Sutro Baths, Time Maybe Well Spent

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I wake up on weekends and don’t want to fall back asleep. Sometimes it’s 9 o’clock, sometimes 6:30 a.m.—even if the very moment I open my eyes they’re already sinking back, retreating into their sockets like someone pulling the sheets back over their head against the morning light—I just, to quote Steven Tyler, don’t want to miss a thing.

And it always backfires. Because no matter how many pots of tea or mugs of coffee I sip throughout the day, by early evening my body is already dragging, my mind winding down, eyelids heavy once more. And I’ve missed out on time where I could be doing.

There’s just so much to do. There are some people who accomplish more than I could ever fathom—and they have just as much, and likely more, going on than I. I always feel like there’s not enough time in the day to do some things, and so, very often, end up doing nothing at all. But not nothing in the sense that I put down whatever device or magazine I’m holding and just breathe or blink; I do nothing in the sense of scrolling, watching, skimming. I see these as distractions, and they feel more harmful than truly doing nothing; the only time I ever let my mind meander, unfocused, is occasionally on the bus or when walking home or at lunch—maybe I’ll even pull out my ear buds, silencing a podcast or Hamilton.

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This worry of not accomplishing anything goes further than ticking off tasks or TV shows. It’s part of the reason that I hold onto things for so long; my dresser is crowded with empty boxes or sometimes wilted flowers, my floor with crisped fallen petals. I don’t want to think that I’ll have missed the opportunity to make use of them.

During a work trip to California, the man-dude running a flower stand at the Sacramento Farmers’ Market told me to take a bouquet of his sunflowers. I declined in high-pitched babbling, unable to find the simple words explaining that I would be on the road for the next few days, that they would be kind of inconvenient, but I do appreciate the offer and they’re beautiful and thanks for letting me take photos of your roses okay bye now. Finally, after joking that he’d chase me down with them if I didn’t just take them, I shut up and accepted, returning to my group and looking like a fool who thought it would be cute to buy flowers at a farmers’ market #forthegram. I carted the bunch from city to city, careful not to pile my luggage on them in the van, immediately placing them in a half-full water bottle near my hotel window. I held on to them until the moment I checked out in San Francisco, though not until I added a filtered Boomerang onto my Instagram story.

I had one day to myself in San Francisco. After scrolling through Google Maps, I saw a site marked Sutro Baths at the westernmost tip of the city where things were named Land’s End and Cliff House, if that gives you an idea of how far out this is from my hotel by Union Square. Now in ruins, this circa 1896, expansive public bathhouse once held seven saltwater swimming pools. Sweet, sign me up. I also wanted to visit Samovar Tea Bar in The Mission. And I decided to walk the entire way, because it was a beautiful day, I love to walk, and am insane, I suppose, because the whole trip from my hotel to Samovar to the Sutro Baths would total about three hours. But like I said, I like to walk—though I shouldn’t say I’m insane. I just tend to make poor decisions.

There was a point before I reached the water that a touch of panic (not merely the familiar frantic energy my body seems to run on daily) began to set in. I could see the hill drop off, so I knew my destination was nigh, but it occurred to me that maybe I’d been wasting my time. (I mean, there is no doubt that walking two-plus hours instead of taking a twenty minute bus was a waste of time.)

I had been so set on seeing everything; what if something exceptional had happened in Golden Gate Park? How would I know what I was missing if I didn’t walk the entire (freaking) thing? But I took a wrong turn, weaved in and out, and, yes, I had a nice moment requesting “Over the Rainbow” from saxophonist while munching on cookies and orange slices, but all for what? I enjoyed that moment, sure, but close on its heels was the reminder that I had a goal that I was not meeting: to reach the baths.

But, a few blocks past the point where my feet were finally tiring (which, really, is impressive considering my flat feet pounding the pavement in my well-worn Converse, thanks very much), I saw it. Murky stretching sand and crashing waves—the way Vancouver whitecaps just don’t gather and break. The beach.

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I never really thought I was one who craved to be near the water. But maybe that’s because, living in a suburb rather than properly on the coast, I’ve always been in close enough proximity to get my fix but not notice its absence when I’m without. But what flooded me when the cool ocean breeze skimmed my skin was a combination of feeling at home and that awe that puts this dumb, slack-jawed smile on my face when I happen upon natural vistas like these. (Cloud-shrouded mountains and gradient sunrises and sets have lately had this effect on me.) Or maybe I was just overly relieved to finally have arrived at my destination, and maybe sit down for a moment.

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I didn’t sit, of course—I don’t know how to stop moving; it’s why I miss most things. I did lean on the stone half-wall that opened onto the shores. To gather my thoughts, to figure out what to do next, but I also consciously made the effort to enjoy this moment. And maybe that’s the wrong way to go about it—to force yourself to carpe fucking diem, you anxious asshole—but I think that reminder is what I need. To grab myself by the collar before I dash off to the next thing, and just revel in all that’s happening in the present moment.

Of course, I took a shit ton of photos because three hours is a long way to walk and the Internet is going to going to have proof I made it all this way, goddammit.

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Stray thoughts: It’s strange to see something that once belonged indoors exposed to the world. Like a decrepit infinity pool, the baths seemed to simultaneously drop off and extend into the gulf beyond. I keep walking, like a languid Forrest Gump, except I feel like I miss important events (I was known as Blitz in my first year of university) which has probably contributed to my trying to experience every little thing. This is peace.

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Here, have some San Fran houses.

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