On a weekend morning, after the sun claims the sky - but before the tourists claim the streets - San Francisco and its bayside playground beckon runners to water's edge. Some do not hear this call over the din of their morning-after headaches, others dare not tempt the hills on foot for fear of falling; a few, though, give chase to big chunks of asphalt and parkland for benefit of their heart and lungs. The benefits are spiritual, too, when the morning light bathes the Golden Gate Bridge in a nostalgic yellow tone (remember, the Golden State?); introspection happens in the moment when the lungs conquer the fear of running and gain a second wind. For me, this moment happens on the Marina Green.
To get to Marina Green, I start at the fringe of Fisherman's Wharf, jogging down Columbus Street to Beach Street. On the corner of Beach and Hyde Streets is the Buena Vista Cafe, famous for its Irish coffee; the Hyde Street cable car line ends opposite the cafe. I pick up pace to whoosh past the Maritime Museum, shaped like a cruise ship at the base of the cove that accepted the first ship sailing into San Francisco (known at that time as Yerba Buena back in the mid-18th century, before the indians and Spanish were marginalized by the stampede of the Gold Rush). If I look behind me - which happens from time to time - I see Alcatraz; it is the only preparation for confronting the hill that separates the wharfs from old Fort Mason.
Up the hill, the road twists and offers a view down over old military storage houses and that golden, Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. The postcard view is interrupted by the heavy breathing coaxed by the winding hill, but the hill flattens in a park that allows one to catch a breath - and the first gusts of wind off the bay. Somewhere in the park is a statue shaped like a circus ring announcer, addressing the city back up the hills, but the run falls down afoot to those storage houses by the water and the "Single Safeway" grocery market on the left. Parallel to Bay Street, the path curves to and fro before gushing onto the quarter-mile grassy, Marina Green; at this point, two miles from where the run started, the bay winds gust more fiercely to remind the yachts in the anchorage of the strength of the sea. Along the Marina Green, there are others "footing" and walking, some clustered at the staggered bars to complete their pull-ups on the fitness path that courses all the way to the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. There are some that harness those fierce gusts in large kites that dance hundreds of feet in the air at the lead of their skillful hands. I only circle the Marina Green - now with my own second wind - and return up the hill into the park above.
Through the park, past the nameless statue as circus announcer, and onto Bay Street, the countdown of streets occurs until the plateau falls back down to the sea again - Polk Street, Van Ness, Hyde farther on, where the hill cascades down into Columbus Street. I know I am nearing the finish when Leavenworth Street splits the hill in two, further steepening the descent into the Tower Records shop at the Bay-Columbus Streets intersection.
From there it is a direct route to Lombard Street, where Cafe Sapore tempts with its scones and environmentally approved coffee (grown under tree shade, organic as coffee gets) - another time perhaps, for the espresso is delicious. As I walk up the hill to wind down from the run, the tourists are just starting their march up from the wharfs to find the "windiest street in the world" and to see what all the hullabaloo is about. They will point and take pictures as I branch away and up the stairs into my flat, sitting on the couch to catch my breath, remembering the Marina Green and the Golden Gate Bridge in the morning sunlight.