“A Walking Tour of Us”
by: Grace Masingale
Meanwhile, on Market St, there are tourists and nothing has changed. They wait hours for the opportunity to board a historic San Francisco trolley. There are almost exclusively tourists, but you can spot locals by their bravery in crossing streets. Hoards of people wait for the light to change as cars whiz by. The locals however, j-walk with the kind of jaded certainty that comes with living in a city for too long (though they would never tell you it’s been too long). These are people like me. People that would die before they leave San Francisco and people that have had enough, but can’t admit it. You would never believe me if I told you I was writing this from Chicago. There is really no reason to come to Union Square except to people watch, which is what I was doing when I met you. You were lost. Sitting on the steps, I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up at you, soon to be asking me for directions. I pulled out an earbud, you started to speak “Do you have any idea how to get to the Italian District from here? Google maps and I are not seeing eye-to-eye today apparently.”
I smiled, because we were kids and we didn’t know any better and you were so cute.
“It’s a bit of a walk from here, about 20 minutes. Go up to Grant, to get to Grant start on Maiden lane and go a block up where Stockton ends. If you see the fair-trade coffee place on Grant you’ve gone too far. Go up on Stockton and turn right at the building where all the pretentious start-up people work, go North to Broadway. Go up on Broadway until the intersection, turn left at the market and right at the place where all of the trashcans are painted. Then you’re there.” I looked up and you had the same expression that you had the day that I tried to explain the difference between a couch and a loveseat when we were picking out furniture for our apartment.
“Right, ok. So that was Grant to … Stanson? And a series of lefts and rights?”
“No, Grant to Maiden to turn into Stockton.”
“Of course. I can figure it out, I think.”
You started to turn, but somehow I knew that I couldn’t let you get away and I was right. I grabbed my bag, stood, and started to walk after you, already making a wrong turn. You were never good with directions. I caught up with you and our steps matched each other, “Hey guy? It’s this way.”
“Really? Damn. I’m no good directionally speaking.”
“That’s apparent, and to think I gave you such simple directions.”
“Yes, street names are just so overrated.”
“Landmarks are much more important.”
You laughed in the way that you do, where your head tilts back and your eyes close. That made me smile, that was the first time I ever heard your laugh. I turn to you, “So tourist… bridge, tunnel, or plane?”
“Plane, from Columbia, Maryland.”
“East Coast, interesting. What brought you to the city by the bay?”
“I’ve never been, but it’s on my bucket list. I’m doing a self-guided tour of the whole city.”
I looked at you, to make sure that you were serious, before I started to laugh, in the way you always said reminded you of clear almost too hot days and the smell of watermelon. “You’re no good with directions, but landed on a self-guided walking tour as your best bet?”
“I didn’t want to take a guided tour! They make you look like such a tourist!”
“Oh, and walking around dazed and confused, head buried in your phone trying to decipher google maps doesn’t?”
“I guess it does.” You admitted as you turned to look at me and you bet I looked back. I grabbed the printed map from your hand that supposedly held all of the best local spots in San Francisco that everyone must visit. I started to leaf through it and realized that you had gotten totally and utterly screwed. “You think Fisherman’s Wharf is a cool spot where locals hang out?! This map is trash. If you follow it, you’re just going to end up in all the terrible, overrated tourist spots and you will miss the best parts of the city. What you need is a local tour guide, and lucky for you, I am willing to offer my services- free of charge.”
You looked down at your map and back up at me, standing in the sidewalk, hands on my hips. “Alright.” you smiled, conceding, “As long as you promise you’re not a crazy person.”
I leaned in and declared, “Oh I can promise you that I am.”
Could you really blame me though? We were so happy together for a time. I wouldn’t trade the time I had with you for the world. Don’t think that I would, I know how you worry. That day, we were so young and happy and carefree, without an inkling of an idea as to what the future would bring us. Love, oh love, I wouldn’t trade our possibilities for the world. In the end, the only thing I would change would be to give us more time. We never had enough time.
We walked up to North Beach, though you insisted on calling it “The Italian District,” and I knew immediately where I wanted to take you. We celebrated our three-year anniversary there last year. We came all the way up Grant and came to North Beach. North Beach is quiet and small, but still in the heart of the city. It is the only place in San Francisco where the waiters can correct you on your botched pronunciation when ordering Caprese (it’s not Caprese it’s more like Capresé, but also not) and you have to listen to them. I took you to Victoria’s for cheesecake and then to my favorite place in North Beach, the benches on the lawn of St. Peter and Paul Church. We sat in the quiet of the shade and looked up at that marvelous white building. You looked at the church and started to talk about the structure and the lines that it created (this is when I found out you were an architect) and you said “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in the city all day,” but you weren’t looking at the church. I, in all my smooth glory, turned and gushed “Did you know that this was the church that Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe got married in?”
“No” you said, turning back towards the church and smiling, “I had no idea.”
“Well he also married Dorothy Arnold here too, but nothing beats Marilyn.”
You looked away and agreed with me, but on our third date I would learn that Marilyn wasn’t your type. Next, I drug you to the Haight. By now, it was about 5 in the afternoon. The Haight is always clouded in a perpetual haze of whatever the people that hang out on the sidewalk have taken that day. It was not your scene. I remember the way you looked down the sidewalks, into the shops that sold bongs and tye-dye shirts exclusively, in the way that you do when you are uncomfortable. I saw that look again the first time that we had dinner with my parents and I had to step out to answer the call that got me that job that I liked so much.
So, we walked to Golden Gate Park and watched the sunset from the steps of the Conservatory of Flowers. It was May and the lawn was covered in flowers. The sun went down over the hills and the bay and it bathed everything in the sort of ethereal light that tells you time is going to pass slowly and things are good. Things were good. I watched the sun turn from yellow to orange to pink and then disappear altogether. You watched me with a twinkle in your eyes.
It was in the cab ride to the Palace where I knew the manager, where we would go to the Penthouse balcony and drink champagne until sunrise, that you kissed me for the first time. Where that moment made everything feel stable and warm and good. As if we were still bathed in that yellow light on the Conservatory steps. In the back of the cab where I looked at you and never wanted to look at anything else. The windows were rolled down, and my hair was blowing crazy all over, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away from your beautiful face, so happy and young and carefree. My light pink lipstick was traced onto your lips. You were something beautiful to me then. That’s how I knew you.
I suppose when I think about you, when I think about the tragic story that comprised us, I think about this night the most. The day we met and how things could have gone so many different ways. Even now, i’m happy we didn’t go our separate ways. You could have been just some tourist who asked me directions in Union Square. We could’ve been nothing. I thank my lucky stars that we were something. You were my grand love story. I wouldn’t trade our time together for the world. So the days that I dwell on you are not bad days, they are good days because they allow me to remember you. I remember us the way anyone should, young and happy. I refuse to remember you after. Not the pain near the end, but the time you decided you needed to subway surf in the back of the tailgate and the wind was rushing through your hair. The way you gave me butterflies even after four years together. Oh, was four years not even close to enough time. You told me once that you were worried I would regret you, but I need you to know, even now, even six months after, that I don’t have the ability to regret you. People tell me that It will get easier with time, and I am starting to believe them.
All my love.