Saturday, July 18, 2009

Un-touristy San Francisco: the "Southern Waterfront"

To help inspire me for the next chapter of my novel, I spent a couple of hours driving around what is euphemistically known as the southern waterfront -- the stretch of bay from Mission Creek south to Islais Creek, and beyond. I saw:

Piles of rubble in various states. Some were huge chunks of concrete, either squarish or unshaped; some were piles of smaller rubble, often mixed dirt, gravel, and metal. Some of the piles were covered in various ways, from degrading plastic to very substantial-looking material of rectangular rubber or plastic sheets fastened together with plastic ties. In most cases whatever covered the piles was held down by sandbags, and again these were of varying quality, from thin, degrading plastic to heavier woven plastic.

Vacant lots. These were often weed-strewn gravel, formerly the parking lots or operating yards of industrial concerns and now derelict. At this time of year the only living weeds were usually fennel plants. Many of the vacant lots were fairly clean aside from the weeds; at some point they had obviously been entirely cleared. In other cases the lots were apparently in use as storage lots, but these were often in worse shape than the completely vacant lots, in that they had derelict vehicles that would obviously never be moved.

Sometimes these derelict vehicles were cargo trailers, decades old in many cases, that were parked against loading docks. The buildings behind these loading docks were sometimes themselves derelict and sometimes apparently not.

Fences. Chain-link fences, sometimes covered on one side with boards, and again this was done at varying levels of quality, sometimes giving an impression of solidity, sometimes not. This also depended on how the boards were fastened and painted. But in every case, whether the chain-link fences had added wood on or not, they were topped with strands of barbed wire and usually with razor wire added.

Strange-shaped lots. Sometimes the combination of vacant lots and fences combined to make very strangely shaped lots that were separated from another part of the property, seemingly in an arbitrary fashion.

The Islais Creek grain pier was in much, much worse shape than I'd remembered/supposed. For one thing, it had apparently been torn down along the shore so that it would be impossible for anyone to casually walk out on the pier; in order to reach what was left, including the five-story-tall rusty tower that had something to do with suctioning grain or something, you'd have to have a boat. (During the years 1981-84 when I was a delivery truck driver, I remember occasionally seeing a small ship at that terminal, filling up its hold by way of the now rusting tower. The visits of the ships stopped sometime during those years, and the area was abandoned.) What was left was almost entirely impassable and obviously incredibly dangerous: crumbling, rotting wood that was fallen through in more places than not, filled with rusty spikes and nails and jutting rusty metal bars. The notion that the characters in one of my chapters could do anything like I've depicted them doing there -- aside from falling through the pier, which I have depicted -- is ridiculous. But I'll just have to stage the action on some less identifiable property. God knows there are plenty of rotting piers.

Speaking of which: rotting piers in various stages of destruction, all fenced off by the above-described fences. In many cases, bare pilings sticking up out of the bay.

The shore itself was usually lined with chunks of concrete, covered with slime, which is to say a thick brown and green coating of algae. Whether the concrete was dumped legally or illegally in any particular spot is hard to tell. There are some places where the concrete seems to be of uniform shape and to have been arranged in some organized fashion; these would be the legal places. In other places there are simply slabs of wall, roadway, and other debris, often with jutting, slime-covered rebar.

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