First you notice the city. San Francisco from 30,000 feet is a tiny holdout at the very tip of a cloudy peninsula. As you begin to descend you’ll see bridges and ocean, mountains and hills, as well as a patchwork quilt of skyscrapers at the northernmost tip.
But from this height it’s still a city, just like the others.
Whilst the plane continues to slowly dip through the clouds you’ll catch glimpses of landmarks just like a lens slowly bending the light into its focus. Do you see the Coit tower? Can you spot the buffalo in the park or the decorated trams yet? Perhaps you’re flying into the city at night, where you’ll see the dim and orange glowing hum of the Golden Gate bridge or maybe instead its neighbor, the bridge that heads north-east towards Oakland, where at dusk you can find its lights shimmering as if it was an elaborate string of loosely bound pearls in the dark.
However this peninsula is much more than objects and faces and bridges; when you find yourself on firm ground once again make sure to shake off the flight with a hike through the city. But most importantly, as you’re hiking around, make sure to tilt your head to the left from time to time. And now, a little to the right.
You’ll see it quickly, I promise. A city of letters will rise out of the city of San Francisco with towering, hand-lettered numbers alongside defiant, picturesque characters appearing from nearby signs and walls where before there were only blurry squiggles. You’ll find yourself surrounded by a city fit for Italo Calvino where an alphabet of each and every kind will be proudly standing on display. Every corner will be the host of some new shape or style of letter welcoming you to this new city for the first time. Here! Take the sign behind you: that squiggle of letters indicates a new district, a new idea, an alternative way of living your life.
At this point I’m afraid it’s far too late for you though. Try as hard as you might, you won’t be able to stop looking at the letters. You’ll forever be staring at them and now that you see that city of letters beneath the city of San Francisco itself, that once real city, will flicker and fade into the background.
But quite frankly, you won’t ever want to return.