she is dressed in a pinstripe pantsuit, a straw hat and she has a navy blue eyepatch over her left eye. but the first thing i notice is the way she holds the terracotta pot. she cradles it like an earthenware infant. she does not coo or coddle or shush it, but it would not surprise me if she did.
she doesn’t walk like most people. she strides, wide-legged like a swaggering cowboy, taking up as much of the sidewalk as she possibly can. i dodge her as i emerge from the french cafe on Columbus.
she clutches the terracotta pot to her chest and recoils in disdain as i try to navigate my way around her. i almost lose my croissant and take-away coffee in the process.
—make way! important business hee-ahh, she says in an obviously faked english accent.
—why certainly, ma’am, I reply, tipping an invisible hat, giving her my own version of the accent and stepping out of her way.
—are you from the old country? She sounds exactly as a Californian should now.
she looks me up and down reaches out to touch my hair. i don’t flinch. this is exactly the sort of weird shit i want to experience in this city. she examines my hair for a good twenty seconds, then smiles at me.
—what’s in the pot?
—important stuff, she says, for when the big one comes.
i can’t remember exactly how she put it, but inside the pot, underneath the dry soil was a seed. a seed of a new city. when san francisco is flattened by an earthquake, she will toss the terracotta pot into one of the cracks in the ground and a new city will germinate and bloom into an even better one. she made a point of telling me that the new city will be almost the same, but some ugly things like the transamerica pyramid won’t come back.
she is the first of a few eccentrics i will encounter in san francisco, but her idea about the seed of a city is so captivating and lovely i still find myself thinking about it.
after she tells me her plan, i nod approvingly and wish her luck. she swaggers away. and why shouldn’t she swagger? regrowing a city is a very important job.