The mood of a place is dependent on small things, and weather. In San Francisco every single part of the city is informed by fog, by the lack of it or the lack of visibility it brings. Sunshine is a thing of sparse moments and joy, and the changes to workdays and clothing that come with the East Coast’s hundred degree days are hard to imagine, let alone replicate. We move in wide circles, but as I have said before, our bodies have short memories.
San Francisco smells of fruit and tall trees, of wind and buildings built primarily of wood. It smells of the dust from China that blows off the Pacific. Over everything, in the early afternoons of the season that the rest of the country calls summer, it smells like a city, a place where humans have struggled in close proximity for a hundred years.
And then the fog comes in, and the peninsula smells like an island in the ocean, the air filled with water and sand. On Irving, a man walking to dinner in July of two thousand eleven might wear a wool hoodie and jeans. In Brooklyn the same amble to dinner would entail shorts and flip-flops, sunglasses and a t-shirt.
Along Irving the street lights go on at six, their routine unchanged by the lengthening of day, for the fog darkens everything.
Thus in July we flee to the east, and drive windows down across Staten Island. The Verrazano bridge toll has been raised to $13, and the traffic is thick with accidents. The rental car is our fortress, allowing safe passage from state to state, allowing us to grow accustomed to the humidity without carrying our luggage as we do so. The gift of red-eye travel is in these surprising mornings before our new locations awake.
In New Jersey we play frisbee in the back yard, barefoot in the humid air, and sit on the deck in the afternoons, grateful for the quiet hours. After a few days we drive up through Pennsylvania, along roads from my childhood, past the small towns of her grandparents’ history. The gentle hills are green and the air is thick with fresh cut hay, with flies, and with small towns. After the West Coast’s sprawling hours of land without cities, the transition from New Jersey to Pennsylvania to New York takes no planning and happens in a leisurely afternoon.
From the city, if not the house, of my birth, we adventure. We swim in gorges and wander to waterfalls. We sit by the side of the lake and watch the light fade, and set things alight and let them drift into the sky. Further from the ocean the air is less humid, and the long evenings a glorious reminder of what summer usually means. We do not think of San Francisco, or fog, choosing instead to watch lightning bugs in the trees of the back yard, their small flashes miraculous gifts of light.
In New York City later we sit on the concrete of Williamsburg and eat hand-crafted donuts in the shade, Manhattan across the water looking gorgeous in the sunshine. In the evening we crowd into the one room with an air conditioner, this strange piece of equipment everyone in New York has purchased as they grew able in the last decade of employment. In San Francisco no house has these boxes in the windows. Instead we shut the glass against the fog in the evenings and fling it open in the morning to let the wind in.
The evenings in Brooklyn move from park to rooftop to sofa, from large exuberant celebrations of summer to small conversations about the practicalities of shared spaces, and the hours fly quickly. In another two dozen we are back on our coast, back in the weather that is not a season, and back to the courtyard that houses a cat. The vacation has ended, and the memory will fade from our skin, but we have seen New York, and summer, again.