Stepping out to fetch the paper (really, to feed the clowder–there is no paper, nostalgia and porch-papers go hand-in-hand), I felt the cold, spring rain about to break from its accumulated mist around me. It’s happened this way before.
(I believe the cats are grateful for porches, as umbrellas for paws are late to the patent office.)
It was late afternoon in San Francisco, April, 4 years ago, as I left the Botanical Garden, when I sensed the fragile clouds.
April 2017, San Francisco
(There were fewer cats then and a great many more flowers.)
The air was cold, crisp, yet sticky with pollen.
On my solo excursion in a new city, as I am inclined, I typically avoid public transportation, traveling lightly in well-worn sneakers. I make a point of living locally, seeing the world from vacation’s sidewalks.
Feeling imminent rain, however, I jumped on a bus to take me back to my hostel, a bus which brought me a few miles in the wrong direction before I knew to dismount.
My phone was dead and my pockets bare, and so, with the threat of rain in a thick April smog, I started the arduous trek back.
The Sky Opens
After 2 miles, the fissure erupted and rain poured, and clothed in only a rainbow-dyed sweatshirt and a pair of cheap, stiff jeans, I felt the call of adventure. The drench was only beginning.
After an hour, my jeans chaffed and the rainbow dye ran down my face and wrists. Somehow I was miles from base. A true, independent sojourn, then! I’d save myself and see the city from an unexpected point of view.
I’d studied a city map before taking off, and was surprised to find myself near San Francisco State University. Truly, miles, hours, off course. The hills make foot travel more tenuous than any other scape I’d encountered. Having only my wits, my obviously unreliable sense of direction, and my appearance as a sopping circus clown, I asked directions and was turned around.
I could only chuckle at the ridiculous nature of my situation. I never have the adventure I hope for, only the one I haven’t planned for.
And turned around again when I reached the Shopping District. My feet squished in my sneakers and my body began to ache. Doormen were shielding ladies in expensive shoes from the downpour as I hustled between, through, the drops.
I nearly lost my joviality and any hope I’d find my way back. Perhaps I’d fallen through a portal and was doomed to loop through these neighborhoods in perpetuity, damp, cold, and hungry.
I had stopped to rest beneath an overpass, where a few had gathered to wait for a bus, when I first noticed the joy. San Francisco is an upbeat city, to be sure, especially in comparison to my native New York, but this… This was happiness exhaling from an entire population.
It rains so infrequently in San Francisco that for residents, a downpour is a blessing.
A woman in a blue skirt suit wheeled a cart of Bibles and pamphlets up to me. She’d been recruiting congregants at the bus stop when she must have noticed my plight.
“Can the Lord be of any service?” She asked.
Pithy, I chuckled to myself, grateful for any assistance, divine or otherwise.
I explained the unfurling of my day and she mapped out directions, being extra careful to avoid the steeper hills. I was about an hour’s walk from salvation.
I thanked her, profusely, and she offered me her umbrella. But what good is umbrella when one is already saturated? No, she would need the umbrella so as not to sully her beautiful suit. She had the Lord’s work to do, after all, giving directions to sidewalk-stuck, hostel-bound rainbow fish. It was best she maintain appearances.
I set off, emboldened by the hour remaining (less, 40 mins in stride, despite my burning hips) and the knowing it was impossible to get even more soaked than I already was.
When I was three blocks away from my hostel, the sun came out and slowly the rain tapered off.
People emerged from storefronts grinning. Rainfall is precious here. Also, check out that colorful mermaid girl, just emerged from the sea. Our city is a magical place. They were all infectious jolly. Several called out to say hello, and more than a few waved. I felt like the San Francisco rainy day mascot. I thought they might write a book about me and my follied, drenched trek through their streets.
Arriving at the hostel, avoiding the stares, I hurried to my room, peeled off the layers, wrapped myself in my warmest attire, and slept for 14 hours.
I was changed that day.
I had walked 17 miles, many of them in an unexpected direction.
I had seen the city in an unusual and excitable way.
I learned I could survive anything, that I only need put one foot in front of the other, and keep doing so, and that eventually I would find a way to rest. And that, no matter how resistant I might be, someone’s Lord would reach out to help when I needed help the most.
It was only 20 minutes today before the light emerged. The cats who had run for cover all repositioned in their sunning spots.
How fortunate I am to smell the rain and remember, as a woman of this world, I am as free as my feet will allow me, I need only take the first steps.