plus c’est la même chose

Market St San Francisco

A few weekends ago, I went down to the city for the day. It was my third trip to San Francisco since June, that is, my third trip to San Francisco since months before the pandemic even began. Making up for lost time, making the most of an opportunity to get out of Davis, catching up on the sketching for this year. Lately I have found it harder to fit the sketching in, what with the heat, the soccer coaching (I have been tending to spend lunchtimes desperately trying to plan practices), and also the thing about having drawn everything in Davis and the need to go and draw something new. So, I went to San Francisco, and drew some things I have drawn before. It was a Sunday, and I arrived in the middle of the city right by the Westfield on Market, where I made a beeline for the Lego store. So much great stuff. It was also lunchtime by this point, so I went to the Food court. Now on the way down, my wife had mentioned to me, oh by the way I think San Francisco requires you to show your vaccination card to get into anywhere to eat. Um what? I didn’t bring it, I had no idea. Thankfully I remembered that I had a scan of it uploaded into my UC Davis profile, which I was able to access because, for sure, they checked them before entering the food court, where I had a delicious chicken philly sub. That saved me from a day of eating Snickers bars from train station vending machines. Anyway, well fed and ready to sketch, I headed out into Market Street and looked for a building I last drew about nine years ago. It is the big one with the dome, no not that one, the smaller one with the green dome and a big sign saying ‘The Hibernia Bank’. I’ve always just called this the ‘Hibernia Bank Building’, meaning I assume it’s actually called something else obscure like the ‘Howlett-Summers-Grey Building’ or ‘Number 1 Jones’ something. But no, it’s called the Hibernia Bank Building, and it dates back to 1892. Yes, before the Earthquake in 1906, which it totally survived, probably giving it all “call that a quake?”. Well it had a bit of damage in the fire but not too badly. The architect was a man called Albert Pissis, but I’m not going to make fun of his name, that would be taking the p-, er, that would be taking the mick. It’s a great looking building though, placed at an angle against Market which cuts diagonally through the edge of the grid. Below, that’s the sketch I did back in 2012, obviously from a few steps further along the street,

hibernia bank building, san francisco

Okay, back from 2012 to 2021. Did I ever imagine nine years later I’d be sketching the same thing, but this time on the other end of a pandemic which has done what it’s done? No of course not. But drawing the same thing again over a period of many years does provide a kind of constant to anchor yourself to in time. Yes, I rewatched Lost recently, I love that oddball Faraday. When I was done with this sketch I decided I’d take the Muni up to the Inner Sunset, sketch around the Park. I had to stop though to take a look at the San Francisco City Hall. There was a market going on at UN Plaza, so I stood in the middle of the sunlight for a few quick minutes and sketched the big dome, which is the other big dome I referred to earlier. That was foreshadowing. Actually its not really foreshadowing if it’s not really a big event is it? It’s more like a callback. A small reference made earlier to a small reference I would be making later. I don’t think there will be any more of those, so don’t worry if you weren’t paying attention. So City Hall – this was where my friends James and Lauren, visiting from England, got married back in 2015, with me as the only witness. A beautiful day in the city that was, one I will always remember. The interior is pretty breathtaking, beneath that big dome. Now though, Civic Center Plaza is home to a huge homeless encampment, which is mostly fenced off.

civic center market SF

I’ve drawn this here big dome before, but I’m not going that far back. It’s further back than 2012. Ok, you’ve twisted my arm. Here are a couple – the first was done in, gulp, 2007, while the second was in a much more recent feeling 2009. Oh mate. I have been sketching San Francisco since 2006, and it turns out that’s a long time ago. Like, when I first sketched San Francisco, it was as far away in time from now as it was from when I was a gangly fifteen year old at school playing guitar and obsessing about Spurs and spending my Saturdays wandering about London or in libraries reading books about languages and drawing big fantasy buildings and writing silly stories. Haha, ok when you put it like that, maybe I’m not too different. Anyway here they are.

