You are here: Above San Francisco

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You are here: Above San Francisco

Ia morning Twin Peaks person. In the way that I am a winter Tahoe person and an East Coast summer person and a San Tung food person. A person who prefers a particular place at a particular time.

Alta

There are, I’m sure, lunchtime Twin Peaks people. And evening Twin Peaks people. There are definitely late night Twin Peaks people. (Proof is in the McDonald’s wrappers and broken Modelo bottles and whatever other newly thrown trash wasn’t there yesterday.)

However, the people who show up on Twin Peaks between 7 and 9 o’clock are my people. I may not know their names or, indeed, anything about them – but I consider us a kind of unspoken community. Each of us is crawling around these two hills in our own way. We see this place in a similar light. At 922 feet, Twin Peaks is the second highest natural point in San Francisco (just a few feet shy of Mount Davidson, the tallest). A pair of adjacent rocky, rust-colored hilltops covered in coastal forest span 64 acres and boast panoramic views from the Golden Gate Bridge to the north across the sparkling bay to Mount Diablo to the east.

I often see my real-life friend Lisa Brown “step,” as she calls it. But mostly it’s a series of familiar strangers: Here’s the auburn-headed woman with her matching mini auburn-bodied dog. The man with a white mustache and his female friend with a floppy hat, wearing reflective vests in the sun and picking up trash as if they were city employees. The two maybe-married guys strolling leisurely side by side, one with a bit of a cheekbone, like he’s played a lot of football, who waves heartily as I pass. The guy with the long, gray ponytail shuffling along, always alone. He never smiles, but always gives me a thumbs up, or a fist pump, sometimes one of those double gripped victory squeezes. As if I had done something more remarkable than just run by.

They don’t know that I used to be a proud anti-Twin Peaks person.

In March 2020, both entrances to Twin Peaks were closed to vehicular traffic by the City of San Francisco, as part of its effort to expand pedestrian and bicycle routes for people otherwise sheltering from COVID-19. For the first time, in all my years of running in the city, I buckled down and ran for the sky.

Before, I always ran off, from my house on a nearby hill of its own, in Cole Valley, to Golden Gate Park and along Ocean Beach. Then, early in the pandemic, my route took me through neighborhood streets with shuttered storefronts and more tents than ever before and showed me anxiety, anger, and, it seemed, everything that was wrong with San Francisco and our new world. While pandemic-era Twin Peaks was a reminder of all that was still right.

After nearly three years, my once-masked fellow humans have become as much a part of Twin Peaks’ landscape as the rising sun and swirling fog and pieces of graffiti.

Who am I to them, I wonder. The middle-aged maybe-mom who-really?– running every day? That short woman wearing a rotating mix of leggings and ridiculous woolly hats? Happy that she didn’t have to do school drop off? Who just lost cell service while talking to her friend? And now it’s back to listening to Michael Barbaro and NPRs through tangled headphones First up and maybe KQEDs Forum if she started late? And sometimes to the deafening wind, or nothing at all.

What they don’t know is that I used to be a proud anti-Twin Peaks person. “Favorite views” is a real thing people talk about in San Francisco — though less often than, say, best burritos or the whole lazy “San Francisco versus New York / Los Angeles / anywhere more affordable” question. And when the subject came up, I often said to no one in particular, “I hate Twin Peaks.” I’d rather tout the superiority of other, less popular vantage points, the ones unmarred by metal fences and glass-strewn parking lots and scavenging crows and blurry telescopes that charge 50 cents a peek. Twin Peaks had too many tourists. Too many bus tours. Too many twisty curves to run without worrying about getting hit by a careless car.

But then the roads in and out of Twin Peaks closed to cars, and I’ve been running there ever since. During the first month of home school, I ran with my second-grade son — a deal he made in exchange for a Nintendo Switch. Sometimes I run with a friend. Never with me new dog (despite everyone telling me: “It’s fun to run with your dog!”). But usually I happily run alone. Up and down and around the electric-green bumps and crumbly cliffs and back again, never bored, the maybe three miles out-and-back turns into six, sometimes more. Stay to the right of the double yellow lines as platoons of spandex cyclists race down the left. Jump along the smooth, flat curves at the top and admire our Emerald City of Oz. Climb over the metal barriers, move between cement and rail. Through the muddy sections mixed up after a rare rain. Brush past dewy prickles of dormant brambles. Climb the steep, uneven wooden steps to heaven.

Sometimes, the mist known to locals as Karl is so thick, it’s a whiteout equivalent to a winter drive over Tahoe’s Donner Pass. Other times the view is so glassy and sharp, the downtown so clear and shiny, I feel like I’ve just had LASIK surgery. On September 9, 2020, aka Orange Sky Daywhen wildfires turned our Bay skies a deep, disturbing hue, I was alone up there, surrounded by fiery colored rocks, cutting through an eerie, yellowish soup, and it felt like… Mars.

Of course, in Twin Peaks’ long, storyline history, I’m just a blip.

Although passionate citizens petitioned to keep Twin Peaks’ roads closed, the city reopened the south gate in March 2021, allowing cars to drive up to the viewpoint. (The north gate and road remain closed.) There is now more rubbish, and cars have resumed, if less than before. It’s still delicious.

I saw rainbows and fully arched mists. Cobwebs so complicated they would make EB White cry. Surrounded by policemen, a naked man above, who thought he could fly. I saw coyotes barking and teenagers hidden in the trees strumming.

I stomped across asphalt covered in declarations of Valentine’s Day love to someone named Daniel, and I screamed through tears to pass a freshly painted, blue-and-yellow pledge to “Stand with Ukraine.” I was creeped out by the claim that “Lice fucks” and the commonly agreed upon fact that “greed sucks.” For weeks, a once-white T-shirt lay twisted in the ground. I kept jumping over it wondering if anyone would pick it up, if I should pick it up. (I had to. I didn’t. Eventually someone did though. Maybe the mustachioed man in the reflective vest?)

The cultural history of these twin grass hills dates back at least to the Ohlone, who say they were once a single peak: a married couple who disagreed so often that the great spirit separated them. Of course, in Twin Peaks’ long, storyline history, I’m just a blip. Hardly qualified to pen an ode. i am not Cool Gray City of Love writer Gary Kamiya, who considers a hollow on a slope of the south peak to be the quietest place in all of San Francisco. Or fifth generation local Lynn Oakley, who lives on a hill in the house her grandfather built, the first on Twin Peaks, a hundred years ago, before roads and electricity. I’m not even a Bay Area native who hung out there all through high school, or someone who hired a professional photographer to capture their engagement or one of the helmetless skateboarders who’ve been riding this figure forever, flipping and spin and somehow never crash.

Everyone I know about Twin Peaks, really, is how it makes me feel as I lounge around it: happy to live here, happy—as running always makes me feel—to be alive.

However, the other day I learned something new. “Hey, look,” the gray-ponytail guy said, stopping me in mid-walk. I looked. Nothing out of the ordinary seen. What? I said, muting Michael Barbaro and, it seemed, talking to Tom. “It’s growing back to last summer’s fire.” What grows? What fire? I think I was back East. “The coyote brush,” he explained, pointing to buds of bright green breaking through tangles of black roots. “I’m up here every day,” he said. “I notice things.” I smiled, gave him a thumbs up and ran on.•

You are here is a monthly column that explores ideas about place and places in the West, written by members of the Writers’ Cave.

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