The view from my borrowed balcony in Pacific Heights is amazing. Houses stretch up the hill to my right, with Russian Hill straight ahead. Off to the left is the bay, with a bridge spanning it, and Alcatraz Island. If I step out on the rickety wooden balcony and lean on the railing, I feel surrounded by the city, charged up with potential energy.
I am in San Francisco for an internship with a magazine I read about in Newsweek, then contacted after visiting their site. I have never felt so fulfilled. I am actually helping, building things, writing, editing, promoting and doing. All of the people I meet want to be there — no one is just plodding along — and the end result is stellar, something I feel proud to be involved with in even a small way.
I can see the television inside a stranger’s apartment. He has a big-screen TV, and it’s always on at night, playing MTV and cartoons. I don’t have a TV. I’m staying in a mansion that has been converted to a bed-and-breakfast. Many of the residents are eccentric. The saner ones hang out together. I am only 20 and lack a fake ID, so I cannot go to bars and clubs, but when they return from nights out we will climb the ladder from the third-floor balcony, which requires some complicated and risky maneuvering on the rickety wooden railing of the balcony, then a leap to the ladder’s bottom rungs. From there it is safe, just up to the roof without losing your grasp — plummeting to your death a certainty if you did — and over the edge onto the beige gravel and scrambling toward the middle.
It is perfect up here. We drink, and stare at the stars, and dream of the marvelous things that must lie in store for us. We are out of time, removed from it. We could stay here forever and never age. But the summer ends, we climb down from the roof, and I pack up my things and call a cab at 4 in the morning. I climb into the car and leave the city behind before it even knows I’ve gone.