city hall, san franciscosketchcrawl 23 city hall SF

I did go to Inner Sunset but I will leave that for another post, because I can tell you need a sit down after this hike down memory lane. I think when you decide to head off on that trail, the memory lane, you need a guide to tell you if it will be ‘easy’, ‘moderate’, ‘difficult’ or just ‘bloody painful to think about’. I look at pictures from the olden days, the long long ago, and it gets me a bit sad. You can’t pause time, can you, it just won’t let you. (Admittedly we did try to back in March 2020, and we would have gotten away with it, but the months since just slid by like a shot of whiskey on a long saloon bar. Speaking of which, my next post will feature My First Interior Bar Sketch Since 2019, which is quite a milestone. You’ll have to wait for that though.

Richmond BART station

Speaking of waiting – nice callback there* – when I first arrived at Richmond station for the BART train into the city, I had to wait for 29 minutes for a train, 29 minutes that felt a lot longer than 29 minutes (just like years, the first 29 last forever, then after that you’re on a speeding train that ain’t stopping till it stops), so I got the sketchbook out, and drew. The sketch took about 15 minutes, because I needed time to fiddle about with my iPod deciding whether to listen to an audiobook or a podcast, and also there was an odd man loudly muttering nearby. Plus ça change…

(*Sorry not a callback, that was a segue)

el cerrito has a del norte?

sketching on the BART
Sketched on the BART last weekend. BART is the underground/subway system for the San Francisco Bay Area, and on this occasion I got the Amtrak to Richmond (at the end of the BART line) and BARTed it to San Francisco. Good idea. I also did the return trip in the evening, good idea, and I made sure I went with plenty of time to connect to my Davis train at Richmond. Except…I didn’t get off at Richmond, I got off at the station just before Richmond, El Cerrito Del Norte. I knew there was an El Cerrito after Berkeley, but assumed the station after that was my one. When literally everybody in the carriage got off, I couldn’t see the station sign from the BART train and assumed it must be the last stop. Even getting off the train, I couldn’t tell it wasn’t Richmond, and there weren’t exactly big clear signs around (like you get on the Underground). I followed the crowd down the stairs, got my ticket out and was about to go through the barrier when I realised: this looks…unfamiliar. Pretty sure this isn’t Richmond actually. So where is it? Still no sign. I walked back up to the platform, and saw the sign at last, located inconspicuously up above the platform. There was also a display that told me the next Richmond train was in 19 minutes, meaning it would get into Richmond about two minutes after my Amtrak, the last of the night, was scheduled to leave.

I believe I said the word “bugger” several times.

Faced with the prospect of spending the night in the Bay Area somehow, I just waited. I didn’t want to sketch, rather I wanted to focus my thoughts – the train will come soon, and I will not miss my connection. I don’t normally make these sorts of mistakes, believe me, it’s very unusual (except when I am asleep on the London Night Bus, but that’s different). How did I not realise El Cerrito had a Del Norte? It’s not like I don’t have a BART map, and a BART app. Evidently a lot of people live there because the train completely emptied. Think positive, use the bloody Force if I have to, wish upon a bleedin’star; after nineteen long minutes the train came. I stood by the door the whole time, preparing myself for an Olympic style dash from BART to Amtrak, hoping that I hadn’t already missed it. As the BART pulled into Richmond I could see no Amtrak on the adjacent platform, meaning, well I didn’t care I just ran. I got to the top of the stairs to the Amtrak platform…and saw the lights as the train rolled in. Massive sigh of relief, no need to brave a night in Richmond (which, I’ll have you know, is nothing like the Richmond in London). The jolly Amtrak conductor even said that the train had been delayed by a few minutes leaving San Jose, so I truly was lucky (though perhaps the Force had something to do with it).

My own silly mistake, getting off at the wrong station, but the bad signage did not help. I am used to London’s big signs, clear and visible from the train itself, along with the onboard display and of course the automated announcer. So BART, please make it more obvious which station we’re at. Paint great big letters all over the platform walls or something.