Words & Photography: Phan and Lam
I visited San Francisco for… 2 days last summer with my family, Hieu, and Mrs. Trang – my Mom’s friend, who was so nice and caring but, as Mom described, also smart and determined.
The first thing we saw was the low-income neighborhood, I guess, with small similar houses adjoining each other. But their impression was still quite pretty; and the blocks’ unified appearance reminded me of a much more gorgeous one in Charleston, SC. Anyway, I only said “low-income” because I compared it to other neighborhoods in the city. Some days ago, I freaked out reading an article about a bedroom for rent which cost $800 per month. With that amount, you can rent a whole decent apartment in Dallas.
When I was there, I tried to capture as much as possible what I saw, how I felt, how San Francisco felt, the image of the fog blanketing the city, everything and everyone on the streets. This might be the last time I saw San Francisco. The second one, even if possible, wouldn’t come until much later down the line. Who knows who I will be then. I want this version of me at this exact present to remember what she perceived while standing in the heart of San Francisco.
I would like to tell you why and I hope you don’t mind. I used to write a novel about three 20-ish boys going on a road trip to San Francisco to join in the Summer of Love. My unfinished novel, Smoke of Freedom, told about Frank, Bill and Jackson’s journey to Haight Ashbury. Each of them was looking for different things. For Frank, it was the meaning of his life, Bill hot chicks to bang and Jackson nothing but some chilling fun. But then I dropped the novel because I couldn’t imagine how San Francisco looked like, and more importantly, felt like. I tried to watch as many clips as I could find, as well as articles but it didn’t help. Some weeks ago, my friend told me about a young female writer – younger than me – who rented a room in Austin the whole summer to find inspiration for her romantic novel. She had finished about 200 pages by that time. I couldn’t help feeling jealous with her. I know one shouldn’t blame on one’s situation for not writing the best novel ever; and perhaps I didn’t make the greatest effort possible. But my remorse of giving up on writing Smoke of Freedom always hangs on a tip of my mind. As if I had enough money to spend 3 months in San Francisco…
Two days were definitely not enough. I only spot some remnants of what used to be the destination of the hippies’ pilgrimage, some graffiti in dirty neighborhoods, some shops, etc. So there’s that.
The Presidio and Mom
We tried to find the Lombard Street but somehow we ended up at the Presidio. And that is one of the most elegant neighborhoods I have seen in the U.S. The mansions were not too grand and isolated (I’m looking at you, Beverly Hills), the weather was chilly, and blooming flowers were everywhere. My Mom fancied it so much; God knows how much she loves pretty house, which I inherit wholeheartedly. This overcast, crisp weather was deeply evocative of our time in Da Lat city – a well-known beautiful mountainous town in Vietnam. We all said what if Da Lat was in the good hand and be preserved better than now.
Mom and Mrs. Trang couldn’t stop taking more and more pictures even though they were shivering in the damp foggy cold. Poor my Mom, she went on this trip knowing it might be the only chance for her to see all of these. I did try everything I could to make this a journey of her lifetime, but it feels never enough.
The next day, I found out that there are several neighborhoods similar to the Presidio in San Fran. Oh the fancy luxury life. I’m definitely not enough a saint to reject it if I ever had a chance.
When we were driving through the colorful cheap block, I said, “Oh, I always think I want to live in San Francisco for a while. Now I don’t fancy it that much anymore.” After seeing the Presidio, “Nah, I changed my mind back,” I reckon.But nobody cared.
The So-Called Most Crooked Street In The World
Finally, we were able to locate the Lombard Street on Russian Hill, connecting Hyde and Leavenworth Streets. It is said to be the most crooked street in the world thanks to eight sharp hairpin turns. Why did people use this design? Because San Francisco’s hills are so steep that no vehicle can roll properly on a straight path.
The one-way street is about 600 ft long and is paved with red bricks. It is lined with a carpet of colorful pastel peonies.
Our next spot was Pier 39. Ocean, sea gulls, boats, food vendors, salty air, people walking and enjoying. It felt pretty much like any other piers but maybe because we didn’t spend much time there to explore every of its corners.
The Golden Gate Bridge…
After some bowls of too salty clam chowder at the restaurant Tarantino (which cost us quite a few bucks so I wouldn’t recommend this restaurant at all), we headed to the can’t-miss but very cliche attraction: the Golden Gate bridge. It was smaller than I had expected, but still as attractive.
… and Dad
The next day, we took my Dad there. He was having a terrible backache since Grand Canyon, thus he couldn’t join us the first day. He was still reluctant, said it was unnecessary. But Mom, being more determined than usual, insisted that he had to go. Being married with this gentleman for 25 years, she knew that Pop only said so to not cause us any trouble.
The next morning we drove to the Golden Gate again was even colder. But that was when I caught sight of what would become an unforgettable memory.
At first, I stayed in the car reckoning I didn’t need to take more pictures in this kind of weather. But then I saw my Dad standing and leaning against the wall, waiting for my boyfriend to take a picture of him with the Golden Gate bridge in the background. He was smiling so happily, so cheerfully that I knew if I kept staying in the car one more minute, that would be one of the biggest mistakes in my life and I would regret it forever. I gotta get out, ran to my great awesome amazing parents and asked for a picture with them, my young silly brother, my beautiful Mom and my strong Dad. I remembered how my Dad refused our suggestion the day before, saying he didn’t need to see the bridge. If I had been alone, I would have burst out in tears.
What is the chance of us standing here again? A very slim chance. For the years I have been on Earth, all of my regrets are about what I didn’t or couldn’t do for my family. I would never forget my Dad’s delightful and bright smile when he was standing beside the Golden Gate. It is both a trophy and a pity of my being his daughter.
This is the last photo we took of San Francisco before leaving for Los Angeles. Pop and Ma love downtowns 🙂