Broadway Street in San Francisco runs east and west from The Embarcadero to the Cow Hollow district on the edge of the Presidio. As with most streets in this part of town it varies from moderately sloped to severely steep. It is so steep in one section, and in such a central part of town, that in 1952 a tunnel was dug to allow for easier access to the other side of the hill. The tunnel provides for uninterrupted traffic flow along Broadway for a stretch of six blocks, between Powell Street on the east and Larkin Street on the west. It also has a narrow sidewalk on either side which, from my experience walking it last week I can only describe as gross, smelly and decidedly unsafe (all three safety call boxes have been thoroughly vandalized).
With this in mind following dinner on the Embarcadero one evening last week I decided I would walk back to my friend’s house on the other side of the hill, this time going over the top instead of through the tunnel. By the time I got through the red light district, the south edge of North Beach and into Chinatown I realized that this was much more than an after-dinner stroll. By the time I reached this set of stairs built into the sidewalk to compensate for the severity of the slope I was in a full sweat. The photo does no justice to the reality of it.
And just prior to taking on this last ascent – one climb to go – I decided to take a look back at where I had been. As I briefly contemplated a new perspective on one of the most beautiful cities in the world; as I was catching my breath and feeling alive with the energy of my exertion, I couldn’t help but consider the road not taken.
Shortcuts are tempting and often satisfying. They emphasize speed and completion, holding the promise of getting on to the next thing with undue delay. They also have a way of devaluing the experience of the journey. They can rob us of the power of the present moment and the opportunity, in the fullness of time, to experience something unexpected and deeply gratifying.
Sometimes you’ve got to over instead of through.