The sky is just beginning to change as I pull into the parking lot of Twin Peaks. It was dawn in San Francisco. This is not something that I normally experience. I work nights and generally do not get up until around ten in the morning. I was wide awake at five in the morning and could not sleep any more. So I thought I would get up and see what the sunrise looked like. This would be a new experience for me. I normally put the city to bed; watch it close down for the night, get quieter and quieter. This would be different. I would see it come to life. It would be a real treat for me, but not something that I would want to do daily. I like to sleep late, like to stay up late.
There were only two cars in the parking lot when I got there. Both cars looked empty, but just as I passed one car, the brake lights came on. Thinking the occupants would want to continue with their privacy, I headed to the far end of the lot and parked.
The first thing I noticed when I got out of the car was the large crow cutting through the early morning air, his call piercing the quiet. For most of the time I was there he kept circling the area. It seemed to be a very large crow, the largest I had ever seen, and as black as coal. He would swoop and soar, his distinctive call breaking the silence, the only other sound the wind. He seemed to be bothered by me standing there, watching. I got the impression he was upset I was intruding on his area. Several times as he flew by, by what seemed to be no more than ten or fifteen feet away, I got the feeling that he was checking me out, twisting his head to get a good look at me. After the fly-by, he would fly to the top branch of the closest tree, a tall and stately pine, and land on the slim branch and give his throaty call. Was he telling me he wanted me to leave, was he calling on others of his kind or what?
It was a cold and windy San Francisco morning. I was bundled up in gloves, stocking cap, sweatshirt and a thickly lined windbreaker and was still cold. In the crisp early morning air, I kept struggling to keep warm, to not get chilled. When the first lone jogger appeared, I was surprised to see that he was wearing only a T-shirt and running shorts. I got colder just watching him, even though I knew that as long as he kept moving, he was probably warmer than I was. It was not long before there were more runners, early morning risers, trying to get the daily exercise in before they headed to the office towers in the distance. What a treat it must be to jog this hill, the very center of The City, with some of the most spectacular views in The City. I watched them come in pairs, sometimes in groups of three or four. And many more single joggers.
They would glide easily up the twisting road to the top, flow effortlessly across the asphalt of the parking lot and then back down, some cutting through paths formed long ago by other joggers. I imagined them getting back home, the blood flowing, the adrenal coursing through their veins. Once home, there would be hot steamy showers, freshly brewed coffee and a hearty breakfast. These were not the people to grab a breakfast bar and head for work. These people would sit down and have a real old fashioned breakfast. They needed something to replenish the fuel they had consumed in the morning mist.
Suddenly I could hear the squeal of tires, the sliding of rubber on the road. The road to the top of Twin Peaks is a true mountain road, lots of twists and turns, switchbacks and a constant rise. And here was someone with a SUV, what the industry calls a sport utility vehicle. I call them UAV, Urban Assault Vehicle. The driver must have thought he had a sports car because he was trying to drive it like one. He would gun it on the short straight section of road, only to have to hit the brakes hard when he came to the tight curves, not even trying to stay in his own lane, crossing back and forth across the double yellow line. The vehicle never did appear in the parking lot and I did not hear the crash and crunch of metal as it went down the other side, so I assume they made it safely down the other side, avoiding the joggers and small wild life that were beginning to appear on the roads.
Finally after what seemed like hours of waiting in the cold wind, the sun began to peak over the horizon. Before it actually could be seen, the sky went through several different colors and hues. The clouds were all grey before the sun. There were light grey clouds, dark grey clouds and several shades between, probably depending on the percentage of moisture in the clouds. In the early morning dim light, they all seemed threatening, looking for the right spot to drop their load of moisture. The sky began to get brighter, the grey changing to pastel. As the light level increased, the color went from grey to deep purple, the purple changing to pink, never missing a shade or hue between the two colors. The pink would soon turn to a golden yellow. Finally the sun edged its way up over the clouds in the distance, the edges of the cloud directly in front of the sun turning to liquid fire, the cloud seemingly alive, the sunlight streaming through something that was just a few minutes ago threatening and grey, now a brilliant yellow, almost alive.
The jet stream may have been carrying all these clouds over the bay area, but there was a thick fog that hung over the tip of Mt Tam. That fog was hiding the mountain top when I got here and it was still there when I left. The clouds had passed over the area, the jet stream forcing them quickly from the northwest to the southeast. But all the time the fog just clung to the peak, never revealing the mountain hidden behind this white veil. I always thought that fog was just a cloud that touched the earth, but this was different. The clouds were all grey and the fog on the mountain was white. Thick, fluffy and white. Not pure white, not hospital white, more like a dirty eggshell white.
