A couple more things about walking and San Francisco. First, this place:
It’s a section of Lombard Street, in Russian Hill, known as the crookedest street in the world, eight hairpin bends, necessitated by the 27 degree gradient. It’s a great tourist attraction (and it must be absolute hell to live there).
Quite a few people simply drive their car down it – it’s one way - very slowly and with great care, which is understandable but surely it takes all the fun out of it. Doing it carelessly, at high speed, after a couple of drinks, would surely be the way to get the best out of it. But most people approach it on foot, having arrived by tour bus or cable car.
Some honest souls do walk up from the bottom and then walk down again. A few, I’m sure, do it the other way round. But far more people design a route so they can approach from the top, walk down and then go on their way, which seems a bit like cheating to me. And a considerable number just stand around at the bottom taking photographs of other people walking up or down, which is just sad.
Of course, having some claims to be a walker, I felt I had to walk up. I’d actually walked there from Union Square, but I’m not trying to show off. I intended to count the steps, as I made the ascent, but frankly I got distracted. Actually they’re beautifully easy steps, many of them just half steps so the ascent is made as gentle as possible. But it was a warm day and what with having to avoid all the other people coming down, by the time I got to the top, I’d lost count, didn’t in fact care much about counting at all.
Sources tell me there are 250 steps, which I can believe, though as I say most aren’t very big steps. And of course, being an LA resident, I was reminded of the line in Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely after Marlowe’s climbed two hundred and eighty steps up to Cabrillo Street in Montemar Vista, “It was a nice walk if you like grunting,” Marlowe says. I didn’t do much grunting but I did a fair bit of sweating. It was nice to have the descent to look forward to.
Another, recent discovery about walking, with some relevance to San Francisco, although the event itself took place in Bolinas, concerns Richard Brautigan. That’s him and his daughter Ianthe below, in North Beach, San Francisco, photographed by Vernon Merritt III.
Brautigan, incidentally was a non-driver, a very good thing given how much he drank, but it obviously became quite a problem when he moved to Montana, though that isn’t the story.
Ianthe Brautigan wrote a strange and moving book about her father, titled “You Can’t Catch Death.” In it she tells the story of when he moved to a big, scary, Arts and Crafts house set back in a steep hillside in Bolinas. Huge trees grew around the house and although Brautigan paid to have the dead branches cut off, he wouldn’t let them touch any of the live foliage. Consequently the house became shrouded in gloom and at night it was so dark it was hard to find even the doors of the place.
Then one day, “in broad daylight” Ianthe says, Brautigan was walking from the back door to the front of the house and fell and broke his leg. Ianthe says she expected a dramatic story of how it happened, but Brautigan simply said, “I just tripped on a tree root.” Good for him. As I know all too well, the stories of authors who break their limbs while walking are best kept simple.