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May 30, 2011

Escape From San Francisco

Above: A scooter knocked over on Larkin Street.

Above: More scooters knocked over on Larkin Street.

Above: An example of the countless trucks that are constantly defaced in the Mission district.

Like an Alcatraz prisoner gazing twixt the bars, I see the headlands of Marin County from my bedroom. This city is a Chinese finger trap - it sucks you in but you can't get out. So today, after work, I'm plotting my escape.

Maybe I'll go across the Golden Gate to Marin County to shoot the raptors. With the long lens. Yes. This. Shoot the raptors hovering above Marin County.

Poor Impulse Control

I'm turning this idea over in my little pea-pod brain, haunted by the raptors of Marin County...these birds hovering perpetually over the ridges, riding the currents seemingly motionless. No patagial markings. These are not Red Tailed Hawks. Probably not even buteos. Maybe accipiters. Maybe something even more interesting.

I turn onto Folsom street and this woman comes racing up honking...perhaps not understanding that I have my own lane...she's honking at me and just I stay in my lane but the bike rises up like a stallion. It has it's own attitude. I am but a passenger, hanging on for dear life, as the bike rises up and rolls down the street on one wheel in a testosterone frenzy.

And this is what we all love, is it not? To be clearly and demonstrably in the right. Like, for one single instance in my existence, I don't have to think about whether I'm being ethnocentric, misogynistic, or politically incorrect. For this one brief instant, it's not about what I'll be when I grow up or whether I'll ever amount to anything or if they'll name a street after me so I'll be remembered in perpetuity.

Instead, this lunatic bitch has reduced all superfluous thoughts in my brain down to an adrenaline river and I think this is what I enjoy the most. A moment of clarity in a world of confusion.

This tepid female in her feeble hybrid honking her Barbie-horn at me because she's so dense she's unaware that I have my own lane.

The bike stands up on the rear wheel and balances out perfectly and I'm sure I could ride this wheelie all the way out of town and I turn to her...I'm not making this up...I'm riding a wheelie down the street next to her and I turn to her now and look her in the eye and say about the worst thing you could ever imagine saying with your eyes. She can't hear me of course, but she feels me. She feels the rage of the machine and begins to shiver. She knows she's just a dull, thin woman, trembling beside a lion on the African coast, roaring at the sunset. This is not lost on her.

This city is interesting and exciting and there's always a lot going on and it draws you in. But at some point, you grow weary of the spray-painted vans and sirens and razor wire and red lights and homeless.

This woman has pushed me over the edge and now I have to go. Have to escape from this Chinese finger-trap city.

Riding down Lombard Street now in traffic thick and wide and red lights. I can't breathe the air in this town. Pushing out now, ripping the seams of fog city. The traffic surges out like the tide leaving the city by the bay.

Fettered to my own shifting desires.

Cool Whip thick clouds pushing over the headlands from the west. Why I don't know.

The left hand works the clutch continuously but the brain scarcely notices. Riding a motorcycle for 30 years will do that, I think. This is all automatic. Shifting, braking, starting and stopping. The clutch is going all the time now. In and out. Out and in. Slowly rolling in 1st gear in and out on the clutch until the left hand can't work any more.

Why can't we get out across the bridge. Why these city bonds? Why the shackles? Why this?

My left hand hangs at my side now. Completely spent. Finally I can roll in 1st gear as the highway regurgitates a city of cars across the golden gate. Escape. Freedom.

And now finally the enormous red bridge scrolling through my dream. Up close, even better than in photo. Steel scrolling by. Sun painting burnt red cables flowing by. Steel and concrete and cars to the right and left. So many lanes across and I open this throttle and rolling north now. Finally escaping the city.

I take the first exit and now I'm rolling downhill on roads I've never seen before and let's study these Marin County headlands more closely today.

Through the tunnel and now the backroads into Fort Baker and winding up now, along the spectacular contours of the Marin County headlands. Fog rolling in like a river. Thick as Miracle Whip and look at that view of the city. Breathtaking. This is what the headlands do to you.

Now pushing down a thin one lane twisting river of asphalt down toward points unknown. I've been down this road before but never like this.

Steel cables and fog so thick you can taste it and somewhere down here a lighthouse and lord god knows they need one. They need one about every six yards in fog this thick but clearing now and moving North. Away from me maybe.

Past some barriers to keep out cars and up through the headlands and finding this man now. So shocked and disgusted he stares at me and I call him out.

"You got a problem?" I call to him. This man with sneer pasted across his ugly mug.

"You're not supposed to be here on that thing..."