For off into the distance of the East Bay hills I could see the string of headlights of autos emerging from the Caldecott tunnel, snaking their way down the hills, the road turning first to the right, then the left, in long gentle arcs. These were the early morning commuters, heading for the towns of the East Bay, The City and toward Silicon Valley. The lights formed a continuous line down the hill and across the Bay Bridge. I wondered what it would be like to have to drive that each and every morning, to put up with the continuous traffic. I looked at the lights, then down at the city streets, practically deserted, with only a few cars as yet moving about. Soon the streets of the Financial District streets would be crowded, the cars jockeying for position, the blare of horns and shouts filling the morning air.
Of all the buildings downtown there seem to be two that are stretching for the sky, both trying to be the tallest, one trying to outdo the other. From where I stood, they both were the same height, neither one winning. One was the huge monolith of the Bank of America building and the other was the tapering tower of the TransAmerica Pyramid. Both buildings of controversy, both hated when they were first built, one of them now a symbol of the skyline of The City. The Bank of America building was one of the first buildings that did not use white or light colors for the outer sheeting. The marble was dark and made the building look overpowering, humbling.
Even the sculpture at the base was dark, very dark. Black marble to be exact. It was a shapeless, formless thing that looked like a rock, and had gotten the unflattering title, not official title, of “The Bankers’ Heart.” The TransAmerica Pyramid was constructed right after the city put a limit on the height of a building. That limit was based on the ratio of the total number of square feet in the building to the size of the lot. TransAmerica got away with the height of this building when they tapered the building into the Pyramid shape. They could conform to the building codes and still have a building that would actually be taller than the Bank of America building. Because it was built on lower ground, from my vantage point, they looked to be the same height.
Off to the left of the financial distract I could barely make out the beautiful Coit Tower. It seemed to be peaking from behind one of the high-rise apartment buildings, looking almost like a child that was playing hide and seek. The tower is at the top of Telegraph hill, built to commemorate the efforts of the fire fighters of The City. The money to build it was from the estate of Lily Hitchcock Coit. Her life was saved by fire fighters when she was just a child. From that day on, she hung out with firemen, drank and smoked with them, even riding or chasing the fire engines to fires. This was at a time when women were not allowed to be fire fighters, were looked down at and scorned if they smoke or drank in public. Just another example of the type of independent thinkers this city has always attracted.
As the daylight increased, the dull grey-green colors of the city were changing. The winter rains encouraged the growth of everything and The City was a healthy green. This began to show through the early morning hours, the fresh morning moisture laden air bathing the dust and dirt from the trees and plants, the vibrant green showing through.
The view from the parking lot of Twin Peaks is almost 360o. If it were not for the other peak of Twin Peaks, it would be. Looking west is the Sunset district of the city, stretching for about three or four miles to the edge of the continent, the Pacific Ocean lapping on the beach. To the northwest is the Golden Gate Bridge, the dull orange towers looking like an Art Deco erector set, connecting two pieces of land reaching toward each other. That narrow inlet is busy with boats and ships all year long. This was the bridge that could not be built, the very symbol of The City.
Just before the sun actually come over the horizon, with the sky beginning to brighten, a news helicopter from one of the local TV stations darted across the sky. It look so tiny and helpless, the sound almost like one of the remote controlled model planes. I looked around to see if there was someone there controlling this toy, this mechanical insect buzzing through the morning sky.
People are so lazy. There are numerous trash cans here and yet they throw their cups and litter off the edge, into the brush. Since this place is visited mostly by tourist, I wonder if they would treat their own home towns this way. I could never understand how someone could carry something in filled with food, yet when they have eaten, when it is lighter and takes up less room, and they do not want to carry it out, they just toss it. And I was not more than thirty feet from a trash can.
It was a very cold night, and windy as well. I was bundled up warmly but I was still cold. The sun had not arrived yet to warm the place, to have its’ rays bath upon you and feel its warmth. The wind was strong and biting, stinging the eyes and the ears, the tips of the fingers.
Night rain had cleared the atmosphere, yielding a crystal clear sky. The rain had not been strong. It was just enough to cleanse the air, to have this crystal clear morning.
As the sun rose above all the clouds, I could feel the warmth from the rays. The joggers were gone, the streets were beginning to fill with cars heading off to the places they needed to go.
The crow had just done another fly-by, closer than all the others. As he flew by, it seemed he did not want somebody like me disturbing his (or her) existence. Besides, I had seen the sunrise. As I turned to walk back to the car, this lone crow gave out a call that drew several other crows. It seems they had won. They buzzed and circled the area, joyous in their victory of driving me from their realm.
One thought on “A San Francisco Dawn”
Reading this made me feel so, so sorry I didn’t visit Twin Peaks. What a waste on my part. While reading, I was there with you, seeing what you saw. Your use of imagery allowed this as well as the sequencing and flow of the writing. Thank you!