Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Observing the city around you

Posted by shannonclark on April 12, 2007

I do not own a car, though I have in the past, I sold my last car in 2004 and have not replaced it. Since moving to San Francisco I have tried to walk at least a few miles every day, often 4-5 miles.

A few days ago, the Washington Post ran an experiment on commuters in Washington DC. For all the details, take a look at the article Pearls before Breakfast. After you have read the article, click thru and read some of the over 51 pages of comments (over 500). Go ahead and read it then come back here.

Have you read the article?

If not, quick (too quick really) summary, the Post got Joshua Bell, one of the leading violinists in the world to perform in the morning at rush hour at a Metro stop in Washington DC using his over $3M Stradavarius violin and playing some of the hardest pieces in the Classical Canon. And out of over 1000 people who walked by, less than 10 stopped to listen and very few gave any money.

Just a few days ago, I remember hearing a bit of a musical battle between two musicians at the Bart/Muni Powell station in downtown San Francisco. At one space, a man played a saxophone (very well in fact), at the other space, another man played a trumpet (fairly badly). I was in a rush (had to head into the nearby mall to find a bathroom) but I remember noting that they were overlapping in their music – and that the sax player was by far the better musician.

I try as I walk through the city to observe the world around, to notice the buildings, the businesses, the people. Lately I have been trying to take at least a few photos every day.

At the recent Mobile MeshWalk I organized over 900 photos were taken by the participants.

One of the specific goals of the MeshWalk format is to have people see the world with each other. That is, as you walk together through the city actively seek to observe the world around you – and then share those observations with each other. Help others see what you see, add what you know about the city, what you observe to their knowledge and experiences.

In the light of the Washington Post experiment of a few days ago, I think it would be a good thing for all of us if we were a bit more aware of the world around us, if we stopped and looked deeply at the details, at the people, listened to the music.

Tonight, after the fundraiser for Irene McGee I walked down Polk St. looking for a late night snack. Besides many other people out late, I observed a really fascinating building at the corner of Polk and California (well one building in from the corner). Downstairs it is now a Walgreens, garish and lit by fluorescent lights. But clearly from the upstairs architecture, at one time this building was a theater or hall, indeed faintly still there is a name and the words Hall in large letters at the top of the building. However, besides a disused doorway plastered with ads for the Walgreens and hidden behind iron fencing, there is no obvious way upstairs. But I wonder what a space lies hidden above the routine Walgreens, and what was there before it was removed to put in drop ceilings, glass windows and a tile floor?

A few blocks later looking carefully at the businesses on adjoining blocks led me to notice a restaurant that advertised that it was open until 4 am. That restaurant, the Grubstake Restaurant, is housed in a dining car from the early part of the century which has been used as a diner since 1925. I ate a really good burger and a homemade flan. Not bad for just before 1am.

Observe the world around you.

Stop, listen to the music.

Take photos, capture details.

Take notes, make connections, catch someone’s eye. Say hello. Hold open a door. Nod. Smile.

Engage.

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