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Steve Hansen: City life was a change after growing up in the suburbs

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Posted: Tuesday, November 26, 2013 12:00 am

What’s it like moving to San Francisco after a life in the suburbs? That’s what my folks did in the latter half of the 1960s. We had not known the hustle and bustle of residing in a big city until my father became a professor and department head at the University of California, San Francisco.

The first thing we noticed about city life was the constant noise throughout the day and far into the night.

There were the sounds of automobile traffic, delivery trucks, buses, motorcycles and, of course, the regular clanging of cable cars. People strolled up and down the sidewalks while engaged in various conversations. Occasionally, an alcohol-inspired argument erupted.

Of course, there was a feeling of being on top of one another, and literally, that was the case. One could reach out and touch the building next door. Hearing the conversations of various occupants was commonplace — especially on a warm night.

Some interesting neighbors resided in the apartment above us. At one time, Sidney Poitier lived there. My father used to get irritated when my sisters heard the upstairs front door slam. They would run to my parent’s bedroom that faced the street and look out the bay window — just to see if they could get a glimpse of the famous thespian.

“The City” was a popular place in those days for moviemakers. “Dirty Harry” adventures were filmed there. Part of the car chase in “Bullitt,” staring Steve McQueen, was staged just down our street.

Mysterious happenings in that upstairs apartment took place as well. One year, during Thanksgiving dinner, we heard the movement of furniture above the ceiling. That was strange, as my mother knew no one was home. At first, we doubted our senses. However, all heard it, so Mom called the police.

They soon arrived on the scene but were somewhat skeptical of the report. My mother had a key and gave it to one of the officers. Upon opening the door, they could hear commotion coming from the rear of the dwelling. Their skepticism quickly disappeared.

K-9 officers were called with guns drawn. A beautiful German shepherd was sent to investigate. But the noise suddenly stopped, and the dog returned to the entrance as if nothing had happened. A thorough search by the officers revealed nothing as well.

The event still remains unexplained today.

The best parts of San Francisco were the various cultural activities and the numerous quality restaurants. There was always plenty to see and do. Also, our flat had a magnificent view — spanning from the Golden Gate to the Bay Bridge.

But parking was always a problem — especially in front of our home. If a car was regularly on the street, it was just a matter of time until it was burglarized or dented by careless people parking their banged-up Barracudas, Buicks or similar beasts.

My parents lived in that Russian Hill flat for a number of years, until the landlord decided to convert the building to a condominium. That wasn’t so bad, except he wanted to be in control of everyone as if they were still renting. The stingy businessman even planned to personally regulate the temperature of each unit!

That was enough for my dad, and he quickly looked for a dwelling elsewhere. My folks found a new townhouse built on virgin land near the university hospital that was once owned by the Catholic Church. It was an amazing oasis in the middle of a concrete and wood-framed jungle. The spot was located in a part of the city where wildlife still roamed.

The same feeling of suburban living was found in a place where it was least expected. No longer was noise or parking a problem, although their panoramic view was traded for a weed and eucalyptus-covered hillside.

Looking back, I could never get used to people being slammed into small spaces and the stressful pace of big city life. It’s true that there is something exciting about urban activity. But for me, it just doesn’t beat the relaxed living, the ease of parking and the personal freedom that relatively quiet and small suburban atmospheres provide.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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