Sundays are pretty good days for leaving West Marin. You pass the incoming folks and silently wish them a nice day eating or biking or hiking or kayaking or romping the dogs and wearing out the kids or maybe you just feel superior to them because you don’t have to do those things on Sunday. You can do them on Monday, ha ha, when everything is quiet and deserted. Well, anyway, that’s your business, what you think of them who come in, because on Sunday you can be the one who is getting out of paradise, thank you, and heading for the city.
It’s the counter commute culture run when you can sail under the sign on 101 that announces “G G Bridge 15 minutes” or “Berkeley 18 minutes.” (In 18 minutes you can be in Berkeley?!) Into the urban vortex when the parking meters are free and the city folk are sauntering instead of dashing. Boys are shopping with their girlfriends, old friends are visiting each other while strolling through museums and the seniors are heading for the bargain matinees. It’s a people paradise out there in San Francisco and Berkeley, take your choice.
Right off the bat there is one Big Thing to notice, and it’s important, so let’s get right to it. Over there, across the bridges, they have Other Races Than Caucasian. Many variations thereof, in fact. It’s a wonderland of humanity, of the possibilities of tone and hair and lips and eyes and size and style, and I do mean style. On Sunday, the African-American church women are the dazzlers from hat to shoes, and if they have their children with them, it’s all over, they trump us all. Little girls with beads and braids and perfect dresses and little boys in tiny suits…let’s define what devotion really means. I don’t think it means rolling out of bed at the last possible minute to make it to church one step ahead of the priest.
What a treat it is to be a voyeur watching the greatness and body confidence of African-American women. I’ve always said that you will see the most beautiful women in the world on BART, women who carry off unbelievable hairstyles enhanced with make-up and clothes and shoes (and fingernails!) just to go to work every day at ordinary city jobs. From my point of view they outclass the professional beauties of Hollywood who spend days getting ready to walk on some red carpet under the spotlights for a few minutes.
Equally enlivening are the Asian-Americans, or maybe they aren’t American, just Asians here visiting or foreign students out and about for the weekend. The young ones can be quietly conventional or outrageously got up, more conventional in San Francisco and more punked and pierced in Berkeley.
There are legions of non-whites in the cities of the Bay Area, so much that on a bus for example, you or I might be a minority of one or two, now that’s a different world, isn’t it? On the streets and in the stores, in Union Square or at Starbuck’s it’s not clear where in the world we actually are. It’s just clear it’s not Point Reyes.
Being a senior citizen escaping paradise and heading for the bargain matinee at A.C.T., my visual realm includes the whole enchilada. The Tenderloin is not far away. The down-and-outs come in all variations, too: white, black, Asian, Native American, Indian, Inuit. They stroll in their various states of mind past the hotels with uniformed valets opening gold and glass doors, doors that will never open for them, and they eyeball the gaggle of theatre goers bunched on the street. Some are working the street. “Can you spare a little so I can get something to eat? God bless you.” So much is communicated in so few words.
Meanwhile, the Geary’s security guard in long black coat and bowler hat has the whole street cased for trouble and security. This huge black man with a booming actor’s voice who could do Shakespeare is already on stage, because this sidewalk is his stage. His role is to keep us all moving and passing through each other’s lives. Periodically, he parts the crowd for elderly gentility emerging out of taxis and expensive cars. Once confident of being safely under the theatre arcade well in time for the show, they (and we) relax. The audience has become an entity. We will soon disappear together to be transported we know not where.
The adventure of Sunday in the city can take many permutations—you’ve all had similar journeys, I’m sure, to a play, a game, a show, an opening, an event of culture that took you out of the LL Bean frame of reference and into city clothes and city sensibilities. It is a great departure and then, when it comes to a close, the journey back over the bridge and through the freeways and into the dark country roads finally comes.
Ah, yes, the cars coming toward us are the same folks we met earlier, also tired and turning homeward with the fresh air and negative ions still working through their systems. Hey, hope you had a nice day. Or, because I have the smug disease, too, I murmur internally, I glad I’m not in traffic.
A day out of our elements is a good day to ponder the mysterious vastness of humanity and notice how narrow our slice of the pie is here—we, mostly white, mostly comfortable, mostly confident folk of West Marin. What do we really know anyway about the rest of the pie? Every now and then, it is important to look around and, as long as you are looking, look inside, too.
Published in West Marin Citizen, 2008