He called the Big Red Pig a thing. I should shove him onto the rocks like Piggy in Lord of the Flies for that. Dash his brains on the rocks below for blaspheming my bike.

"What's it hurting?" I challenge. I'm on a paved road, after all. It's not like I'm racing through fields of Calla Lilies.

"IT"S AGAINST THE LAW!" he shouts. Veins throb as beads of sweat pop out of his forehead.

The old man's argument simmers inside his skull, as sauce reduces in a skillet.

He feels uneasy, you sense, finding himself yelling at a stranger. Espousing adherence to a law that even he's not sure exists.

This is my gift to him, this moment of clarity. This ride on the adrenaline carousel.

He turns and collapses on a lone wooden bench, weathered and raw. Paint falling off the bench in great strips, as bark peels from the eucalyptus trees of the last great depression.

He's older now, than I'd realized. He needs the bench. The respite from the long climb up the talus slopes above the Pacific coast. Face weather and cracked. Unkempt eyebrows.

Only now does it occur to me that he's suffering the fog on this bench alone at this point in his life. There's no one beside him, after all. No one to cling to as the fog rolls in.

I open the throttle and continue up the mountain away from this stranger, simmering in solitude on the cusp of the bay.

I feel badly now, that I called out this old man.

He might not even be a tree-hugger after all. Maybe he was just trying to escape the noise of the planet by climbing up this long steep hill and then after a 30 minute slow climb to the top, I come rolling up on my motorcycle, kicking sand in his face, essentially. Probably that's how he saw things anyhow.

And for what end? Were we not trying to escape the same city? Surely a more reasonable approach would be to park the bike, apologize to the man, and sit on the bench beside him to enjoy the view.

I didn't even realize the bench was there at first. If he'd not sat down on it, I'd have driven right past without noticing it.

The nice thing is that, once you get away from the rules. Once you break those surly bonds, and go beyond where anyone thought you might...Once you get past that point and break through to the other side, then you see that there aren't really any more barriers because no one thought you'd ever get this far.

After I've successfully navigated through three different "pedestrian only" gates designed to keep out cars, I'm surprised to discover that I can drive right through the 1942 WWII batteries unimpeded. These batteries were hastily poured into the hillside in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. But the guns were removed some time ago and the ramparts left to the graffiti artists and lonely souls.

Maybe this is the true gem of this journey. The realization that, if you break enough laws, you can almost get back to sanity. Back to the way things used to be. The way they ought to be.

If you're willing to push aside the laws of society. To break every law that's ever been laid down for you, there is an escape, of sorts, from the Chinese finger trap.

As I roll back down the hill, the fog closes in around me. As I approach the old man's bench, I resolve myself to make amends with the stranger. To seek a truce. Probably he needs me as much as I need him.

But the fog is much thicker now. No longer do these headlands afford stunning views of the city. Now the winds are pushing the fog further south so that I can barely see the road or the guardrails before me. Even the bench is lost in this surreal disorienting fog so that I'm not sure where I am. All points of reference are removed from me so that I'm not sure if I've past the bench yet or not. Or even if it was real. Suddenly, I'm at the bottom of the hill again and I'm left wondering if the old man and the bench were even real or just apparitions in the fog.

Above: A White-tail buck in velvet near Bird Island overlook in the GGNRA.

Above: Looking south from Rodeo Beach in the GGNRA.

Above: Looking south from Rodeo Beach in the GGNRA.

Above: Looking south from Rodeo Beach in the GGNRA.

Above: The Golden Gate bridge as viewed from Fort Baker.

Above: The Golden Gate bridge as viewed from Fort Baker.

Above: The Point Bonita Lighthouse as viewed from Conzelman Road near Hawk Hill.

Above: The Golden Gate bridge with San Francisco in the background, as viewed from Conzelman Road near Hawk Hill in the Marin County headlands in the GGNRA.

Above: The Point Bonita lighthouse.

Above: The Point Bonita lighthouse.

Above: Looking south from Rodeo Beach in the GGNRA.

Above: Looking south from above Rodeo Beach and Fort Cronkhite in the GGNRA.

Above: SF as seen from Conzelman Road.

Above: SF as seen from Conzelman Road.

Above: SF as seen from Conzelman Road.

Above: Don't try this at home...shot of Golden Gate in motorcycle mirror while driving across the Golden Gate bridge with no hands.

Posted by Rob Kiser on May 30, 2011 at 11:18 PM


Fascinating views. Looking forward to seeing you in Mississippi.

Posted by: sl on June 2, 2011 at 8:09 AM

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