Change of Pace

Every once in awhile, my travels take me through San Francisco’s Financial District during an unsuspecting weekend. As one would expect, it’s quite a different sort of place than the weekdays’ hustle-and-bustle. The smartly-dressed financiers and the smugly be-spectacled techies have left…but other people are more than happy to take their place.

When I emerge from the subway tunnel into the light of day, an uncommonly blue morning greets me. Having lived in the city for years, I notice two things immediately. One, there’s not a wisp of fog in sight. For 9:45 in the morning, that’s impressive. Two, there’s no wind weaving between the mirrored skyscrapers. The wind tunnels must be out of service for the weekend. I stop for a moment to appreciate the rarity.

I’m walking along the edges of Financial District proper, traveling down Market Street. The famed Ferry Building sits in front of me in all of its majestic, painted-foggy-sky-blue glory. The white timepiece near the top of its tower twinkles in the sunlight. Between me and said tower, there’s more white shininess—those would be the white tents that pop up most days, sprawling across Justin Herman Plaza. There’s a lot of blinding white out today. There’s also a saxophonist accompanying the scene. His (or her?) music isn’t half bad.

There are a handful of people waiting at the intersection. They’re probably headed towards the Ferry Building. Some of them look like they just came from those startlingly white tents. Most of these people are in groups: families who are no doubt tourists, paying due diligence to the guidebooks.

However, that’s not where my business lies today. Instead, I resolutely make a left turn down Drumm Street, somewhat in the direction of Financial District central.

Both sides of the street are filled with parked cars. This is strange, because I could count the number of people on the street on both hands. I couldn’t count all of the cars with both my hands and both my feet, or even double that amount. Equally strange is the lack of moving cars. The only moving wheeled object in sight is a stroller, which soon rolls to a stop as well.

When I reach Sacramento Street, I make another left turn. On this street sits a mall, but it’s too early for business yet. I catch another snatch of jazzy music, but this time it’s a trumpet accompanied by an orchestra. The sound reaches me asynchronously from varying speakers.

The music is briefly interrupted by a harsh cacophony—rap? A youth appears in the distance, bobbing to his phone. Further in the distance, a single car horn honks. Gratefully, it’s the only honk I hear this morning.

Is it just me, or do the trees seem greener today?

Maybe it’s the blue sky. Or maybe they’re always that green. Maybe I just can’t see them for the trucks and the buses and all of the weekday rush.

The few people I see amble along the sidewalks, a stark contrast to the fast-walkers that look perpetually late to life. Most of these fellows stop at each intersection and seem somewhat uncertain of which way to go. They definitely observe their surroundings a lot more than the weekday people. In groups of twos and threes, they converse and eventually transverse the grid. I do see a few individuals (I’m not the only one out solo today). One’s on his phone—guess I had to come across one of those. Another tries to hail a cab, but fails. He’s unfortunately on the wrong side of the road, even if it’s a one-way street. The last stares across the road into nothingness and puffs on a cigarette. This may be the first time I’ve seen anyone loitering in one of these little outdoor lobby-cum-corporate-plazas. When I follow his sightline, I’m a little startled.

The building before us is completely dark. Not a single fluorescent light is glowing through the windows.

I’ve been through this neighborhood at both 10pm at night and 6am in the morning and I’ve never seen this before. Unfortunately, in the next building over, the (indoor) lobby is staffed by two suited men behind a receptionist desk. Guess someone’s still working today.

When I cross the next intersection, I’m briefly greeted by an overpowering whiff of coffee. Where’d that come from? As far as I know, there aren’t any coffeeshops at this intersection; if there were, it probably wouldn’t be open anyway.

By the time I’m near my destination, there are less people but a few more cars. I’ve left the touristy blocks.

The cars that pass me seem more leisurely today.

It’s nice to know that the road ceases to be a dog-eat-dog racetrack from hell for at least a few hours a week.

I pass a youth as I make my way through an alley. He has his earbuds in, the other end of the wire poking from his phone, and he sings obliviously along with a song I’m not familiar with. This would be strange on a typical business day. But today, no one spares him a glance. There’s a man sitting on one of the yellow benches and another pedestrian across the street, each minding his own business.

A couple of people relax at an unused doorway a few steps away. They’re surrounded by full bags and boxes. One of them flips through a newspaper. Her companion fumbles with an iPod, causing disjointed music and lyrics to float through the air. Neither of them looks up as I walk inches away from their feet.

When I reach my destination—a bus stop at the other end of the neighborhood—the city starts to look a little more like the usual San Francisco I know. A few other people are already waiting at the stop. There are no business people here on a typical day. 

Their absence today doesn’t feel so strange.

An older generation of people pass through with their daily rituals. For them, there is no weekend or weekday. Just the days.

My bus pulls up to the curb, right on time. As I make my way in, I tell myself that I need to come this way a little more often when I’m not working. Who would have guessed that the Financial District held such charm?

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