Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Stories from the Road -- Lombard Street

What do you think of when someone mentions San Francisco?

Most immediately think of the classic Golden Gate Bridge. Really, who could blame them? Others think of Alcatraz, or dungeness crab, or those smelly seals on Fisherman's Wharf, or sourdough bread, or the absolutely incredible Asian food, or streetcars.

I think of Lombard Street. In my mind, there is nothing more quintessentially San Francisco than this strange concoction of road construction.

San Francisco is hilly. Very hilly. I don't much like running in the city. The steep hills just south of the bay are nightmares for the daily run. The scenery is great, but my heart can't take the punishment after so long. Even walking in various portions of the city is profoundly uncomfortable. I suppose that is a good thing, but sometimes I just want a quiet walk around the neighborhoods.

Lombard Street is San Francisco's quirky comment on the streets and hills it encompasses. It is, without a doubt, the most winding street in such a short distance I have ever encountered. Intentionally so! There is no need for it, other than it exists and it's something to discuss when you visit.

San Francisco is my favorite city in the West, although I've recently discovered the genuine wonder of Seattle. No, San Francisco is my kind of city. Big but small, one that loves food -- shoves it in your face. Its inhabitants speak their minds, sometimes crazily. Sometimes lazily. Sometimes loudly. Sometimes futilely. Doesn't matter. They talk, whether you want to listen or not. Thing is, they also listen and adapt. It is no coincidence that vegan restaurants sit right beside steakhouses. They may not always agree with each other, but they seem to find a way to live with each other. Variety is always underrated, and San Francisco is the haven of diversity.

The city also has a personality. A sense of humor. Perhaps tired of its own topography, Lombard Street was born. The street lasts for a couple of blocks, with cars humorously squeezing corner after corner. An occasional sharp brake or even a curb check. And I'm guessing most of these people are tourists. Surely no local would take such a ridiculously useless road. Then again, there was an instance when someone rolled down their window as I walked up the street yelling: "Go Giants!"

One thing I won't forget about Lombard Street: the views. You can see much of the city from here, and each hill proudly displays the unique housing and buildings that make each neighborhood wonderfully unique. And you don't have to worry about taking extra photos on the road. The next car coming won't hit you for quite a while. This is a street where the speed limit isn't a suggestion -- it's a requirement.

I've been to San Francisco twice now, but I feel a sense of home here. Any city with this quirky of an attitude gets a vote in my book. Mom kept asking me: "Why did they make this?" My reply: "Look around."