The Streets of San Francisco

at 11:35 PM

Have you seen the new traffic lights at Stephenson and Third? Give me half an hour and a strong cocktail and you’ll get a blow-by-blow account of the stress this junction causes me on a daily basis.

Not that I’m the only one struggling to suppress my tales of traffic woe. Mention the Geary bus, the Tenth Street on-ramp or the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza and you can transform San Francisco’s dullest dinner parties from cheek-clenched politeness into a melee of mouth-foaming maniacs flipping cheese plates and artichoke dips all in a Hulk-like, cashmere-ripping rage.

If this is not a San Francisco phenomenon, we’ve at least perfected the art of including every mode of transport into our collective urban hatred. There are too many cars, not enough cabs, the buses don’t stop and the bikers are anarchists.

But what makes driving in San Francisco such an adrenaline-fueled activity is that it’s a network of racetracks. Take Third to Howard to Ninth to Larkin and with timed lights, looking three intersections ahead to avoid parked trucks and slow moving octogenarians, you’ll be swerving from lane to lane to keep ahead of potential over-takers. When locked into this mode, it’s not surprising how much we like to lean on the horn if the driver ahead isn’t screeching away at the first flash of green.

On Sundays, my apoplectic brother-in-law screams himself hoarse, yelling at the mass of cars semi-abandoned in the middle of streets around every Mission District church: “Why should a futile belief in an imaginary being allow you to obstruct traffic every week?” He has a point.

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Ultimately though it’s the limits of street parking that epitomize this city's desire to take nonsensical to a whole new level. If it’s between 12:01 and 2:00 on the second Saturday of a 30-day month during fig season in an Olympic year, you’ll get a ticket. And if your wheels aren’t turned in more than a palm’s length from the sidewalk, you’re going to be towed or sued or shot. But don’t tell me about it over dinner. Cause I’m still spitting hummus about Stephenson and Third.

With a Perspective, I’m Lewis Heathcote.

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