SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The late San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Herb Caen, liked to say: “One day, if I go to heaven … I’ll look around and say,‘ Not bad, but it's not San Francisco. & # 39; ”
I thought about those words many times while walking around the city recently, their vibration now silenced by the coronavirus pandemic. Usually, the months leading up to the summer bring bustling crowds to the city's famous landmarks. This year, they sit empty and quiet. Some parts are ghost towns, scenes from a science fiction film. With so few people and so many companies closed, its severity drew me in black and white.
At the corner of Powell and Market streets, pigeons cross an empty cable car turntable – usually surrounded by dozens of tourists waiting to board. At Union Square, the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, known for its Beefeater porters, is covered with plywood, as well as several luxury stores nearby. The entrance to John & # 39; s Grill, home of the Maltese Falcon, is covered with black plywood. Here and there, in the financial district, there are lonely corridors and walkers, a contrast to the sea of people who usually fill the streets on the way to work and work.
On the usually crowded, crooked street, Lombard, only an occasional car passes its eight sharp turns. The seafood vendors at Fisherman's Wharf are empty, with no steam coming out of the crab-boiling pots. The bay's cruise boats are tied to a pier behind an old neon sign asking tourists to see Alcatraz – which, like so many other iconic San Francisco destinations, has been closed for more than two months.
This would be the time of year when baseball fans would fill Oracle Park, with 40,000 seats, to watch the San Francisco Giants. The park is now frighteningly empty, while scarce people roam the statues of Juan Marichal, Willie Mays and others around it.
Walking a recent morning through the popular Ferry Building Marketplace, at the foot of Market Street, I saw just two of his few dozen open companies – an empanada stand and a bread bakery. Almost no passengers passed through the building, the result of most downtown businesses being closed and with scarce services from the ferries that transport people across the bay.
In Chinatown, lanterns dangled over Grant Avenue, lined with shops closed behind metal gates and swing doors. The only thing open besides some electronics stores was a poultry butcher.
In North Beach, the small Italy of the city, only a few places are open for travel. Most nightclubs, restaurants and cafes are closed. The traffic is so light that I can easily stop in the middle of Columbus Street and enjoy the beautiful afternoon light falling on Francis Ford Coppola's historic 1907 Sentinel Building, a copper-green Flatiron style structure with the Transamerican Pyramid behind it.
Some advantages during this period:
I was able to get around the city easily in less than half the time it normally takes and could park almost directly in front of most of the places I visited. Many places have assumed a unique beauty, with no people around them. Shadows of cypress trees fell on Lincoln Park Golf Course, with the Sutro Tower in the background. The empty ruins of the Sutro baths were quietly below the closed Cliff House with the sound of waves in the distance. The afternoon light went down to Hyde Street over the old ships in Maritime National Historic Park.
One last stop in the late afternoon was at the top of Nob Hill, outside the Fairmont Hotel, where a statue of singer Tony Bennett is standing, arms outstretched. I thought of the song he made famous in San Francisco and looked forward to the day when those little cable cars went up again halfway to the stars.
Will this happen soon? Nobody knows exactly when. But San Francisco proved its resistance several times: it survived a great earthquake and conflagration in 1906, the Spanish flu of 1918, the great depression of the 1930s, the 1978 murders in Moscone-Milk, the 1989 earthquake in Loma Prieta and the 2008 economic collapse. We are a city of survivors, reinventing our “new normal” every time a challenge threatens our heavenly city.
Eric Risberg is a San Francisco photojournalist for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Eric Risberg
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