Outbound to Shipyard (19 Polk)

Outbound to Shipyard (19 Polk)

Promotional maps of San Francisco

are often comically distorted,

seldom-televised western avenues have been

compacted to a fraction of their true size.

Sardine streets have been crammed into a can of relative obscurity,

Golden Gate Park absurdly squeezed in a cartographic vise,

if not actually omitted.

Fisherman’s Wharf is never left off:

there’s a chocolate factory, an aquarium,

mechanical wonders, wax museum, trinkets galore,

even a real submarine from World War Two.

One quarter of the city fills these flyers, same as

the tip of the iceberg, while off the page,

submerged under turbulent chop and white caps

is the rest of San Francisco.

These tourist maps will hardly ever

show the southern half of the city at all.

Because the line for the Cable Car is too long

a visitor from abroad boards the 19 Polk at Ghirardelli Square,

motoring over Russian Hill and down into the Tenderloin

determined to cross the neatline of this map

fringed by tourist trap advertisements.

Driven through several extremes of the city

the theme park piers

homes manicured for cameras

views oriented toward opulence

wealth and the status of consumption

poor folks deterred from sleep by cleated alcoves

the hard living gallery of drug markets

the seedy gilded center of civic government

the bus plows past all this, through South of Market, over Potrero Hill,

past the sewage treatment plant and into Bayview and Hunters Point.

Yet all along the outbound trip

the driver cheerfully greets

a growing cast of people

heading home after a day at work,

a clutch of skaters is laughing

under their breath so as not to wake

a child dozing on her father's lap.

The bus passes the end of the sidewalk

the gleaming highrise skyline of the City shimmers in the distance

behind fading signs fixed to chain link fencing that warn of irradiated soil

yellow medallions that may as well be symbols

in terra incognita on the tourist map meaning: Here Be Dragons.

This far shoreline is the wasteland remnant of wartime industry

from the last century, the rubble of the shipyards of World War Two

where liberty ships were laid as keels and launched to sea in under a week.

And where battleships blasted at Bikini Atoll were brought to be broken to bits

in grim laboratories examining the fallout effects.

At the extreme end of the city, near the gargantuan gantry crane

collapsing warehouses and ruined factory foundations

even here in what feels to the visitor the farthest place

imagination could devise from the manic whimsy of Fisherman’s Wharf

there are artists studios, a cafe and shop

and the homes of the 19 Polk passengers

who daily ride north into the territory of tourists brochures.

It should be drawn on the map.