last Sunday. As I ride a little bit further, explore a little bit more, that’s as if I am knitting up a different internal version of the area, little by little, bit by bit. And I discover and experience different layers.
This ride was dedicated to my tango friend Eva from Philadelphia. There was a period in both our lives several years ago when we both traveled a lot to the same tango festivals (ah, lets hear it for the Denver Tango Festival of the yesteryear). There was a period in my life when I was, let’s say, not particularly popular in the tango community in Philadelphia (consequence of my own choices, but still). Eva would always recognize me, take time to chat, to sit quietly nearby, to lead me, and I didn’t have to earn that. Even now when I am on the opposite coast, she kindly supported me in my fundraising as I prepare for AIDS LifeCycle, a 545 mile ride from SF to LA, June 2-8 2019. Eva: thank you, my friend! This means a lot for me and it encourages me to go an extra mile.
Most of my life, I lived in relatively large cities; the layers is one of the aspects that draws me I guess. Layers of time, of rhythms, of human connections, interweaved. If you look at the map of my immediate neighborhood, you would see a little park, crossing a small city block on a diagonal nearby. Then you look closer and you can trace the diagonal reemerging a couple of blocks over in a building wall, and then again in an abandoned lot… a ghost of a railroad, a time bygone layer. My street, now a significant neighborhood thoroughfare, dips for a few blocks and then comes up again. A memory of a lake (according to Tom).
Most of my life, I lived in relatively new cities, as far as cities go: three hundred years, give or take; any visible layers going only as far back as the Scientific Revolution. Peter the Great and William Penn met in London, layers upon layers of London by that time, before St. Petersburg was even founded, before Philadelphia was chartered.
While San Francisco is even younger, in its short history, it changed hands time and again. It’s remote and central. It’s the end of the line, and a major juncture. It’s the final frontier at the Golden Gate opening. The place to settle upon shaky ground, under the winds from the Ocean. Waves of people passed through, transformed, settled, moved on. They left the layers, some separate, some interdigitated.
It’s the same with everything: individuals, life course, relationships. There are layers of prior experiences, some binding, some separating, there are parts that connect and parts that snag. There are ghosts of the pasts, some of which poltergeists, others holy ghosts (the work being to transform the former into the latter, a nod to Dr. Rollins here.) Most of that is not clearly marked. Just as well.
I biked South again, starting the same way as last Sunday; I intend to go all the way to Pacifica. The streets are still delightful on a Sunday early afternoon, and it even doesn’t rain. Uhm, for a few minutes that is, after which I congratulate myself for not being a total idiot and leaving on a heavier bike and, speaking of layers, with a rain jacket, because the sky obviously broke permanently and just keeps leaking.
Whenever I mention that I ride a bicycle in San Francisco (which I did even before this current period of riding a lot), there is often a generic reaction by the people who don’t, something along the lines, “oh, but what about all those hills?” Nothing much about them really, most bicycle routes would go in the dips and alleys between the hills, unless your destination is on top of the hill, which is rare. As I ride north, the roads circle organically around the hills, maybe climb on the shallower hillsides.
What’s more disruptive to the fabric of the city are the express highways cutting through it. Bypasses. Snags. Most of the time it gets unpleasant or confusing, it has something to do with a highway: the road becomes a highway, dead ends at a highway, or there is an on or off ramp, or the roads just get entangled under one.
I ride all the way into Daly City and continue riding on a gentle uphill slope toward Skyline Drive. The rain picks up. Before it did, I took a look at the map and memorized the next few turns. Over the hill, and now I have a left turn coming up. The road looks rather wide and there are no signs over the intersection, but it must be it. And so I turn onto Skyline Blvd instead of Skyline Drive, which is the small street one block further, a memory of the good old days before the Skyline Blvd.
After riding about a mile on a littered shoulder of a 50 mile and hour highway in the rain, I figured that wasn’t right and my best course of action would be to turn around. As I slowly rode in the wrong directions, stopping and bracing myself during waves of traffic flying by, I also stepped aside for a bicyclist happily and speedily riding in the direction I just gave up on. He had no rain jacket and no helmet on, which cheered me up a little: I guess I am not the biggest idiot. Although I suppose it depends on the skill and fearfulness level.
As I was stopping to let the traffic pass by on that shoulder, I spotted some calla lilies the weeds again, just like the week prior, when I somehow failed to take a picture. So I took a picture this time. I swear I did. It totally looked like I did. I took several just in case. But apparently I still didn’t. I am beginning to think that has something to do with the calla lilies.
After I returned to the point where I took a wrong turn, I decided that I was cold and soaked and had enough adventure for the day, so I headed North on Skyline Drive (not Boulevard!) rather than South, and made my way to Lake Merced again, approaching it from the South and riding around the West Side this time. Wikipedia tells me there were lots of bears hanging out by the lake when the Spanish settlers first got to the lake back in the 1775. In 2019, I haven’t seen a single bear, but the water is there.
After a brief merge on the infamous Skyline Boulevard again, I took Great Highway Extension to the Great Highway. Despite multiple ill advised behaviors I engaged in on this trip, the Great Highway Extension on ramp was the only place I got honked at, for no legitimate reason, too, other than my presence annoying the honking guy. He and his truck looked like we were from separate layers, so I could see how I would be “one of those” to him.
Merging at the Great Highway, I wondered about its layer in history. While the Great Highway is definitely great due to it’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean, it’s not exactly a great highway. When was it great?
Here is an article from 1929 lauding its completion, which was “climaxed… by monster celebration”. I think my readers who live in San Francisco or have visited would enjoy this article! I’ll just mention this: one of many cool features of the Great Highway : the Equestrian Ramp. The horsemen could ride straight to the Ocean!
In 2019, the horsemen went the way of the Lake Merced bears, I am afraid. I rode along the Ocean, which is not going anywhere, to the Golden Gate Park, and then the usual: the Park, the Wiggle, home.
Even though this ride was somewhat unpleasant because of the rain and because of wrong turns, and maybe because of all that, it got me thinking about history and layers of cities and life experiences, and I expanded whatever this is that I am making.
Thank you, my readers, for joining me on this ride, and thank you Eva for your support! It encourages me to go on with positive attitude and create new experiences.
If any of my readers want to support me, to contribute to a great cause, and have a ride dedicated to them, please donate to AIDS LifeCycle through my fundraising page.