With the relentlessly clear and sunny days of California “winter” this season, the treacherous nature of rain-slicked streets of San Francisco is a distant memory. As someone who has been walking around the city my whole life, I have several “greatest slips” but one really slides to the front of the line.
I was hanging out with my friend, Michelle, on a grey and rainy day in the mid-1980s. We’d indulged in some covert underage drinking so we were feeling comfortably warm when we headed out into the drizzle for Tower Records on Columbus Ave. There must have been a new album luring us there—maybe the GnR Lies EP? (Appetite for Destruction was in heavy rotation for us at the time.) Or maybe we just wanted to go and browse aimlessly, as teenagers have been known to do.
Given that I was a big walker and more of a tomboy, I usually dressed with practicality in mind. But hanging out with Michelle heightened my already well-developed low self-esteem in the looks department. She was like a brunette version of Kelly Bundy from Married With Children—the epitome of Rocker Chick Chic. I couldn’t bring myself to wear spandex mini-dresses and revealing tops, but I was inspired to get a pair of black boots that looked great with my favorite stretch acid-wash jeans. I’d bought them at Payless Shoe Source so they were constructed of the finest fake leather and plastic.
The walk from her house in the lowlands of Nob Hill wasn’t far—maybe a mile. It was uneventful until we hit the steep downhill stretch on Hyde between Chestnut and Bay. The view from the summit has been immortalized on postcards. It inspires awe-struck gasps from tourists as the cable cars crest the summit and they see Alcatraz and the bay below. (Or there might be gasps of exhaustion from those brave enough to trek to the top after eating a Ghiradelli hot fudge sundae.) Several elements made this hill treacherous in the rain: a stretch of slick bricks, some moss that had colonized the concrete, and of course, the steep downhill grade combined with heeled boots with slick plastic soles. I can’t remember how many times my feet went out from under me on this one, long block. I know it was at least three times—maybe more. Michelle could not stop laughing, and I can’t say I blame her–it must have been quite a spectacle. (But I was really irritated by her lack of sympathy.)
I eventually made it down the hill without injuring much more than my pride. (I’m sure my tailbone took a beating, but it was probably cushioned by the rum and cokes we’d consumed.) It was a miserable and humiliating walk and I’ve worshiped at the altar of practical walking footwear ever since.