From the window I can see the bridge. Steel cables and structure spans between Northern San Francisco and The Bay. We are on the fifth floor, level with the bridge at this distance. It is little after 05:00 as the sun peers over the horizon, catching the windows of cars and trucks. They flash and flicker, ablaze with the glory of a new day. In the Chinatown district, the bridge I can see isn’t the famous Golden Gate Bridge, that is a lot shorter than this one and it is in the opposite corner of town. I am wide awake.
Leaving the apartment, camera clutched, I head in the direction of Union Square. Just a few hours ago these streets were teaming with life. The scents and sounds of Chinese cooking escaping every other doorway along Grant Avenue, well into the early hours. Red spherical lanterns provided a canopy of low hanging stars, stretched between launderette and takeaway, to a Chinese bank and back to a firework shop. But right now all is quiet.
It is already warming as I reach the corner of Grant and California. Parallel tracks stretch the length of the street, grooved like a ski jumpers run. The trolleys haven’t been seen along this route yet, so the whir of the motor beneath the track at the junction can be heard a couple of blocks away. It won’t be long before the iconic wooden trams are bustling through the city. There’ll be the outside ‘hang-ons’, laden with cameras and backpacks, maybe even a few commuters, lucky enough to find space on the smooth varnished benches. For now the roads and trolley routes are clear, so I stand in the middle of the junction. Snap goes the shutter and a brief whine as my camera processes an image. I look down at the screen. I look up again and then down once more. Despite the camera’s best efforts, it isn’t the same as the scene that I am experiencing.
The sun has been steadily climbing and it washes the full length of even the tallest buildings in yellow and orange. A dragon towers over the avenue, either welcoming or warming, it isn’t clear. Walking through a gateway and out of Chinatown. It seems that I’ve walked through a portal. The path immediately changes, the buildings are different. The streets become a modern metropolis; the sidewalks are spotless, freshly cleared during the night.There’s a coffee shop on the corner across the road. The unmistakable green siren, calling. It’s close to 06:30 in the morning and there’s a queue. Blue collars, suits and those only making use of the free ice cold water. Indulgent joggers stretch on the walls outside before walking home with a freshly brewed reward. Then there is me. The most wide awake, clutching camera and “four-tall-extra-hot-lattes-to-go”. It’s a common tongue in the morning search for caffeine.
The walk back into Chinatown changes once more. But it isn’t just the buildings and the artistry in the windows now. I am sharing the sidewalk. A jogger springs onto the road, maintaining pace in those neon running shoes. It was a near miss. A couple approach, six legs between them. As they near my position the one in charge of this morning stroll begins to cross the street. A cat crouches in the doorway of a restaurant, as crates of cowering chicken are taken inside. The cat unaware that she has the attention of an approaching dog.
The blocks pass and I near our apartment. I glance upward, past the fire escape clinging like ivy and the sky is light blue, not a single cloud. The quiet streets, a thing of the past. The sounds of the city crescendo. San Francisco is ready and waiting.