Last Monday, feeling sociable after getting our first doses of Moderna, we decided to take advantage of Free Days at SFMOMA and drive into The City with the kid to check out what visiting a museum is like pre-post-COVID.
Even before she could walk, we’ve been dragging Teddy to art exhibitions and installations, along with science and nature centers, zoos and parks. She’s usually super chill and respectful, but she’s still a child. And San Francisco Museum of Modern Art tickets are not cheap. It can be painful to fork over $50 when we’ll probably just have to leave before seeing more than a quarter of the work on display. No 4-year-old has the kind of patience required for a comprehensive visit. So we joined the other budget-conscious art patrons and reserved our free tickets for 1 p.m.
Fortunately, westbound traffic on the bridge is still light these days. On a Monday, anyway. Gone are the days when you can take a trip over the bridge and not check Google Maps every five minutes before getting in the car.
San Francisco traffic, like the killer in an Eighties slasher flick, is coming back.With a vengeance. And this time, it’s going to be a real bloodbath, since most people will be avoiding public transportation for a while longer. Even with vaccine cards.
I’m not looking forward to sitting in rush hour traffic again. I’ll never forget what it was like to be stuck in a tangle of vehicles trying to escape the Financial, when there’s been no movement for 20 minutes despite the signal turning green multiple times and it feels like you could just as easily bend steel with your mind than get through this intersection…
Already, certain corridors around The City are regularly backed up. And on weekends, traffic coming from the East Bay gets logjammed at the toll plaza, even though FasTrak-less cars don’t have to stop and pay anymore. Ah, but there’s merging involved. And anyone who drives in the Bay Area knows how motorists here feel about merging…
For now, though, downtown is still a ghost town. We take the Fremont exit and turn onto Howard, where the lack of other vehicles on the street makes it easy to find a parking meter near the museum.
Walking from Hawthorne and Folsom, it’s astonishing how quiet this part of San Francisco has remained. There are signs of activity, sure, but nothing like before.
The businesses that are open seem closed. There are no valets outside restaurants or hotels. No bouncers in front of the Gold Club and no suits bouncing out of UberBlack SUVs to take advantage of the strip club’s lunch buffet. There are no UberBlack SUVs blocking the bike lane. No cabs lined up for the W. And down the street, at Moscone, just a few security guards showing a couple people where to get vaccinated.
On Third Street, there are only a few other pedestrians. Pre-COVID, this sidewalk would have been packed with people during lunchtime, while an endless stream of cars crawled up Third, blocking intersections or straddling crosswalks, as a cacophony of horns filled the air. Now, it’s almost… peaceful. Instead of worker bees in power suits power walking to their next power meetings, most of the people around are milling outside the museum or wandering through the Yerba Buena Center across the street.
Based on the first part of our trip, it’s hard to believe the pandemic is supposedly coming to an end. The most congestion we encounter is inside MOMA as people jockey for position to take selfies in front of the pop art or cluster around sculptures in virtual queues to access the special exhibits.
After checking out Cy Twombly, Gerhard Richter and Jay DeFeo, I spend more time marveling over Elizabeth Murray’s “Things to Come.”
Once the kid has had enough art for the day, we head back home. This part of the excursion is what driving in San Francisco used to be like. We’re not even that far from the bridge entrance, but traffic has already accumulated into a quagmire of desperation. Drivers vie for any chance to get one space ahead. Honk at the slowpokes and scofflaws. In a race to step on the brakes, we jerk forward and back, muttering expletives and giving stink-eyes…
Well, at least some things never change.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver, currently on hiatus due to COVID restrictions. He is the author of the novel “A Masque of Infamy” and a zine series “Behind the Wheel,” collected into a paperback omnibus, available through book marketplaces or from his blog: idrivesf.com. His column appears every other week in the Examiner.