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Friday Slide Show: On Carl Street Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

9 October 2015

One bright sunny afternoon we found ourselves wandering west on Carl Street, where William Saroyan wrote The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapese. That would be 348 Carl St., if you're in the neighborhood, the upstairs of a stately pair of flats built in 1908.

Carl Street. A Stately Apartment Building.

He lived there with his mother, brother and sister when he wrote that short story, his first published success. He sold it for $15 in 1934.

We'll quote just a bit from the beginning:

He (the living) dressed and shaved, grinning at himself in the mirror. Very unhandsome, he said: where is my tie? (He had but one.) Coffee and a gray sky, Pacific Ocean fog, the drone of a passing street car, people going to the city, time again, the day, prose and poetry. He moved swiftly down the stairs to the street and began to walk, thinking suddenly....

Never mind what he was thinking. He gets us to Carl Street where you can't help but think of something or other as you walk alongside the N Judah streetcar tracks.

We walked down to it from Parnassus where the University of California at San Francisco sits on the hill. And the first thing we saw was an impressive old brick apartment building. It seemed to be flirting with us, looking as attractive as it had when it was built.

A bit further on we had to turn around and look back. We'd just passed a clock attached above a garage. Very unusual, when you think about it. It did look official. Like a train station. Some sort of local humor, maybe? A nod to the commuters?

No, it was a library. The Carl Street Free Library, according to a prominent sign inside the yellow bookcase by the entrance. The bookcase, though, is the library. One of six in the city. "No Fees, No Dues, No Card Required," the sign explains. You take one out, you bring it back.

At 319 Carl St., we had to turn around again. There are plenty of iron gates in the city, security devices of another era. But this one was artful. It was twisted, contorted, writhing. As if it too wanted to be free. Free of its hinges, to be (perhaps) like the tracks in the middle of the street that went places.

Across the street we spied a small tree reaching up between two buildings at the only time of day it gets any direct sun. Part of a small garden, it was built on top of a garage added to the apartment building at 482 Carl St. It must have been an alley in a previous life but has been reborn, a bit higher up, with foliage.

In front of us we nearly missed the iron fencing with the four combination locks attached. These are not, we guessed, love locks, tied up forever to testify to some affection. Were they reserving parking places for scooters or bikes whose owners had gone off for the day? We'll have to go by at night to find out.

At the end of Carl (or the beginning), we looked up an imposing concrete staircase. It too seemed to be posing. Where does it lead? Well, that's the joke. It leads to an exit. The magenta steel doors at the top welcome no one.

Carl Street isn't long but there's plenty to photography. And we never stroll down it without thinking of "time again, the day, prose and poetry."

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