On the Joys of Perambulation

Strolling through San Francisco is a great way to learn about the city — especially with the help of a great local podcast.

Perambulate is a great word, isn’t it? It sounds like something a fancy fop in a waistcoat and coattails would do after dinner. And that’s because it is! To perambulate is to go for a walk, and lately I’ve been perambulating like the top-hatted, riding-booted, cane-carrying geezer on the Johnnie Walker label.

I haven’t had a car since 2003. After six months of having it towed, ticketed, and broken into (obviously Chesa Boudin’s fault) I got rid of my old whip and never looked back. I’ve lived the car-free lifestyle for the past 18 years. Walking has been my main mode of transportation for nearly half my life. And I love it! Walking is a great way to see a city, even if it’s the city you live in. I learn so much about what’s going on in town simply by strolling around.

Then the pandemic hit.

Having very few definitive destinations to walk to, I started feeling pretty cooped up. At 40 years old, I’m pretty sure my metabolism is in the witness protection program, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that I really needed some exercise.

Luckily, I found a release valve — a reliable way to alleviate my stir-craziness, soothe my anxieties over Giants Orange skies and orange-haired autocrats, and to get my heart rate up.

You guessed it: Perambulation.

What’s a long walk? For me, it’s anything that takes up an hour or more of my time. In the runup to the 2020 election, I had a little schedule where I’d work until 1 p.m., do some phone-banking for Joe Biden — which largely involved reminding Floridians that the Man From Mar-a-Lago was more concerned with his golf handicap than their well-being — and then go for a walk. After the election was over, I stuck to hiking through the city for an hour or more a day, a few times a week. I’m currently averaging four miles a day.

My walks are often the highlight of my day. We live in such a strange and beautiful city that I see something different every time I go on one of my jaunts. When I amble through the Mission I admire the multihued Victorians on Florida Street, the murals in Balmy Alley, and the paleta guys waiting for kids to get out of school. When I ramble through Mission Bay, I trip out on the brand-new neighborhood that has popped up out of nowhere and watch the seagulls dive into the water over by The Ramp. When I saunter through the Western Addition, I marvel at the stark difference between the glittering shops and restaurants in Hayes Valley and the slowly degrading Fillmore housing co-ops that were built for the people displaced by redevelopment — and were only given to them because they fought like hell. When I trek through SoMa, I wander past the residential hotels and read the plaques that celebrate all the different communities that have called it home, from Filipinos to Greeks to Leather Daddies. 

Another added bonus of these outings is that, for the first time in my life, I’ve started really listening to podcasts. As a writer, I work with words all day, and since I’m severely ADD, I can’t listen to things with words when I work. It jumbles up my head. So, I’m relegated to instrumental music or the sounds of the crazy person yelling weird shit outside my window. I know I’m late to the party on this one, but did you know podcasts are freaking awesome?

I’ve learned so much while tramping around town. Currently I’m listening to Mike Duncan’s History of Rome, and spoiler alert, those Carthaginians are fucked. I’ve also gone pretty deep into Brought to You By, where I learned the history of such brands as Charles Shaw (a.k.a. Two-Buck Chuck) and TGI Fridays, which surprisingly started out as a pickup bar for singles. Stuff You Should Know is another gem. Who doesn’t want to learn about Chaos Theory and the roots of Friday the 13th superstitions?

One of my favorites, though, is a local joint called Storied: San Francisco. As they say on their website, “Storied: San Francisco is an ongoing audio and visual documentary about people — artists, bartenders, community leaders, doctors, lawyers, and business owners who have one thing in common — San Francisco is a place where they live, work, or do their thing in.” 

Full Disclosure: I’m friends with the crew who makes Storied: San Francisco, and I’ve been on the podcast a couple times. But that’s not why I love it. What makes the podcast special is that I get to learn about my friends, neighbors, and co-conspirators in this wild project we call San Francisco. 

Voyaging through the streets of our fair city, I get introduced to fascinating people I’ve never met before and learn interesting stories about people I’ve known for decades. I was walking by Moscone Center as I listened to Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez discuss how he got into journalism. While dodging the construction of the new KQED building, I heard John Law tell of how he ended up in San Francisco and ultimately co-founded Burning Man. I was traipsing by Victoria Manalo Draves Park when I learned how the love of skateboarding helped bring photographer Marcell Turner to the city.

Perambulate isn’t just a great word. It’s an incredible way to immerse yourself into the surrounding world. And now that I’ve finished with this little rant, that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.

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