Photo: Davy Carren

Sitting atop a stone wall on the steep hill above Broadway between Taylor and Jones, watching the cars swarm down Broadway from Embarcadero, and the giant teal hulls of hulking container ships filled with dull red and faded blue boxcars go trickling by on the bay out there — and the Bay Bridge too, that majestic western span connecting San Francisco to Yerba Buena Island — with a few stray cats to keep me company, pondering ancient mansions and privet hedges and the sweep of trash and dead leaves swirling around by my feet, same feet which are dangling there below me a good foot or so from the street, absently kicking my shoes against the stone, and the wind attacking my hair, and me just sitting there tapping my fingers on the wall’s scraggy top, empty-headed, lost, and feeling even more dreamy than usual, gazing out at all the rooftops basking in the sun, the buildings set aglow in the pastel shades of sunset, the azure-flecked water buckling out there too, kind of serene and a little limitless, and I am sitting in the sun, and things are as pleasing as could be.

This is one of my favorite places to sit in all of San Francisco, especially on a weekday afternoon when there aren’t many other people or cars around to bother me. It’s at the top of the dead-end part of Broadway, up above the Broadway tunnel, and sees little traffic. The old, white stone wall is perfect for sitting on; and the stray cats around there are very kind, and will hang out with you and be nice and friendly for as long as you want. No matter how bad I’m feeling, the love of cats will always save me. It’s one thing I can count on. There’s a great view in either direction. If you look west there’s the Golden Gate Bridge out there, all decked out in its international orange splendor; and the rolling palace-topped hills of Pacific Heights; and Cow Hollow and The Marina’s landfill flats— the squared grid of all those innumerable blocks bounding off out towards the horizon. It’s a great place to watch the fog roll in from, though the big old dinosaur feet it slinks in on might leave you a bit damp in the wind’s chill.

But…

Gazing east from my perch at the maze of Chinatown, and Columbus slicing diagonally through North Beach, and the delis and SRO hotels and cafes and Dim Sum joints, and the expansive leaf-heavy branches of the trees in Washington Square Park, and Saint Peter & Paul Church with its twin spires jutting up like ornate candlesticks above the rooftops, and the strange cut-up of some post-industrial apartment complex in all of its Bauhaus simplicity and listing shadows and mismatched roofs with steel smokestacks like some insane lost game of Tetris. Up above it’s like something’s gone and exploded in the guts of heaven: a cherry bomb in a mailbox; melted marshmallows mashed into a fine spidery mist — and the sun up there too, peeking out from behind the black-bottomed masses and wispy threads of cloud that ruffle and go gold at the edges. Tinged pink, brushstroke wisps, stringy, slithered streaks, shredded-tissue mush smoothing along rougher paling indigo cuts of sky speckled with darting birds. And me, there, planted on my concrete perch, watching the sky change its clothes: syrupy swirls of salmon mixed with dabs of wispy blurred cobalt up there, the moon over one shoulder, sun sinking across the way, dark beginning to seep into the surroundings as the dog walkers and the joggers all head home.

The cats purr and climb the wall to sit with me, one on each side: a fat gray and white tabby with a penchant for lying on its stomach, its paws stretched out towards me as if making an offering or lost deep in prayer, and a long-whiskered brown and yellow guy with big green eyes who likes to claw the top of the wall, and always seems to be stuck in the middle of a wistful grimace. They keep me company. I tell them a few stories about my life, and they don’t mind. They don’t mind at all. The wind picks up. The sun dips away into the red-orange-rimmed distance: a day-old apple being plunged into hot caramel. The sky blows chiffon billows to milky strands swirling like strips of silk and scuttling to disintegration’s retreat: tattered cotton-clump curls spiral from caduceus blurs to meringue’s creamed blots to drifting candied-yam continents to confetti tossed on sapphire. Roseate curdles scar scabs in burnt-cauliflower fringes: ember-bright stitches in violet’s newfound velvet. Sweet vermouth touched with gasoline.

The lacy soft-hue of a rising moon plays tag with downtown’s skyscraper peaks and valleys, as their windows light up one by one, connecting slowly like on a bingo board, forming odd shapes and spelling out arcane mysteries in the twilight. The Bay Bridge starts its nightly scintillation of impossible-to-believe bulb-light spooning a mad dip in the span’s thick wire strand cables; and the Golden Gate transmuting into merely a string of orange orbs and some red flashing dots indicating the arch of its wires — night inking-in the spaces between the huddled distance behind polygraph spikes of office buildings and budding ghost towers. And the marigold moon is on the rise like a shiny ornament set atop the Transamerica Pyramid.

There is nothing to do sometimes except sit and look at things, and this old stone wall on the top of the hill at Broadway makes for a good place to do so.

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