You know what they say about the road less traveled? Boy, are they right. This morning I switched up my walk to work because I was a little bored of taking the same two or three streets that I always take. I wandered up through Chinatown today, and it was a new and strange experience. I’ve been to San Francisco’s Chinatown many times, and the streets are normally bursting at the seams with thousands of people, but this morning they were silent. As I sauntered up the hill from my apartment on the Embarcadero I passed the Portsmouth Square park where a few elderly people were exercising, slowly jogging in circles and reaching up to the sky in big broad stretches. An old man sat on an upside-down bucket, playing a lonely-sounding stringed instrument, and in the distance a couple of cars rumbled by below on Kearny Street. The normally packed side streets leading up to Grant Street, the central artery through Chinatown, were deserted. I expected that things might pick up when I turned onto Grant, but they didn’t. The summer morning fog clung to the tops of the buildings and there was an almost Robert Frost-like silence over the whole street.
I had never noticed before how hilly Chinatown is – it’s always so crowded that I can’t notice anything but the people. The plastic bags and brightly colored coats hanging out for sale were not there this morning; the crates of fish and vegetable were absent from the sidewalks; and the sounds of that strange (to me) language was gone – there was only the silence and the fog as I walked on towards my office.
At the Chinatown Gates, the quiet faded and the normal hum of the morning city picked up again. I ducked in to Starbucks and grabbed a coffee and continued on my way, feeling like I had somehow made a secret discovery that vanished as soon as I walked away from it.