I generally do my stretching on the lawn in front of the Conservatory of Flowers. Golden Gate Park, on John F. Kennedy Blvd, begins here. Painted white, like a white-painted sand castle, the Conservatory stands in stark contrast to the patches of Crayola Crayon Colored flowers scattered around the lawn. The whole scene is woven with the sounds of picnic conversation, wind, the beat of runner’s feet, the humming of bike tires, and the clicking of cameras.
Running from the conservatory, the tall brown trees with dark green tops sway with the breeze like elephants marching to the sea. On the left is the brown battleship building of the De Young museum, and across the field, the glass-front Science Museum. In between the two museums is the music concourse with knobby trees that look like the knuckles of rising fist. This is a no-man’s land of tourists, dog walkers, wanderers, and Tai Chi practitioners. From above, in the DeYoung’s observation deck, they are black dots, bumping into one another and walking in circles.
On Sundays, if you look to the right, you’ll see a roller skate dance party straight from the summer of 1985, complete with fluorescent-colored shorts and sweat pants. A lot of naked torsos and bouncing pig tails disco-roller- skate-dancing in funky circle 8’s. Each person dances alone like giddy 16 year olds rehearsing for the prom alone in their rooms. If you look to the left, you’ll see an organized, chaotic cloud of people doing the Charleston to swing music swinging from large speakers.
The rose garden on your right brings with it rose gazers who are holding hands, with hands behind backs, hands in pockets, hands tempting the thorns, and hands holding a rose at its base like it’s a glass of wine up to their nose. The scent of roses mixing with the smoke from BBQs and cigarettes is Valentines Day on fire.
I have run past couples kissing, children fighting, dogs roaming. I have seen bikers yelling at cars, cars yelling at me. Once, as I crossed one of the streets, a man in a truck lurched forward as I jogged through the crosswalk, and then stopped. I put my open palm up toward him in the universal sign for “thank you,” and he – five o’clock shadowed and baseball capped, – with a blank expression on his face, calmly flipped me off.
After the museums, the park flattens out and passes a scattering of fields filled with a swimming mix of families, and hobos, animals and sometimes what appears to be a mixture of both.
Airplanes buzz above, cars and motorcycles sputter on the street, and thousands of conversations in hundreds of languages collide together, creating a high energy white noise that is impossible to hear and impossible to ignore.
Starting from the Conservatory of Flowers, at every mile there is a water fountain. This is a great thing for a runner, but what makes Golden Gate Park special is that each water fountain is equipped with a spigot set high for adult humans, a spigot set a little lower for children humans, and then a spigot set at the ground level for dogs. While I can guess that Auggie loves the park for the respect they give him with the fountains, I’m sure the myriad smells of dog piss, garbage, food, people and plants all wafting in the air are even more intriguing. Regardless, he trots through the park with his nose perched high, sniffing and trying to take in all of the air at once.
The first set of fountains is located at the overpass at Crossover Drive. Beyond the overpass, JFK slopes downward, past a waterfall with green water letting out into Loyd Lake. On the far side of the lake are two disjointed Greek columns. This is a ruin of a snapped off porch from a Nob Hill House destroyed in the 1906 earthquake; the only one of its kind, strangely. The casual runner should be weary here, as it has been rumored to house spirits, and many people claim to have seen ghostly floating orbs gliding on top of the green water.
To the trained eye, JFK’s side of the park becomes less pruned, and grows wilder. The trees hang over the running path like frozen waves.
Behind the trees, between 25th ave and 30th Ave, and between Fulton and JFK Blvd is a long strip of land laced with paths, hills, and mounds reserved for Frisbee golfers to “tee off” from. These are the goateed cargo short wearing guys, and their reluctant girlfriends. They emerge onto JFK, and into their Subaru Outbacks , or pickup trucks with eyelids at half-mass, and hovering under a cloud of pot-smoke and beer-breath-stink.
I have seen a crazy man, waving an umbrella over his head like a sword and, as I passed him, he said “I’ll kill you all.”
Continue on JFK, and the runner descends down a slight slope toward Spreckels Lake, a large pool of water that, during the weekends, is the second home for man-children with their model yachts, bobbing in the water like miniature society people. At times there will be small speedboats, skidding and humming along the water. When one of the speedboats capsizes (which is often), you will see a fully-grown man holding a fishing pole with a tennis ball attached at the end of the fishing line. He will cast his ball continuously until it hooks on the boat and either turns it right side up, or drags it to shore, where the fully-grown man will polish the boat and fill it with gas.
At Spreckels, there is another set of fountains for adults, children and dogs.
Keep running for about a quarter of a mile, and the Bison Paddock opens up like a daydream. The prehistoric looking bison stand up to six feet tall with brown and black hair hanging off of them in clumped, matted sheets. They march regally with no recollection that they used to run this town before we showed up.
After the Bison, the park darkens with shadows. The lighter shades of apple green turn to a deep forest green, and the moisture from the ocean fills the air like smoke. There are less people in this section of the park, and the steep downward slope near the golf course gives the runner the sensation of descending into some kind of a new world. As the golf course breezes by on the right, the trees open up to the grey, mossy brick windmill, standing tall and immaculate, surrounded by hundreds of brightly colored tulips; reds, whites and yellows hugging the base and framed by green grass. The whole scene looks like something out of Alice in Wonderland.
I then turn around and head back uphill to see the whole scene in reverse, and the backsides of all the glory.