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Blog Posted in avatar   Jonathan Farrell's Blog

Walking Diagonally on Montgomery Street; memories of the Financial District of San Francisco

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By Jonathan Farrell
Posted Jul 20, 2012 in Lifestyle
Last week this reporter had an appointment in the Financial District. For San Francisco, our "Wall Street" is Montgomery Street. Starting at Market Street and going all the way to the North Beach District at Columbus Ave, Montgomery Street is the busy thoroughfare of major business in the City. Yet for a local like me the venture while business (journalism is my business) related, it was also a bit sentimental.
It was sentimental in the fact that it has been a while since I have been to Montgomery Street and going there stirred up memories of days not too long ago. (How long ago was 1997 to 2000?). Ah, that was the "dot com boom" days right?
Yet even before the dot com boom, the world as I knew it was changing. In the late 1980's and early '90's, I worked in many places in the financial district. Mostly on assignment with banks like Wells Fargo. Temp work had become the most available at the time and I was busy. Especially since I had decided to venture out and pursue creative endeavors over the social work career I had left behind.
As I walked down Montgomery I recalled all the assignments I had. In fact I was at Post and Montgomery when the Loma Prieta Earthquake hit in 1989. What an experience that was! That's another story. Yet back to my recollections of Montgomery Street. Each morning, as either the underground trolley would get me to work or the 71 bus made its way to downtown from "out in the Avenues" of the Sunset District, I would merge into the foot traffic that was and is the energy of the Financial District.
Whether it be at the intersection of Montgomery and Bush or Montgomery and Kearney, at some point the people walk diagonally across Montgomery Street. No matter how heavy the traffic, the flow just seemed to allow for that. And, each morning as the day began that was something I would ask myself "is this a San Francisco kind of thing?" "Surely, this doesn't happen in New York or Chicago?"
Even so, I like to think of it as something unique about Montgomery Street. For really, no matter how big San Francisco might get in terms of prominence, etc, it really is just a great big "small town."
Like my grandparents used to say, "Somebody, knows somebody, who knows somebody, who knows you." The social circles in San Francisco are really small when compared to other major cities, at least that has been my experience. Yet, one of the reasons why I stay in San Francisco is because this is where the world is. San Francisco is a great place to encounter the world and aspire to be a citizen of the world. (If one wants to quote ancient philosophers like Diogenes).
San Francisco's Financial District has a buzz all its own. While I never thought I would find myself in that arena working and making contacts; especially working for banks - the experience was both exhilarating and disappointing. All business both large and small is like that because it involves risks. And, as I walked I reminisced about the people I knew the buildings I worked in. As I walked passed Crocker Galleria on my way to Kearny, I thought of Jenny Lowe Harwood, a high school alum. She treated me to lunch once at the Crocker Galleria. That was when she was working at the McKeeson Building. I in turn, when I completed some unexpected but welcomed contract work, treated her to lunch at the Palace Hotel; in the Garden Court.
In fact, I ran into several of my high school chums while working in the Financial District (and other places). For a small high school in the Wine Country, (how I got there? Another story, for another time). It amazed me that I bumped into them. Yet, again I say it is because San Francisco is where the world is. And, whether my high school peers liked it or not, the City is where work is and were culture is.
Jenny Harwood was one of those classmates that I knew from freshman year and for the next four years we were in at least one class together for at least one semester. While I did not know Harwood very well, we always said "hi" and chatted from time to time on the way to or from classes.
So, running into her and others from high school was a surprise. Unfortunately Harwood died a few years ago from cancer. And, as I stopped for a moment I realized that the "80's generation" like me are not as "invincible" as we thought we were. And, a feeling of mortality swept over me for a few moments. "Where did that time go?"
"Where did the 1990's go and the dot com boom?" While the basic outline of Montgomery Street is recognizable to me and to anyone familiar with it, some of the trimmings, like logos, big names, etc. are gone. "Dean Witter, Washington Mutual, names that were seemly affixed to the awnings and signs along Montgomery Street are now gone, replaced with names like "Chase."
I remember when I worked at the Wells Fargo building at 425 Montgomery in the auditing department, one of the supervisors noted how little banks were being bought up by larger banks. The Internet was just an infant then and many if I recall were growing skeptical of the dot com boom and wondering exactly what was its true potential?
Oh and then there was the fear of what would happen to computer systems when the Year 2000 chimed in. Remember all those efforts to prevent a Y2K meltdown? Being there on Montgomery Street brought back all those memories. Some memories I'd rather forget like jobs that did not work out, massive filing and envelope stuffing that went on for weeks and data entry work that was so tedious, well I am sure many people can relate.
Yet there was lots of happy memories too, like the company lunch at Tommy Toy's. That was a treat and it was difficult going back to work that day, we all had so much fun.
There were dozens of memories that flooded back as I walked amid the hustle of people. To hear the distinctive bell-like rattling of the Cable Car tracks on California Street and to glance up the hill while walking by, those are standard and fill me with such an excitement and gratitude for being able to have had the opportunity to work in such an area.
My meeting went well and I walked back to the underground station to take the trolley back home. Yet on the way, I picked up some cookies at Specialty's Bakery and Cafe. They have the richest and most satisfying cookie around. Dense and full of chips and nuts, they are difficult to eat in just one or two bites. I usually can only eat half and safe the rest for later, that is how rich and delicious they are. Oh and they also make sandwiches too, with large slices (thick like Texas toast size) of fresh baked bread.
Several offices I worked in would order from Specialties frequently. Yet, I had to acknowledge times have changed. Like the changing face of the signs and awnings with new names and logos, the new generations are making their way in the world. They are walking with their "smart phones" and electronic notebooks and pads all connected to an even faster Internet. This phenomenon of the constant streaming information and texting is annoying to me as it seems so many people are all in a little world of their own. Yet, I realize the new generations are following the rhythm and movement of a world once again changing. Just as it was when I was in my 20's and 30's and just as it most likely will always be.
And if ever you are on Montgomery Street, especially in the morning when waiting for the traffic lights to change at the intersections, try walking diagonally.

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