Originally posted on Para Your Normal (May 2, 2016)
When I was first approached with the topic “paranormal San Francisco”, I had to take a few days to think. I realized there were a couple ways I could approach it.
The first way would have been to talk about the actual paranormal community in San Francisco (there is a sizeable one) – the vampire tour guides, the corner-shop clairvoyants, even ghosts, if you believe in such things.
That would make for an interesting post, but it’s not one I feel qualified to write.
The other option is to explore why I believe San Francisco is the perfect setting for my Shades Below series. Surprise, surprise, this is the option I’ve decided to go with.
I grew up in the Bay Area. I’ve lived within easy driving distance of San Francisco my entire life. Strangely, though, I never spent much time there.
On the surface, San Francisco is…well…chaotic. The traffic is oppressive. The streets are narrow, steep, and confusing. Certain parts are vastly unsafe to walk through, and those parts lie right alongside areas meant for tourists. It’s common to find people who started in the shopping mecca of Union Square suddenly stumbling, wide-eyed and discombobulated, through the seediest alleys of the Tenderloin.
It wasn’t until I started researching the Shades Below series that I began to discover what lay beneath the dusty, dry-rotted surface. At this point, there’s so much I love about San Francisco, I hardly know where to start.
Here are a few of the top reasons Shades Below couldn’t take place anywhere else:
1) San Francisco is a city of ghosts.
There’s history baked into these buildings – sometimes literally, as is the case with the “clinker bricks”: bricks that survived the 1906 quake and were warped by the heat of the fires that followed, later salvaged and reused in the rebuilding of the city.
Walking along Market Street, you only need to look down to see the E’s and T’s still etched in the sidewalks, signaling where long-abandoned electrical and telegraph lines used to run.
The great breakers in the Aquatic Park near Fort Mason are constructed from headstones, discarded after the mass relocations of the city’s dead to the nearby town of Colma.
The more you learn about its storied and colorful history, the more you become aware that San Francisco is a city built in layers. It’s a city tailor-made for ghosts.
2) San Francisco is a city of misfits.
San Francisco has always attracted the people no one else wanted: the perpetual wanderers, the stupidly ambitious, the scoundrels and the downright wicked. Those people have left their mark. San Francisco is a place where anything goes. It’s a place where anything can happen…and usually does.
3) San Francisco is a city of magic.
Magic is energy, and San Francisco is a city of energy. But it’s more than that.
Magic is the view you get coming towards the city over the Bay Bridge: building after building emerging from the fog, as if waking up from a spell.
It’s the ragged figure snoozing on the sidewalk near Fisherman’s Wharf, who suddenly wakes up and starts to sing in the most beautiful, tragic voice you’ve ever heard.
It’s the accidental trip down a narrow side street that leads you to a brilliant green community garden.
No matter how often I visit San Francisco, I still find things to excite me, things to enchant me, things that make me feel like the first time I ever stumbled down one of its streets.
If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.