I have fish-out-of water conversations all the time, given my slightly unorthodox upbringing. Last week, I had two separate f.o.o.w conversations with people at work, coincidentally about San Francisco.
1) D. and L. are both native San Franciscan Chinese. D grew up in the Avenues, and mentioned that there were some parts of SF she’d never been until she was dating her future husband. Like the Mission.
I was pretty surprised. “Where did you go for sunshine, then?”
“Chinatown? It’s pretty cold and foggy there too, no? I used play in the Portsmouth Square playground and I would be freezing!”
“You went to Portsmouth Square playground?! We never went there. It was too dirty and unsavory!” D and L looked at me aghast.
“Oh. Well my parents were from El Cerrito, and probably didn’t know any better.”
2) Later that same day, I was carpooling to an event after work in Union Square. The traffic on 101 was pretty bad. My colleague M was driving, and her car has a GPS. We found ourselves in the relatively free-flowing left-lane to go towards Civic Center/Golden Gate Bridge. “That’s OK, just stay in this lane and we can cut through this way,” I said. I manually navigated* us across Market, up Larkin and then over to the Ellis –O’Farrell garage.
“Gee, you know your way around San Francisco pretty well.”
“When I was in high school in El Cerrito, I spent a lot of weekends hanging out in the City.” (BART was pretty convenient for getting from EC to SF.) “Wait, didn’t you grow up in Fremont?” I asked, thinking Fremont also had a BART station, albeit much further from SF.
“Yeah, but my parents didn’t let me out much.”
“Oh. . . ”
I keep forgetting that it was unusual for high school kids in my day to go exploring SF by themselves via public transit. I went by myself in the beginning, because I didn’t really know anyone yet when I started at ECHS. Then when I became friends with Chris, we would go together by BART and Muni bus to SF to check things out, like museums, foreign movies, etc. To this day, Chris’ mom will say to me that it’s really neat that I took Chris to places like that when we were in high school. I never understood why it was such a big deal. But after my colleague’s remark, maybe I understand a little better.
For me it was a matter of course that if I wanted to go somewhere, and I could get there by transit, I would go. My mom likewise thought nothing of it, and let me go as I pleased**. I guess that’s another example of my mom being somewhat liberal compared to the parents of my other friends.*** On one hand, kids may not want to deal with figuring how to get around on their own by transit, and would prefer to get a ride. On the other hand, even for kids who are willing to take transit, their parents might not let them take transit themselves. Or maybe it’s a transit-schedule and map-reading thing. Some people don’t know how to read maps (but they might be able to navigate mentally with landmarks.)
Maybe I should stop telling people that I went around SF on my own by transit when I was in high school, because it makes me seem weird and/or my parents seem negligent. I have to admit, my skills at navigating in SF came later after I got a car and I would often drive with friends to SF. (I guess it was a proximity to El Cerrito thing.) But maybe being able to navigate SF by transit also gave me the confidence to drive around SF and not worry about getting lost.
*Last fall, when I was travelling, Joe had friends visiting from Hong Kong, so he took them sightseeing in San Francisco. He called me later, “I missed you that day.”
“Oh that’s so sweet,” I was touched by his sentiments.
“Yeah, it was really hard to have to drive AND navigate at the same time.” Joe doesn’t know his way around SF as well as I do, so usually I’m the human GPS.
** Actually all three of my parents had that type of trust in me. My dad and step-mom were relatively liberal also in letting me take the buses in Bangkok by myself when I was in junior high. This was really useful for getting to the library on Surawong Road on Saturday mornings. Most of my peers weren’t allowed to go anywhere by themselves; they had to go with an adult, in case ‘they got snatched.’ Back then, buses were usually packed to the gills. You’d have to be pretty stupid to try and kidnap someone in the scrum of scores of passengers. Besides, would you really want to kidnap someone poor riding the bus, because anyone who could afford to would avoid the bus at all cost.
***Although in some ways my mom was over-protective. I wanted to buy a bike and ride to school. (The original Ohlone Greenway under the BART tracks runs through El Cerrito.) She wouldn’t let me, because she was afraid I would get hit in a traffic crash. To this day, I regret not having fought her harder for this. Two years’ worth of gasoline I could have saved. What a pity.