It was already raining the night I flew into San Francisco, my nose pressed against the plane window, but the weather did nothing to dampen my excitement. It was all I could do to prevent myself squawking out loud when I spotted the Golden Gate Bridge picked out in a blurry sparkle of orange streetlights. And as we circled the city, waiting for permission to land, I marveled at how clearly I could see its outline. There was the Embarcadero with its numbered piers stretching out into the ocean, just like on my Lonely Planet map, and in the middle, the crosshatched pattern of streets snapped to a perfect grid.
When my hostess greeted me in the airport, she was apologetic: it was the first time she’d seen rain since she relocated to the area, six weeks previously. In fact, she’d been told this was the first rain to fall on the city in five whole months. ‘Ah well, I brought my umberella,’ I said cheerfully, pronouncing it with four separate syllables à la Rihanna. ‘And I’m a Brit after all, it’s not like I’ve never seen rain before…’
Later that evening, I chortled at the local TV news where the inclement weather had dislodged the imminent elections from their rightful opening headline slot. ‘Rain is forecast for Friday, Saturday and beyond,’ announced the newsreader in her very best harbinger of doom voice. In the background a “super HD” map of the Bay area showed precisely where the rain would fall, the camera zooming in to close on the handful of named streets which would bear the brunt. The heaviest rain was forecast for Saturday. But tomorrow, the newsreader announced with gravitas, there would be widespread spotting.
Here was my first encounter with the ‘two nations divided by a common language’ phenomenon. ‘Spotting’ in British English, my American friends, is something which may occur when a lady is in the middle of her cycle and it’s a private matter concerning only the said lady and her underwear. Light rain, meanwhile, is commonly referred to in the UK as ‘drizzle’ or ‘spitting’, and is not usually thought worthy of a five minute slot on the regional news.
I continued my scoffing on Friday (grey skies and intermittent bouts of drizzle) as I wandered around for a couple of hours downtown, enjoyed a spot of brunch in SOMA, then embarked on a leisurely stroll with my hosts, starting in Upper Haight and ending at 16th and Mission. Ducking in and out of shops along the way, we crossed paths with a Jedi knight and a six foot tall hot dog, admired the canine Princess Leia costumes for sale in a pet shop and expressed horror at the limited choice of Halloween costumes for women, all variations on the ‘slutty’ theme, involving mini skirts and fishnet tights. When the rain began to fall more determinedly, we took shelter inside 826 Valencia, undoubtedly home to the widest selection of pirate products I’ve ever seen, and stopped to eat sturdy Mission burritos the approximate length and girth of my forearm. In short, the rain hadn’t really spoiled anything, so far, and my only regret was that jetlag got the better of me and prevented me from experiencing Halloween by night.
On Saturday morning, I was riding my first Powell-Hyde cable car up and over Russian Hill when the heavens opened. Sitting on my outward-facing outdoor seat, my jeans slowly darkening from ankle to knee, suddenly it didn’t feel like the newsreader had been exaggerating, after all…
To be continued…