Writer’s note: I was recently featured in an online zine compiled by my good friend Michael Kaiser! Called In Transit, this zine is a response to our ever-baffling world, where we talk about landscapes, relationships, photography, whisky, and maybe a bit of magic.
Read on for my piece about autumn in San Francisco. And if you haven’t already, be sure to check out In Transit. Enjoy!
Autumn is brutal. As the temperature dips, the days grow shorter, and the rain begins to tumble from the clouds, San Francisco slows down and readies itself for a sleepier existence. The changing mood also makes it easier for me to notice a particular architectural building style in the city. Rising out of the ground, contorted in seemingly impossible shapes, and dominated by the gray of its raw concrete, Brutalist buildings at once fill me with awe and forlornness. Brutalism is the epitome of the fall season.
Brutalism crept into building designs after World War II and became the go-to style for many buildings in public spaces. The usage of concrete and lack of ornamentation was an honest, realistic response to the horrors of war and a tepid look towards a better future. However, after a brief period of popularity, Brutalism fell out of fashion. Over the years, its buildings continued to stand, despite being ravaged by time and largely forgotten.
Brutalism is a good stand-in for the fall season. Like those cold buildings, autumn is a time of truth, where the frivolities of summer start to be stripped away. It’s often overlooked in favor of the flashier seasons – spring’s rebirth, winter’s holiday festivities, and summer’s fun. But there’s a beauty to the rawness of autumn, much like there’s a beauty to the rawness of concrete.
Autumn is the wind. Not the summer gusts of wind meeting you on your way out from work, blasting in between the high rises in the Financial District and almost propelling you on to the next big thing. You’ll know autumn wind when you feel it. It’s the gentle cold that meets you as you step into the street balancing your hamper of clothes while walking to the laundromat. It’s the prickly feeling that bombards your face and hands as you ride your bike down Market Street. It’s the smell of fresh air after the first rain of the season.
Gone are the days of t-shirt weather. It’s time to whip out the Nano Puffs and Heattech crewnecks. San Francisco gets some of the cleanest sea-breeze air in the region from its proximity to the water, and at no time is this more distinctly felt than during the fall. The cool wind also works with the incoming rain to refresh the city after a summer of strenuous activity.
What I absolutely love about the autumn wind is its clarifying effect. When the wind picks up and I can feel it to the last bone, my mind goes into overdrive and I’m able to sense my surroundings more clearly. Whatever mental fog that cluttered my mind from earlier in the day is gone. There’s a physical and mental clarity that comes with the autumn wind, much like the season itself.
Autumn is whisky. “Guys, this is an Islay Scotch – you’ll get a ton of smokiness and it might taste like the deck of a gunship. It’s also been aged 10 years.” We were sitting in the community room of a Mission Bay apartment, a group of friends at whisky night. “And this one is from Japan. The distillery actually imported Coffey stills from Scotland and came up with this fruity Scotch-style grain whisky.”
Whisky has a long and storied history, associated with the fall harvest as early distillers picked the highest-quality barley and grains and followed a years-long approach to create the perfect batch of whisky. Good whisky can’t be rushed, and the process is as much an art as it is a science.
What other spirit fits the autumn vibe this perfectly? Aged in oak barrels, whisky is as earthy as it comes, often taking on the flavors of smoke from the peat-fueled ovens where its ingredients are first dried. It’s a drink that’s enjoyed in a toasty room while reading a book or around the campfire while chatting about life. As the leaves start changing colors, it’s also a good time to sit back and enjoy a dram of amber-hued whisky.
Autumn is friends. In a city as transient as San Francisco, it’s easy to feel alone in a crowd of people as we rush day-in and day-out to get to work, meet-ups, workouts, and the next thing on the list. It’s also hard to find our footing in a place filled with so much success and prosperity. We look around and everyone seems to have it all figured out. Family support certainly helps, but chances are, we didn’t move into the city with our families. Loneliness and uncertainty – we all feel these things as we try to figure out life. Thank God for friends.
Sure, those fun trips, memorable meals, and late nights often form much of the shared experiences with friends. But like a tree that loses its leaves in the autumn, the true test of friendship is seen after the surface stuff is stripped away. Friendship goes much deeper and is seen at the roots. True friends are there to ground us, reminding us to slow down, enjoy each other’s company, and love ourselves, despite our imperfections and insecurities. Having good friends makes all the difference in the world as we struggle to navigate life in the city.
Let’s face it. Autumn is not an easy season. In many cultures, it signals the melancholic transition from the carefreeness of summer to the harshness of winter. Yet it has such an allure. Fall is a time of truth, clarity, harvest, and friendships. It’s confident in its own beauty and purpose, and that in itself is enough.