City night beat

February 27, 2015

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.

25 comments on “City night beat
  1. Your struggles with staying asleep at home sound like mine Carol. I sleep the best when I’m out of town.

  2. There’s nothing like my own bed and pillow, but even there I have no guaranty of a good night’s sleep. These days I use an eye mask, ear plugs and a sound machine. Very sexy! I long for the old days when I’d put my head on the pillow and was out for at least 8 hours!

  3. Becky Blades says:

    You really took me there, Carol. City sounds are not for everyone, but you made them sound like a lullaby.

  4. Carol Graham says:

    I love the noises of the city at night but it has been a long time since I have heard them. I fall asleep when my head hits the pillow, wake up 6 – 7 hours later in the same position. Kinda scary because I never hear a thing during the night and never move.

  5. I also sleep the best when not at home! But, when I was younger I would sit up in the windows of big city hotels and watch the street life. Coming from small places in Texas, it fascinated me to watch people on city streets all night long. Now, it is nice to sleep to the hum of that life…as you say it is reassuring!

  6. Jen says:

    Lovely – makes me miss San Francisco. It’s been many years since I was last there. I don’t think it matters where I sleep – I just don’t much sleep, and I’ve been really struggling with it the last 2.5 weeks as a shoulder injury due to a car accident isn’t allowing me to remotely get comfortable.

  7. Ah the white noise of a city…always so soothing! I always like something in the background.

  8. What a lovely picture you paint. I love the city of San Francisco and dream of returning soon!

  9. PatU says:

    It seems odd that my NYC night time sound memories would not be of sirens, despite living not so far from a Fire Station and a Police Station. We lived on a busy street in Eastern Queens, Springfield Blvd and right on a bus stop.

    I have very clear memories of “bus sounds,” as what I heard before drifting off to sleep. I guess I could say my bedroom was on the bus stop!

    I remember the sound of the Q3A lumbering up to the curb, PSssssH of the air brakes, the flapping sound of the door opening. After the time it took for someone to exit the bus, the door would flap back shut. Almost simultaneously with the sound of acceleration, there was the “Ding” as someone putted the cord for the next stop. Just about every 20 minutes until after 10 PM.

    On a REALLY still night, I could also hear the mechanism in the control box that ran the traffic lights.

    Of course this would have been summer, when every window in our un-airconditioned house was flung open.

  10. Lovely! You brought me there… though certainly did NOT put me to sleep. Fantastic imagery—I could see and hear the city.

  11. I’ve never been to San Francisco but would love to go. I can’t sleep either if it is totally silent–I need white noise in order to fall asleep peacefully.

  12. Lisa Froman says:

    This was a lovely piece. I am excited about my trip there this summer. I will be staying at the W Hotel. Looking forward to it all!!!!

  13. When I lived in Manhattan, I always slept well to the sounds of the city. Now, in the suburbs of Southern California, I’m like you – I fall asleep fast but am up a few hours later and can’t fall asleep again for a while. Maybe we an find a city sounds app!

  14. Carolann says:

    Funny, I grew up with the noise of the city all around me. Now that I live in the country, I much prefer it over the blasting noises of city life. I still wake up every few hours though lol. You just can’t win. Nice article…made me miss my hometown.

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