There’s not much left to look at in Tenderloin other than a bunch of strung out old hippies and beat up taco joints. With the light failing, we can’t really capture any more of the murals anyway, so we hop back onto our bikes and head towards North Shore.
We pass Union Square, which is surprisingly only a few blocks away from one of San Francisco’s poorest neighborhoods. The way all this commercialism-run-rampant collides with the beggars crisscrossing the potholed streets two blocks away never ceases to amaze me. It’s November so they even got the Christmas tree up and all the window shoppers are out in droves.
There are plenty of hills between us and North Shore and at this point in the trip my buddy Andrew Galati and I aren’t dodging them. The first goes for three or four blocks before we reach the peak and then it’s a straight shot down for six or seven blocks more. What impresses me most is how at some point the engineers of the Bay Area figured out how to build not just roads, but houses and apartment buildings on these hills. Not to mention, that most of them are built to survive earthquakes.
We haven’t felt an earthquake yet in our travels, and I just can’t imagine. Pushing the gear shifter down all the way into the lowest gear I climb that first hill breaking into a sweat at the top. I look back and Andrew is following me zig-zagging back and forth to compensate the push back of his single speed bicycle.
“Well, that was something else,” I say when he reaches the top.
“Yeah, it gets easier each time, though,” he replies. “I been cruising up and down these hills all day”.
I let him push off first and I quickly follow as we sprint the hundred or two hundred feet back down to the bottom at the other side. I keep a steady hand on the brake while Andrew shoots ahead a block or two, going full speed like a daredevil until we hit another hill. I quickly catch up to him and pass him as we ascend. At the top this time my legs don’t hurt so much and the sweat is invigorating.
“I’m a king,” I shout back down at Andrew still climbing. “I’m king of the mountain.”
When he reaches the top he tells me, “I passed some hills earlier, man. They had steps for sidewalks.”
“Reminds me of Barcelona. Only it’s the entire city.”
“Yeah, man. You’ll see.”
After about 3 or 4 more of these hills we start to lose our sense of direction and focus more on the exploring. And even then it becomes more about aimlessly wandering, climbing each one of these hills to get a better perspective of the whole city.
At a certain point somewhere on the edge of Chinatown we’re hopping from one hill to another, and I see a bright light on the horizon.
“Hey, Andrew,” I shout back. “I think the full moon is coming up.”
We push forward and come to a peak that seems to be the highest in the surrounding neighborhood. I start first and while climbing, I see her pushing up over the horizon coming now into view between two skyscraper apartment buildings further east in town.
She’s huge. Bigger than I’ve seen her before. The last super moon of the year. I’m pretty sure.
I hop off and start to walk my bike over to the sidewalk. The peak of the hill is only half a block wide, and at each corner is a sudden drop off. There’s a woman already standing on the corner doing exactly what I was about to do. I pull out my phone and try to take a picture.
But the moon, no matter how large in the mind’s eye, is never as big on the digital display. No matter how many attempts I make, I just can’t get her to be more than a pin dot in an infinity of dark sky. I can’t get the shot I want. But still I keep trying. And she keeps rising.
Andrew has caught up and he walks over to do the same.
Then I notice a car pulling over slowly but very erratically. The driver and passenger get out and they too take out their phones and try to snap a picture. Two more people walk up from behind me and stand next to me with their camera phones out. Them I notice there’s a person three stories up now standing on her balcony doing the same. I look around and out of thin air there’s thirty or forty people all gathered now, hypnotized, just like me, all in the same pose with phones in the air. They are of all different backgrounds but mostly what I would consider yuppies, they’re public dress making me feel slightly more self-conscious of my knee-torn jeans. But still these are people of the earth being pulled up by that moon. And all they can think to do is try to capture her in a 2’ x 3’ frame.
And that moon is glowing so bright now. She’s growing in intensity as she moves ever so slightly skywards into the heavens. Her gait taking her on a diagonal from the bay up into the starry night cutting across the city for all these hill hoppers to see.
It’s glorious and I step back now to get a better view of the whole thing that is happening. What with this increasingly large group that has formed now taking up the entire peak of the hill.
And that’s when it strikes me.
It doesn’t come from somewhere conscious but much more guttural. Like internally. It penetrates me from deep down below. And at first it catches me off guard. But as it starts it only feels natural.
I begin to howl.
At first to myself like a low hum. But then I stare up at the moon and I just can’t help myself. She pulls it out of me. And it grows louder now for all to hear and see.
I stand there with my legs firmly planted, my head leaned back, and my voice directed at the sky, howling at the moon.
I get more than a few strange looks from the huge group of fellow moon watchers in front of me. But then I hear Andrew joining in too, with the same general absurdity.
We’re like that. Two mad men on top of a hill howling at our moon.
And then it happens.
First there are a few voices in the air more like laughter, but slowly they grow into something more primal. And then more people join in, each with their own syllable and tone. Some barking and others just solemnly singing. Some laughing while others really raise a ruckus going back into their roots and really bringing it all out into the air. It’s otherworldly. And that moon glowing even greater than a few moments before. And there we are a hundred or so people gathered at the top of a hill in San Francisco, totally deranged and off our rockers, converted into jackals, wolves, and coyotes, feeling all loony inside and letting it all out in this feral symphony. There we are a hundred or so people, on top of a hill, lost in our madness and howling at the moon.
And there she is smiling back down on us, calm as usual, but also blushing.