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So long Market Street, I just might miss you

It’s my second to last day of work. I knew I’d have feelings, that I’d miss my coworkers and all that. But as I close the door on my decade-long career in San Francisco, the thing I can’t stop thinking about is something surprising. It’s Market Street. For over a decade, through multiple jobs, countless seasons of my life, day after day I have biked down Market Street to work. Even when safer or more bike-friendly routes existed to the various offices downtown where I’ve been employed, I always chose Market Street. The way it cuts right across the middle of the city grid with no respect for right angles seemed most direct to me. And week after week, Market Street felt like a story I was part of. When I got my job at Twitter in 2009, there was no question how I planned to commute to their humble Folsom Street office – I was going to bike. I’d breeze down to work with the ferry building beaming at me from the end of the road.

Every day was another adventure. There was the time my company laptop bounced out of my bike basket and into the road when I went over uneven pavement. And there was the time the gears of my hand-me-down bike seized up and I flew over the handlebars into an intersection. I still have a hole in the elbow of my favorite coat from that one and a scar on my arm. Another time I was nearly wiped from the earth by a car making an illegal turn to the Octavia freeway onramp. I rode on warm days in short sleeves. I rode in downpours so heavy I could hardly see. I rode with the wind in my hair and a smile on my face, I rode choking back tears. I rode past parades, police barricades, through protests. The evening after Trump won in 2016, I pulled over on my way home to walk my bike amid a crowd of people carrying signs and marching, similarly lost and disheartened. I rode past person after person in crisis. There was the barefoot woman pulling up her dress to pee on the curb in broad daylight. The homeless man who sat each winter morning atop the steam vent at 4th Street. The guy with the megaphone screaming about god. The drug dealers, the crackheads, the staggering and stammering mentally ill I’d passed so many times I recognized them. I’d stop at the red lights and look around. Sometimes my heart melted, other times I wanted to scream and turn away.

Tourists loved to ask directions from me as I waited at red lights. I always paused to help. Try this place for food, go that way to Union Square or that way to the Castro, have a great day. As I rode, Market street transformed. It evolved from a cyclist’s nightmare to the incredible car-free bike route it is now. The monstrous boarded up building at 10th Street was remodeled and became my new office. I was too lazy to take my bike into the basement to the bike room so I locked it right out front on Market. Once I completely forgot to lock it up. It was still there when I came out of the office at 5pm, which was either a miracle or a sign that my bike was worthless. When I got a shiny new ride years later I was much more careful, but twice I caught someone trying to cut my lock. When I got pregnant in 2017, I kept biking. We adjusted my seat and handlebars and I rode right up to my due date. And when I had Jude, I got a bike he could ride in too, dropping him at daycare and then pedaling off to work. When Slack’s offices closed in 2020 as the pandemic hit, I couldn’t fathom working from home and got a membership to WeWork downtown and kept riding. For months it felt like I was the only one pedaling down Market at 9am day after day. Yesterday I was at a red light when a motorcycle skidded out in the intersection in front of me, throwing the rider onto the pavement. I’m the kind of person who stops and I ran over to call 911. I was late for a meeting but stuck around until the police arrived. In some ways it was just another ride to work for me, albeit a more dramatic one than normal, but it made me pause and realize what this part of my day has meant to me all these years. In leaving my career in San Francisco, I am leaving this too, this connection I have had to the city all these years. Market Street isn’t pretty, but through all the offices, job titles, bosses, relationships and dramas in my life for ten years, this commute was my one constant. As I get ready to leave this whole chapter of my life, this strip of road is the most tangible thing I can grab onto. I’ve always had Market Street. And now I won’t.

After having ridden this stretch of road more than 5,000 times, tomorrow I’ll ride it one last time. I’ll shoulder my backpack and buckle my helmet. I’ll weave down the trashed alley behind Safeway and cross onto the bike lane, then switch into high gear to try and hit all the greens. I’ll cross the muni tracks at an angle and dodge the drunks at civic center. I’ll pass the slow buses and the Powell Street trolley turnaround, and I’ll hand in my laptop and get my last paycheck.

And then I’ll put on my headphones and my favorite playlist, and I guess I’ll take off from there. A different road is calling.

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