I Drive SF: Fear and loathing on Lombard Street

With heat, traffic and lightning, the Bay Area can still sometimes surprise

I Drive SF: Fear and loathing on Lombard Street

Standing on Lombard Street in the Marina, with the sun beating down mercilessly, I cower in the shadow of a partially constructed condominium and hotbox an American Spirit while watching the persistent flow of traffic outside my motel with horror.

What have I gotten myself into?

After checking in at the Super 8, I walk around the corner to Chestnut to grab a burger. The sidewalks are packed with people who look like they all share the same Stitch Fix account. I feel like an alien among the tourists and brunch crowd dining in parklets and soaking up the rays. At the Super Duper there’s a long line.

When it’s my turn to order, the cashier tells me they’re out of ice.

Yes, summer has come to San Francisco and, like any drastic change of weather here, it might as well be a natural disaster.

On the warmest weekend of the year, the Marina is both a local hotspot and a thoroughfare for travelers heading to Marin County. Under normal circumstances, I would have taken one look at this scene and run away screaming. But I’m exhausted. After a two-month roller coaster ride from hell, our search for a new place to live is finally over. We’ve secured a two-bedroom apartment in West

Oakland. In the meantime, I just want to relax in front of an air conditioner…

Apartment hunting is a hellacious experience during the best of times. In the midst of a pandemic, with a 3-year old kid in tow, it was downright torture.

From the beginning, the process was disheartening. There just weren’t many two-bedroom apartments available under $2,500.

We began our quest in Oakland. Our old neighborhood, Temescal, is no longer in our price range. And Rockridge? Forget about it. So we tried Dimond. Laurel. Then expanded our search to include Emeryville, Albany, Richmond and El Cerrito. We even considered Concord and Pinole.

Getting into The City, despite the COVID-fueled exodus, is still a pipedream. We did check out some places in the Sunset and Richmond Districts that were so tiny they qualified as two-bedrooms in name only.

Then we looked in Daly City. South City. San Bruno.

Having a kid meant we couldn’t just take any unit in our price range. We needed a place that could accommodate a 3-year-old. It’s surprising how many apartments don’t have bathtubs.

Of course, once we found a place that fit our needs, we still had to hope the landlord would rent to us.

Due to the eviction moratorium, most property owners only want new tenants with 720 or higher FICO scores and proof of employment. Lest they end up with squatters.

On paper, we don’t stand out. Being a freelancer looks really suspicious on a rental application these days.

Meanwhile, we kept driving past these new high-rise apartment buildings with “NOW LEASING” banners flapping in the wind, where studios start at three grand.

Just as we were about to succumb to despair and admit defeat, we were offered the place in West Oakland, which fit our needs and then some…

While waiting for the apartment to be ready for move in, Irina and the kid went back to LA. I stayed behind and crashed at Colin’s place for a few days. When it started getting hot, I decided to find a cheap motel in The City with free parking and a good air conditioner to ride out the heat wave. With so many motor lodges all in a row, Lombard seemed like the best bet.

For some reason, I thought the Marina would be dead. We are, after all, still fighting off coronavirus. But when it’s 90 degrees, everyone wants out of the house.

On Saturday, half the East Bay seems to be heading towards Marin County through the Marina.

My room faces the street. From the bay windows, I have a panoramic view of the traffic below. Lombard is an expressway from morning until night. The persistent hiss of traffic is only interrupted by the revving of souped-up motorcycles and showboating pickup trucks. On Saturday evening, I hear the familiar squeal of an attempted sideshow in the intersection at Scott.

On my final night, I’m outside and the sky splinters and cracks open with flashes of lightning. Watching that fantastic light show, I’m reminded that, even though it’s often predictable and painfully discouraging, every once in a while, the Bay Area can still surprise you.

Kelly Dessaint, a San Francisco taxi driver and veteran zine publisher, is the author of the novel “A Masque of Infamy.” His long-running Behind the Wheel zine series is collected into a paperback “Omnibus,” available through all book marketplaces or from his blog, idrivesf.com. His column appears every other week in the Examiner. He is a guest opinion columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner.

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