The streets of San Francisco

streets of san francisco 600×600

I live in San Francisco near the intersection of Vallejo and Divisadero.  Both streets are wide and the intersection is a popular spot for drivers to reverse course by looping a circular U-turn right where the streets come together.  Even larger cars can complete a circle in the middle of the intersection without stopping and backing up.  We called the move a “Divisadero,” except when it is performed from left to right in which case it is a “Revisadero”.

The terms come in handy for driving in San Francisco.  Pretty much every intersection is a four-way stop. And there is not enough parking so there is a never-ending procession of cars slowly cruising the streets – seriously, it reminds you of American Graffiti – looking for parking spaces. If a driver spies one on the wrong side of the street, it is crucial that he be able to execute a Divisadero before another driver coming to the other direction gets to the spot ahead of him.  You really can’t drive in San Francisco if you can’t execute a Divisadero under pressure.

There are different types of Divisaderos.  There is your plain vanilla Divisadero. The driver pulls to the right side of the right lane, pauses for an instant, and then, when oncoming traffic is still blocked by the opposing stop sign, cranks a hard U-turn to the left, skittering around within the intersection so that the oncoming car will have no choice but to hold his ground.  By far a classier move is the so-called “Natural Divisadero” in which the driver executes the same maneuver but without ever stopping.  Done gracefully, the Natural Divisadero blends right into the flow of traffic and almost looks as if the intersection was designed with that maneuver in mind.  But even the Natural Divisadero pales in comparison to the “Perfect Divisadero” in which the driver not only doesn’t stop but actually maintains the same speed all through the maneuver.

Divisaderos need not be performed on Divisadero Street.  Indeed they are in evidence all over the city.  Sometimes you will see a San Francisco driver attempt a Divisadero when the car is too big or the street is too narrow or the timing is too confusing. Then the driver will have no choice but to make an awkward 3-point turn while the cars on the other side of the intersection beam WTF expressions.  We call this maneuver a “Stupidadero.”

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I have dinner with a group of ex-pat Philadelphians living in San Francisco. When I get there they are talking about San Francisco drivers.

“Second of all, they are so damn docile. They get on a street that is all backed up and they just sit there, it’s uncanny. I mean a block away the traffic is zooming along and they just sit where they are. They never just go over a block.”

“It’s cause they are too busy texting.”

“You are so right. I am gonna get killed by one of those tech guys writing an algorithm while he is driving.”

“What gets me is that no one blocks the box.”

“So true. What’s up with that?”

“I mean you’ll get a guy ahead of you and there is a green light but he’ll just sit on this side of the intersection and wait to make sure that he doesn’t get caught in the middle when the light changes. And then when he sees some room he scampers across and it’s always just at that moment that the light does change red and now there’s no time for you to get across. I don’t get it. In Philly we’d both just go ahead – the damn light is green after all – and then it’d sort itself out and you’d have not got stuck at the light.”


“In Philly, people love to block the box. It’s like an art form.”

“But that’s not even the worst thing about San Francisco drivers.”

“What’s worse?”

“Have you ever noticed that no one flips you the bird?”


“Yeah. I mean suppose a guy cuts you off at an intersection. Obviously, you give him the finger, right?”

“Of course, that’s why the good Lord gave us a middle finger…”

“But they don’t do it here.”

“It’s not like no one ever cuts you off…”

“Oh yeah. That happens all the time but when it does, have you noticed, the driver in the car that gets cuts off will put on one of those WTF faces, and then he’ll throw up his hands – palms up – to show just how unbelievable it is that anybody would drive that way and all the while he is looking around for other drivers or pedestrians who saw the cut-off and if he finds one he tries to catch his or her eyes to share the WTF face and the can-you-believe-it gesture because what he really wants at a moment like that is to share a look with some other sympathetic soul who can join into his incredulity that anyone – anyone! – would drive so badly.”

“Its so much easier just to give the guy the finger.”


“It’s like no one cares about getting even, it’s this ‘we are in this together’ business.”

“They are just the worst drivers.”

“Yeah. The worst.”

*          *          *

I came across a magazine called San Francisco Haute Living that contained page after boring page of watches selling for impossible prices. Toward the back however I found an ad:

In today’s global marketplace where ultra high net-worth professionals are demanding that their security vehicles not only provide top-level armoring but also include some of the most luxurious interior appointments, they are turning to Conquest Vehicle’s handcrafted KNIGHT XV to achieve this incredible and delicate balance.

The Knight XV is a 400 horsepower beast weighing 13,000 pounds and retailing for $489,000 before optional upgrades. The vehicle shipped with a “ballistic run-flat tire system” to allow continued operation should the tires lose pressure, as they would for example if they were shot out. The manufacturer’s website contained various optional upgrades, including an “external smoke security system,”  “hidden front VIP strobes”, and a cigar humidor. The website summed it up: “we believe that we have created an entirely new niche in the bespoke luxury armored vehicle marketplace

Fine, but can it do a Divisadero?

*          *          *

Indian summer Sunday. I was driving through the Presidio. Crissy field was to my right. Usual weekend collection of bike riders. Longboarders. Runners. Hikers. I was driving with my daughter Emmy and her friend Zinnia. They were twelve years old and they were deep in a conversation about a boy in their class who was captured in an iPhone video falling, hilariously, off a roof.

Coming towards us on the bike path on the left were two women on bikes. They were joking and laughing. There was something odd about the woman on the right. She didn’t seem to be wearing a shirt. That couldn’t be right. Maybe it was just a tan shirt the same color as the woman. Nope. No shirt. She had big breasts, big nipples. Swinging free as she pedaled.

I didn’t say anything. We see naked men in the City from time to time, particularly in the Castro but I didn’t recall any topless women bike-riders before.

I wondered if Emmy and Zinnia would notice. We approached the women bikers. The women were relaxed and laughing as they rode. One was wearing a brassiere, her shirt tied around her waist.  The topless rider was completely mattered of fact. Just a woman out for a Sunday bike ride on a glorious Indian summer day, loving the sun on her naked back.

I looked over at Emmy. She had noticed. She said, “is that…?” She bit off the end of the sentence.

I drove past the bikers. Emmy was quiet for about 5 seconds. Then she said to Zinnia, “that’s disturbing.” `

Zinnia answered, “very.”

Then they went back to talking about the boy from their class who fell, hilariously, off the roof.

Meanwhile, on the sidewalk, a Korean boy in a ratty red sweater was bicycling toward the topless biker. As he approached, his mouth fell wide open, his eyes as big as the nipples he was staring at. The women passed him and his head swiveled around to follow them. The motion was too much for the bike and he went into an unbalanced Divisadero. His bike toppled over in the middle of the sidewalk. A classic Stupidadero.

*          *          *

I was driving Emmy to school and on Van Ness, we passed a Google Driverless car. The vehicle had a turning radar-like antenna on the roof and was proceeding along perkily next to me. At the stop sign, we pulled up next to the car. There was a young man in the driver’s seat. He had a slightly goofy look and he made a fuss showing us that his hands were not being used to drive. “Look Ma, no hands!” There was a sign on the car body announcing that it was a driverless vehicle but as best as we could tell, nobody noticed, nobody cared. Just another driverless car. Ho-hum. Not like it was a bespoke vehicle, after all.

-Jay Duret