Don’t Be a Douche – Stories From Lombard Street

Originally, I thought I’d write a post about the proper etiquette of traveling.  However, that term makes me feel like Dean Wormer, throwing on the wet blanket of moralistic preening while furiously finger-wagging at a list of rules that I made up, which I’m going to hashtag and Facebook-share to death until I lose all my friends and my family disowns me.  But, I do think that one needs to check themselves when visiting a new place.  A simple axiom is probably all that is needed. “Don’t be a Douche.”  I’ve been trying to work on a couple of bumper sticker-ready slogans:

  • “When you’re a guest in someone else’s home, scrape the shit off of your shoes — Don’t be a Douche”
  • “Leave no Trace – That Includes Your Segway’s Tracks — Don’t be a Douche”
  • “Wash off the Drakkar, You’re Just Made My Sister Have a Seizure — Don’t be a Douche”
  • “Your Selfie In Front of That Statue Just Stole Our Ancestors’ Souls — Don’t be a Douche”

Here’s a recent example of how if you just followed this simple axiom, a whole neighborhood wouldn’t have to petition their local government to get them to do something about you by law.  This week, the MTA in San Francisco is looking to close down Lombard Street to street traffic in the summer.  In other words, you wouldn’t be able to drive your car down “the Crookedest Street in the World.”  Why is this a problem? Living three blocks away from this iconic street, we get to enjoy the daily barrage of rental cars that line-up blocks away, sitting in line for an hour at a time, pumping exhaust more suited for the freeway than our homes, so that the wary intrepid soul can eventually spend less than 1 min making 4 lefts and 4 rights to go down Lombard Street.  They don’t even need to turn the dial down Kanye’s latest aural abomination on the radio.  “Honey look!  Can you believe how crooked this street is?  OMG!  It is soooo crooked.  SELFIE!” It creates, what the SF Chronicle describes as a “Circus Atmosphere.”

On Friday, the line didn’t extend quite as far, only reaching Larkin Street. But the scene was circus-like. Cars, pickup trucks, bikes, skateboards, Segways and those little yellow GoCars cruising down the brick road through the hairpin turns. Pedestrians crowded the stairways and some wandered onto the curves of the street. Passengers popped their heads out of sunroofs and leaned out side windows to snap photos or hoot and holler. Others blared music.

At the top and bottom of the block, clots of cars, some double-parked, joined with people taking photos to occasionally block the streets. One visitor grabbed a large rock from a nearby planter and tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to ride it down the cable car tracks on Hyde Street.

With the news that the MTA might actually put up the “Road Closed” signs, some travelers aren’t so happy with it:

“I think it would ruin, for some people, visiting San Francisco,” said Ryan Heffner, 22, of Davidson, N.C., who had just taken a ride through the curves. “It’s part of the experience.”

His father, John Heffner, 54, who handled the driving through the tight turns, said it would seem odd for the city to shut down a landmark that attracts tourists.

“It would be like closing down any of the other attractions of the city,” he said.

What the Heffners seem to be missing, is that this road isn’t a tourist attraction.  It is a street that was designed that way, so that the actual people, who actually live in the real homes on the street, could get their actual cars in and out of there without actually dying on the 22-degree slope. The residents here know that people like coming to Lombard Street to walk around and take pictures.  In fact, we think it is cool that people enjoy it.  It does look odd and the views are incredible.  But the issue we have is that people are not following the “Don’t be a Douche” axiom.  Now the city is stepping in and saying, no more. Don’t fret future San Francisco travelers.  You won’t have to apply the white-out on your Lonely Planet book and remove Lombard Street.  It doesn’t need to be driven down to enjoy it.  You can preferably find your way to Lombard Street via public transit, Lyft, Uber or cab.  Or, you can **gasp** walk there.  Here’s a local’s tip: San Francisco is the best seen on foot. You can then walk the streets.  It gives you much more time, so that you can take in and enjoy the views instead of breathing car exhaust and staring at break lights.  Also, you might get an opportunity to chat with some of the people that actually live here, instead of breezing by in your car so you can hurry over to the Rainforest Cafe on Fisherman’s Wharf.  We all gain from that scenario and are glad you came to visit.  We might even invite you to our leather bondage dungeon later that night if you’re lucky. Please, please, with sugar on top, “Don’t be a Douche.”

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