Running up Market Street in San Francisco feels like coming home. I’ve never been to San Francisco. The street is new to me. But the morning run lines up muscle and bone in a way so familiar that, settling into my body’s rhythm, I feel as though I am returning to a place I have been a thousand times before.
I return to the morning run each time I travel, squeezing it in between business meetings, the movement grounding me at the same time it takes me to places I have never seen. It’s spare, easy. I need only a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt. The one time I forgot my running shoes, in New Orleans, I found a Payless shoe store and got a serviceable pair of fluorescent green sneakers for $20 (yep, the ones shown above). It was a fair price for a delightful tour of the Garden District.
In San Francisco I have the gift of the time change from east to west coast: I wake an hour or two early each day. On the last day of the trip I count the minutes for the fifth time, anxious to get to the airport in time, to catch the Bart, to allow for mistakes like boarding the wrong train or having to purchase a new fare card. It’s 7 a.m. and I calculate a luxurious hour for myself before I have to get on the track toward home. Luxurious, yes — though I know from past experience that the seduction of discovery will delay me and make catching that plane a close call.
This time I’ve remembered my shoes, but forgotten a sweatshirt, so I grab the hot pink pullover I’ve brought for work and pull it on over a tank top, walk through the hotel lobby feeling conspicuous among the fancy brunch-eating guests and crystal chandeliers, and escape out the side door.
Streets are quiet this early on a Sunday morning. Just a few homeless people and some stray pedestrians. I run toward the Embarcadero — the embarking place, I learned in one of the stack of tourist brochures I’d collected in the lobby. A clump of runners appears near the streetcar tracks, a single athlete stretches on the sidewalk, and I feel like a member of an elite club of the clear-minded, healthy and strong.
Here is the Ferry House, with tempting food stalls and coffee spots inside and great views of the Bay outside. Its tower is lit gayly, “50 years.” Fifty years of what? I’ll look it up later.
All along the run I’m tempted to hug the water line, to gulp in expansive water views. Walkways invite me closer but my time is limited. I keep the run pretty linear.
A line of glossy square stones set in the walkway line up one after another ad infinitum, pulling me along. Piers punctuate the route, some swallowed up by chic restaurants, others still functional, vast warehouses waiting for ships to offload. Pier 1, Pier 1-1/2, Pier 16. What if I keep running? How far can I go?
I pass the Exploratorium museum at Pier 15 –where a shop window calls out to me, “come back for this kitchen science book your niece would love!” Pier 27 is set up for cruise ships, and I stop to admire cleats big enough for four people to sit on and enormous rubber fenders hanging over the sea wall waiting for city-sized ships to bump against them as they dock.
I look at my watch: 7:30. If I allow myself 20 more minutes, I’ll be back by 8:10, in time to change and have coffee. I keep going.
Then I see sailboats, their masts like a collection of pick-up sticks bobbling in a marina I had no idea would be here. I discover the USA 76, from the elite America’s Cup races–and a sign that says you can go sailing on her! If you have the time. And here is a sailboat strung with colored Christmas lights. I wonder whether there is a live-aboard community here.
Just beyond the docks, I see what I am guessing is Fisherman’s Wharf. Excellent! I didn’t think I’d get that far! I should take a look. So I press on.
I find a touristy collection of “gourmet” hot dog stands, souvenir shops, signs for whale watching and a banner about the annual return of the seals. That’s something I’d love to see, but I’m not sure where that would be, and besides, I’m running out of time. I pass the berth for a tourist ferry to Alcatraz. Then there is a dock, a great place for a photo of the fog over — wait, what? That IS Alcatraz! Right here! And the locks fastened to the fence? I like to think they are tokens of love for the prisoners once locked up across the water, but more likely they are from young lovers pledging their hearts right here on the mainland.
Time is getting tight. I turn back toward the hotel. Then I hear something that could be seals. Yes! I get to see Alcatraz and the America’s Cup, and now I’ve heard the seals! Where are they? I am this close, how can I not take a minute to investigate? I can skip showering. Get coffee at the airport. What’s the worst that could happen? I could miss my flight.
Maybe down this dock.
And there they are. At least a hundred of them, not 50 yards away, covering an entire floating dock. Like so many oversized bean bags, schlumped all over one another in an enormous pile. Sleeping. Except for the ones barking, reared up like slugs standing on end, one long muscle of a neck wrestling against another. Splash! One falls off the dock. Surprise! Another pops up out of the water as if propelled by some unseen force.
They are so loud and so comical and I am so delighted at having stumbled upon them, I stand there on the dock, all by myself, laughing. “What are you doing?” I ask them. “This is amazing,” I say. They are too far away for a good photo, so I take a moment to mentally lock the image away, sure I will never forget it.
Finally I turn around and head back to the business district, running past Pier 27, Pier 23, Pier 1, counting until I am back at the hotel. I make the train. I make the flight. And I think again about how lucky I am to have this ticket to adventure.