I awaken in the dark in a hotel on Powell Street and look at the clock. It’s the middle of the night downtown and even in the late dark the city throbs and hums.
Outside my window, glass crashes into metal as liquor bottles are recycled to make room for the next day’s empties. The truck motor growls as it processes its haul, then moves on to trawl other fertile ground.
From five floors up I can clearly hear a chorus of men singing “Happy Birthday” as they leave a bar. They’re feeling no pain as they celebrate with a friend on this Wednesday night. Closing time.
Car horns beep–just taps, really. This is, of course, not Manhattan. Drivers in San Francisco are bit more patient. A little bit, anyway.
The grinding of cart wheels on pavement tell me goods are arriving. They could be anything, shoes or foodstuffs or clothing. I can hear the sidewalk door panels’ metallic bang as they open to the city’s underbelly…what’s under those hinged doors we tread across every day?
A cable car clangs and I wonder how late they run. It’s been a long time since I’ve taken one up and down the hills of the city. Note to self: take a cable car soon.
Something is grinding like a saw on metal. What construction or destruction could be going on at this hour? The city, it seems, never sleeps. Not at all.
Trucks beep their back-up signals. During the day, streets at Union Square are wall to wall with people and cars. Nightworkers must find it so much easier to navigate the city while we sleep.
Just yesterday cars illegally parked meant my taxi driver couldn’t find a place to let me off. He stopped on cable car tracks as I paid him, making a cable car driver yell “That isn’t a parking space, you know!” There are few parking spaces downtown during the day, but at night vehicles can slip into a spot easily.
Even so, the beat of the city continues at night, the pulse slower but still thrumming, beat by beat.
At home I’m out like a light when my head hits my pillow, but staying down is a challenge. Most nights I awaken after a few hours. In the silence of the suburban dark I toss and turn until finally, I take a small bite of pill, let it dissolve under my tongue and soon it carries me back to slumber.
But in the noisy city night, I have no such problems. The cable car bell is my sleeping potion and the affirmation that life goes on –even when I’m not conscious– relaxes me and before long, I’m asleep until dawn.
There are few certainties in life but that it goes on.