San Francisco Bay has always seemed impenetrable to me; it’s impossible to see what lurks in those murky, grey-green depths. And there isn’t much reason to venture into the water; it’s cold, sharky, polluted, and subject to riptides and swift-moving currents. The Bay is not a good place for people. Over the years, I’ve relegated it in my mind to a sort of big, grey sidewalk.
There seems to be a kind of disconnect between the vast majority of San Franciscans and the water that flows around three sides of the city; few of us rely on it for sustenance, recreation, or ritual. As waterfront industries declined and tourism increased, our working relationship with the bay and ocean has all but vanished. Though in recent years there seems to be a rise in the number of surfers, and the repurposed Chrissy Field has brought people in closer proximity to the Bay, our cultural connection to the water seems to have been lost.
Fisherman’s Wharf is now, in essence, a 3-block buffer zone that discourages residents from interacting with the Bay. Goods and services on the Wharf are completely geared toward visitors, not residents. Unless you subsist on burgers from the Rainforest Cafe and clam chowder in sourdough bowls, and work selling fleeces or begging for change, it doesn’t offer much. (Quick, someone spend a month living on the Wharf and write a book about it.)
Last year, when I still lived in North Beach, I started walking to the Wharf to clear my head. I’d pass by the tourist shops to get to the piers. I’d walk by the few companies that still gut and clean fish for wholesale, huge barn doors opening on scenes of men in rubber boots, elbow deep in trays of ice and bloody fish innards. I’d see the tiny fisherman’s chapel, perched on its pilings out over the water.