Woody Grab Bag #004

Living with the fog in San Francisco, figuring out the identity of Vin the doghouse-maker, and a moving dormer window on a Haight-Ashbury apartment building.

Man praising fog
I'm a lot like this guy. (OpenSFHistory/wnp27.5578)

More from Woody LaBounty than you knew you needed.

In Praise of Fog

I think of July and “Fogust” as San Francisco’s version of the Montana winter or the Alabama summer: the litmus test of newcomer resolve. Hey, Mr. Newly Arrived Tech Worker, if you can't handle 28 straight overcast July days, perhaps you should move to Fremont. It’s not for everyone.

I love the fog. I’m not talking about overcast skies, but the ground-hugging, spitting, skin-soaking alive fog that prowled every summer of my youth.

Are all childhoods recalled in desaturated colors? My palette is very gray from growing up in the Richmond District. Riding our bikes west on Lake Street into the cotton balls of mist. The pinwheels of water spinning off tennis balls on the slick courts of Rochambeau playground. We called to each other in our games in Mountain Lake Park with whoops that imitated the ever-present foghorn bellows.

We all lived a damp life in the Richmond, Sunset District, Ocean View, and Ingleside. The carnivorous sea mists rotted away car bumpers and fenders. My friend Eamon lived a couple of blocks from Ocean Beach and had an old Volkswagen with a scary fog-bite out of the floor on its passenger side. When he gave me a ride to Sacred Heart High School I had to keep my feet wide apart and hold tight to my history book as the street concrete blurred beneath me.

The mist could miraculously dissolve around lunchtime, brightening and winking out in minutes, and then around 3 o’clock return to roll and roil over us again. I own such sharp memories of stepping out of SFO airport, returning from some place of sticky humidity or baking dryness, and savoring the sea-laced air on my face.

Foggy day
A fine day at the Legion of Honor in the early 1970s. (Dennis O'Rorke photograph)

We west-side Morlocks had no knowledge of the Elois in the Mission District, who sometimes lived whole weeks without the gray stuff. For a few years in the early 2000s I lived in Noe Valley. Many sunny afternoons I’d see a bank of cotton layered behind Twin Peaks, the white curtain plucking an ancestral call inside me to return. I’d almost feel guilty being warm. Moving back to the west side and Mr. Chill seriously made me whole again.

Either climate change or a trick of my memory has me sure that fog is a less frequent visitor now. In these latter years of fire smoke, high temperatures, and everyone AQI-watching, the moving marine layer is all I desire. It is the lost lover, the spurned hero banished by public disdain but promised to return when our need is great.