Walking through Civic Center Plaza can be daunting. Between the dirty needles, the puddles of glass from smashed car windows and the politicians, you never know what kind of trouble you’ll find.
But as I walked from BART to City Hall the other morning, I was surprised to spy the latest addition to the always striving, never-quite-there public square. And this was the rare good find: 40 sculptures, each weighing 300 pounds, lined up in four rows like soldiers, but with their hands up in a “don’t shoot” pose.
Called “The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness,” it was created by artist Zak Ové and was originally displayed in London. The sculptures arrived here after a six-week journey via ship to the Port of Oakland and then a truck ride over the Bay Bridge. They’re eye-popping, jarring and magnetic — kind of like San Francisco itself.
Speaking of London, the writer Samuel Johnson once said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” The same can be said of San Francisco.
Last week, I recounted some of the reasons I still love our deeply flawed city — the beauty, the whimsy, the art, the surprises waiting just around the corner. (And too often, let’s be frank, they’re on on the bottom of your shoe.)
I asked readers for help rounding out the list of what makes our city so magical despite everything so clearly wrong with it — and, boy, did you respond. If there’s anything San Franciscans love more than complaining about their city, it’s extolling its virtues.
You offered hundreds of reasons to love San Francisco. Among them? Plenty of classics: the Ferry Building, cable cars, the F-Market streetcar, the pedicabs, Chinatown.
Some were picks less likely to make the front of a postcard, but just as worthwhile: Mountain Lake Park, hiking to the top of Mount Davidson, driving along the Great Highway and taking in views of Ocean Beach, the view from Billy Goat Hill.
And the list goes on. Eating a kielbasa piled high with toppings at AT&T Park, one eye on the delicious mess and one eye on Madison Bumgarner pitching for the Giants. Taking a City Guides walking tour. Drinking at your neighborhood bar.
The fog, the breeze, the light. The “Bay Lights” — that 1.8-mile-wide light installation on the Bay Bridge. The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Golden Gate Park’s Music Concourse, bison paddock and Dutch windmill.
The San Francisco Playhouse theater. Hayes Street boutiques. Concerts at Stern Grove. Bookshop West Portal. The coral reef and rooftop garden at the Academy of Sciences.
Fresh Meat, the country’s only festival of transgender and queer performance art. A hamburger at Zuni Cafe. Anchor Oyster Bar in the Castro. Lovejoy’s Tea Room. The murals at the Beach Chalet.
Sutro Tower. Yes, really. While it has a reputation as a loathsome sight, many city residents love it. And the recent Chronicle articlethat said it will no longer be repainted red and white, but instead turn gray, had many of its devotees up in arms. I concur that it must continue to be repainted! But I digress.
Elle Carroll is a recent graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute and the editorial coordinator at DoTheBay, an online listing of Bay Area events. She said she and her 20-something friends struggle mightily to afford life in San Francisco, but that so far, the city’s magic is keeping her here.
“I find it on my long runs through Golden Gate Park and while slouched in a plush chair inside the Castro Theater and while gleefully recounting the tipsy goings-on of the night with friends at Orphan Andy’s following last call,” Carroll wrote. “I find it inside pupuserias in the Mission and Thai joints in SoMa and house parties (of varying degrees of legality) in Excelsior. I find it at the Fillmore, at Coit Tower and at the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral.”
For Karen Poret, the magic arrives every morning on her doorstep.
“My favorite thing is still being able to read my daily Chronicle,” wrote the San Francisco native, who now lives in Santa Cruz. Her name obviously had to be included in this column for her wellspring of intelligence and exceptional good taste.
There were a couple of somewhat surprising suggestions. One was Muni drivers, who sometimes have all the charisma of a flat tire. But Linda Williams, who lives in Lower Pacific Heights, praised them, especially one driver she encountered on a recent ride on the 1-California. He spotted an elderly woman standing unsteadily near a bus stop and holding a white cane.
He got out of the bus and asked her if she was waiting to board it, and she said she was just preparing to cross the street.
“The driver took her elbow and walked with her across the intersection,” Williams said. “When he returned to the bus, a passenger called out ‘Thank you. That was really nice!’ and all the passengers clapped. Really made my day.” Several readers mentioned the mix of people who live here.
“Every day, I get to meet people from all over the world,” wrote Kristen Elstein, a graduate student at Golden Gate University who lives in Anza Vista. “I am reminded that America is a melting pot, and I am lucky to live in a place that immigrants choose to call home.”
In my recent column, I wrote about always being happy to return to San Francisco after traveling elsewhere. Several readers said they know the feeling. Other cities may be cleaner and smell better, but they don’t have that San Francisco magic.
Philip Ward, a lawyer who lives in the Western Addition, said he’s never disappointed to return to the city after time away. Driving up Highway 101 from the airport, he anticipates the view about to burst through the windshield.
“Suddenly San Francisco just leaps out at me — all the skyscrapers, towers and a lone pyramid, Civic Center, the Western Addition, the forward slopes of Pacific Heights, Twin Peaks looming to the left,” he wrote. “I take a deep breath of her sea air. Lord be praised, I’m home.”