why i love the cable cars

You guys. I am really into baked sweet potatoes right now. Add a little butter with salt and pepper? Whoa. The only effort required is a quick scrub, some fork holes, and voila! Dinner. Also a fried egg on some sauteed kale. 

But I didn't actually come here after almost a month to tell you about baked sweet potatoes. I'm sure most of you stopped reading after I mentioned what I had for dinner, but at least I'm not showing you a picture of it! 

Image by nidhi chanani
So please don't go, because I want to tell you about the cable cars. A constant presence in my life that I have come to love with a tenderness that is maybe a little weird. When the cable car rumbles past my building on my quiet little street every 20 minutes or so, I feel like I'm being checked on by some kind of benevolent spirit, making its rounds to see that all is well. By day it is laden with smiling tourists, who only rarely look up and see me in my window peering down at them, and by night it glows with the little red lights dotting the corners. I call it the gentle beast

But while the cars themselves only come by every 20 minutes, the cables are there always, pulsing just below the surface of the street as they continue their endless journey through the city, before resting sometime after midnight. You can tell that a cable car is approaching because the cables hum a different tune. There's a faint ringing, and then a more earnest grinding sound as they pull the car up the hill. But my favorite is the in-between, when they buzz there softly like a friendly swarm of mechanical bees.

The crazy thing is that I didn't even start riding the cable cars until recently, a whole year after moving to Nob Hill. There's one that goes right by my house and another one that goes right by my office and drops off a few blocks from my house, but I always chose to walk. I'm so glad I learned that my normal MUNI pass gives me unlimited rides because it really is like being at Disneyland. Which, as you might imagine, is a pretty great way to end the work day.

I mean, the parallels are striking. You have the dim thrill of going up and down San Francisco's famous hills, much like a child's roller coaster. People even scream sometimes. And there are lines, depending on where you get on. There's also the obscurely pleasing smell of old metal and wood, and the nostalgic chimes of antique machinery cranking underground.

Image by Matte Stephens via Etsy
Even the cable car operators are a lot like the ride operators at Disneyland. Of course, they're more similar to the sarcastic Jungle Cruise guides than the smiling folks manning Dumbo. They make a show of looking surly--though most of them are certainly big and hulking--but they lovingly tease the tourists, joke around with the regulars, point out upcoming photo ops, and remind you to keep your hands and arms inside at all times. "Allow me to point out some of the exotic plant life we have in the jungle," they say, before raising a finger and pointing, "there's some. And there's some over there." Or wait, that actually is the Jungle Cruise. But it's very similar. They also ring the bells overhead with varying rhythm and spirit, depending on...the traffic? Their mood? The weather? Each operator seems to have their own signature bell song.
It's no secret that the cable car system is a historical gem and dozens of tourists line up at the Powell Street turnaround for good reason. I do love, though, that for this brief period in my life, I get to be not only an occasional passenger on the gentle beast, but a friendly neighbor to it as well. 

1 comment:

  1. Giiiiirrllll, I need an update!

    How was your move to Oakland?? Details, please. Kthx.


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