Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air

So the long Fourth of July weekend hits tomorrow, and the City's emptying out in its usual way. Out front the neighbors are loading up their cars with kayaks and bicycles and grills, no doubt headed toward Tahoe with the rest of the escaping hordes. The little mom-and-pop shops in the neighborhood have all had signs up since Monday warning that they'll be shuttering for the long weekend.

There's a fragility and a vulnerability that I've always liked about that part of living in the City; I never saw that sort of organic open-and-close market behavior from the big corporate behemoths in the suburbs. Borders and Target never close for a family vacation by way of a handwritten sign (scrawled in both English and Chinese) taped in Scotch tape to the front window of their shops. The City lives and breathes on her own somehow via these long weekends and street festivals (Fillmore St. Jazz Festival this weekend) and seasonal shifts and what have you.

And on that respiratory note, it seems like (again, per usual) the major player these days has been the fog herself. It's funny how just like in a relationship or a long friendship or anything of any sustained duration, really, you come to know her patterns and her tics and her tendencies; you come to expect that June will melt into a July that looks like hazy mornings (stung with barbecue scents at 5 am from the wildfires in Big Sur) burning off into pristine fresh afternoons churning into windy cold twilights made muddled by the fog rushing in from over the Golden Gate. Last night I came home late to a street corner wrapped in dew; it was heavy and thick and low-lying, swirling around me as I stepped out of my cab and slammed the door, and I pulled my hat lower and walked quietly down the street, everything hushed and curled in on itself.

There's something comforting about seeing the world fold in on herself in reliable patterns. To have known that the City behaved this way on the very first day I drove up and parked in front of my flat, naive in short red running shorts and sneakers (only to be smacked by the cold fog rolling in a few hours later). We learn our lessons quickly. And five Julys later, I know now that a) shorts are a fool's wear in this fickle city, b) the summer fog will roll in after twilight, so be prepared with a scarf and a hat tucked in your purse, and c) it'll invariably burn off, even when it feels like the sun's lost forever behind the kind of smoky skies that we've seen in the last weeks of northern California fires.

I realize more and more, at the risk of sounding like a two-bit Carrie Bradshaw, to what degree this city really is my muse; how much she fuels me and feeds me and connives and surprises and charges and softens me. I learned her by walking her; the first two weeks, jobless and naive, I spent in 12 hour days walking her blocks, figuring her out, making sense of her hills and her neighborhoods and the way she shape-shifts personalities in the course of just a block or two.

Most Saturday nights I'm behind the bar, but last week I ended up with an unexpected evening off. It was the first of its kind in awhile, sans work or sans huge plans, and I spent the day ensconced in research, lifting my head for coffee or yoga or maybe a quick text message, but otherwise tucked in to work. At twilight, due to meet a friend down in the Marina later that night, I took a deep breath and headed out for a dose of air and wind and the strange unfamiliar scent that is being out on a Saturday night.

So I wandered, sucking up the buzzing feel of a Saturday night just coming into itself; I wore a low hat, just right for unseen people-watching, and I just walked, and watched, and what a funny strange experience it was. So many awkward nervous trying-too-hard people! All the twenty-something blonde girls wobbling around in too-high heels, shuddering in their sleeveless tight going-out-shirts because they were too vain to wear a coat to a club, carrying funny sequined purses around impractical for holding more than a tube of lipstick, chattering in nervous high voices about the dudes they were about to meet; and the dudes, oh the dudes! Rocking their ubiquitous Nick Lachey-douchebag-button-down-shirts (you've been to the Marina, you know what I'm talking about) and heavy cologne and talking with the kind of unaware loudness that comes on after a few scotches on the rocks as pre-game warmups to the real action to come.

It was funny, seeing these fellow urbanites out there, and it made me feel for them somehow, feel their nervousness and their disembodied fawn-legs struggling to gain a toehold on this Saturday night of prowling and trying hard and searching for something (what?), and it made me feel so strangely content, so quietly grateful, to be shaking martinis most Saturday nights in a place that feels like home and warmth and comfort and ease, and to have this quiet night off to realize that, and to walk past cheesy bars with fires burning inside and smug bouncers and collars-required-for-men dress codes, and to know I have no hunger to be there. And I wandered down past the four corners, and up through Chestnut St with its myriads of hangers-on, and settled in for awhile at the Grove with my pinot and my magazine and my few stolen moments alone before my friend arrived, and the fog wrapped in around the ceiling-high windows, and I pulled my scarf closer, and was glad I'd been in San Francisco long enough to know I'd need it, and looked over to the fire burning in the craggy rocks to the left. And it was enough.


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