Into the Wild

A woman holding an umbrella floating over the city of San Francisco
Illustration by Carlos Gamero Morales

by Katie Kahn

Just before St. Patrick’s Day, I locked myself inside, away from society. But this year, I didn’t reappear Sunday pretending I hadn’t seen those invites to Maggie McGarry’s and Kells (green isn’t my color, OK?). In fact, I’ve hardly left the house since, and we all know why.

COVID-19 isn’t a laughing matter. It’s a hyperinfectious disease that’s targeted the most vulnerable, killed hundreds of thousands, and devastated small businesses. The good news is, our social distancing here in San Francisco seems to have had a significant impact on the spread of the virus. The drawback is, of course, that shelter-in-place is making us insane, more so than usual.

After over two months cut off from the outside world, I decide to rescue the dregs of my sanity with some fresh, mask-filtered air. At this point, it’s the only thing that can stop me from creating a TikTok account. Layered up in protective gear impervious to pathogens and fog alike, I embark on a tour of my favorite city.

This is satire, OK? In reality I stayed the fuck home like I was supposed to. (OK, maybe there was a trip to Saint Frank in these past few months, but my memory is hazy.)

To begin my (imaginary) journey, I start with places I’ve never actually seen in daylight. I walk down 11th Street, wiping a tear from my eye as I pass by Audio, and a second tear for Public Works (the nightclub, not The Dept. of). I make a silent vow to never ever again go home before management is pushing/dragging me out the door.

The memories and good vibes overwhelm me as I make a few wrong turns onto a block of giant boxy apartment buildings that didn’t exist three days ago. Who lives in these places? I consider that for some SF residents, nothing has changed at all. They’re still working from home, spinning on their Pelotons, getting their Blue Bottle Coffee delivered by drone, having sex using VR headsets . . . it’s just the SoMa lifestyle.

On Mission Street, a long line of well-spaced millennials begins forming around 18th. Is it for Taqueria Cancún? No, it’s for El Techo, despite the lack of sun in the sky. “What’s on the takeout menu?” I ask a queuer.

“Oh, it’s not open. We’re just getting a head start for October. The weather should be nice.”

Skipping over to Valencia, I spend a few minutes staring at Mission Cheese and Dandelion Chocolate. “I should stock up,” I think, before immediately envisioning myself alone, eating a triangle of Camembert whole like a slice of Little Star Pizza in T-minus four hours. I buy Cheeses of the World gift cards instead. On my way toward Dolores Park to see its crop circle–like social-distance markers, I decide to run an errand.

Emboldened by a recent binge-watch of “The Great British Bake Off,” I pop into Bi-Rite for sourdough bread supplies. They’re out of all-purpose flour, but there are plenty of gluten-free alternatives crowding the shelves. Draw your own inferences. Let’s get real: no amount of effort or Bon Appétit instructional videos will mold me into a worthy baker, so I pick up a loaf of Acme’s finest. I snap my rustic sourdough baguette for my Instagram story. “Support local businesses!”

Up the hill in Noe Valley, most residents are already armed with the perfect tool to increase distance, the pricey stroller. It’s good in theory but not in practice. I notice some pram-pushers standing in an expanded circle from Saru to Haystack, and while they are six feet apart, their little germ monsters are not. At least they tried!

A friend in the Outer Sunset texts me, asking if I want to go on a socially distanced beach run. I immediately begin my response: “Ah, I would! But the traff—”

Ugh, this excuse doesn’t work anymore. “Listen, I’m never going to come to the Outer Sunset. Not even for dinner at Outerlands. Sorry!”

The radical honesty gives me a jolt of energy that propels me to the top of Twin Peaks. From there, I see a long line for essentials snaking down Market from The Apothecarium. That’s it. That’s the joke.

As the winds pick up, I open my magic umbrella and float north.

I wave to the Castro, I wave to the Haight!

I wave to City Hall, with its dome so ornate!

Wait . . . I never remember an umbrella! I realize the essentials I obtained are wearing off, and I’m just wandering down Van Ness, holding a Brenda’s biscuit and waving to stop signs. Someone has eaten half of my sourdough loaf. Rude.

I pantomime an air kiss with a friend I see picking up a Cheese Plus sandwich on Polk. His leopard-pattern N95 mask is envy-inducing. He yells something at me, but I can’t understand him through said mask. He texts me, “I bought this for the fires! So handy!”

This makes me realize we will probably have fire season and coronavirus at the same time. How could it get worse? Oh my God! It’s an election year too! Facing a potential future locked inside while the world literally and metaphorically burns, I run to The Epicurean Trader to pick up a few bottles of California red.

I’m simply disgusted by the open PDA on Union Street. Not for infectious-disease reasons but because I don’t have a #Coromance! Dating on Zoom is like getting an espresso martini to-go from Balboa Cafe: it just makes you miss the real thing more.

Passing by chic clinics (Drip Doctors, LaserAway, One Medical), I wonder when we’ll have a fast and easy COVID-19 test. If only there were some sort of machine that could do all sorts of tests with just a drop of blood! I keep my eyes peeled for a certain Blonde About Chestnut. She’s not in the line outside Le Marais nor picking up a pie from Delarosa. Hmm . . . if anyone were to flout government orders . . . well . . . you’ve watched the documentary by now.

Only one place left to go—Fisherman’s Wharf. You may think I’m kidding, but the lack of tourists means no line at In-N-Out. The seagulls surround me, starved for tourist attention and discarded mini donuts. “I’m from here,” I explain, so they leave me and my animal fries alone.

I gaze out to Alcatraz, and its presence feels apt. I’m not about to make light of the carceral system by comparing self-isolation to being in prison (like others have, ahem, ELLEN). It’s the existence of the island itself, close yet separate, that resonates. Aren’t we all just islands, really?

“STOP! NO! You can’t have my fries!” I yell at an approaching seagull.

I’m sitting at an eerily deserted dock that’s normally packed with Euros in jean shorts and freshly purchased Uniqlo puffers. I’m trying to eat with my mask sort of half on, but it’s serving a dual purpose as a napkin, which is super gross. I realize owning an extra mask is probably a good idea, if this is going to be the new normal.

There’s so much talk about what the new normal will be like. But does it have to be all bad? Plenty of things we hate are normal already, like Muni always being late and our insane rent costs. I have tentative hope for a new normal that emphasizes getting to know our neighbors and supporting our local businesses.

As old haunts and habits fade into memories, I wonder about the San Francisco we’ll eventually return to. Could my next walk take me through a city that meets the basic needs of its residents? Or, Mr. Seagull, am I trapped in an outlandish fantasy? 


Katie Kahn is a fourth-generation San Franciscan by way of the East Bay. She can be found on Instagram at @SFOverheard.