San Francisco, the New York of the west, the home of sunshiny fog blended in with a cool breeze. If one keeps to the popular parts, it smells of burnt sawdust and hot grease at worst, fresh roasted coffee at best. Escape the gentrified yet still hip theme park and it is any other American city, swimming in the unnoticed.
The train squawks in, a rush of dirty air enveloping the platform. Each station has a unique identity, a different tinge of squalor and rust, sometimes the smells of sausages being cooked on the sidewalk clashing with the salt sea air coming in over the hills; in seconds it has become still replaced with organic human movement sprinkled with the occasional cyclist breaking the smooth flow.
Many times there is a figure, not quite a person, hauntingly vacant, pacing the yellow tiles on the edge. The figure will make exclamations not quite yelling but not a whisper either: “She is here. Find me my penguin mister. Spare change?” A disembodied quiet voice will come in from the ceiling reminding the figure matter of factly to watch his step and please not fall on the tracks; all with the self-loathing tone of a substitute teacher corralling middle school children. The figure’s anguish is only noticed when it threatens a commute or might disturb the children. Later it’s shadow will be crumpled next to the escalator surrounded by needles, drooling, entirely ignored.
Many residents choose to hide from all of this by jumping from coffee shop to brunch to bar in the insulated comfort of electronically summoned chariots. A pane of glass separates their existence from the life of the street, the bus, and the sidewalk making sure all they smell is whatever freshener their human robot driver has hung from the mirror. When they arrive at their destination they quickly hop out not even acknowledging who got them there.
Citizens participate in the city, interacting with it as they move about, growing as they see new things. When times are hard or the weather is gloomy, they still keep moving and absorbing. They notice the shadowy figures on the fringe of existence and acknowledge they exist. Citizens have a beat and learn the beat of others, they notice when the block seems off, they see when a man hasn’t moved in days, and they help him find his penguin if it keeps him off of the platform edge for one more day.