Noe Valley Voice July-August 2005

Family Adventures Close to Home

By Rosie Ruley Atkins

We found ourselves plan-free on a Sunday morning not too long ago. After a few rounds of "What do you want to dos," we decided to stroll down to Herb's for breakfast. The goal was to eat, and then to see what would happen next.

As we usually do when leaving the house, my husband and I started futzing around--searching for keys, looking for shoes, and debating whether we'd really need sweaters. Mid-futz, our 9-year-old son, Miles, emerged from his room with his scooter in hand and his helmet on his head. "I'll scoot down and meet you guys there," he announced.

Since we moved to Noe Valley almost nine years ago, Miles has made this trip to 24th Street a thousand times--first while riding as a passenger in his stroller, later in his lurching toddler-trot, then with little-boy daring at top speed down the steepest parts of the hill. More recently, he's been scuffing along, head in the clouds, as he ponders the action in his favorite comic book.

But before that Sunday, he'd never done the trip on his own. He'd never even asked. So when he made his statement, my husband and I exchanged the type of deep psychic glance that comes after many years of parenting. Then we shrugged and said, "Okay, see you there."

And like that, our kid was out in the world.

I think Miles' readiness to take on the world--or at least Noe Valley--comes in part from our weekly, and sometimes daily, jaunts around the city. We've sought out all the big adventures and little discoveries that make living in San Francisco so much fun. And for the past two years, we've shared our discoveries with Voice readers in this column.

Our first Voice adventure was to Phoenix Lake on a day when the beautiful Marin sunshine felt like a magical vacation from our summer fog. Miles and his friends Jane and Zoe took the lead in turning a short hike around the lake into a trip to fairyland.

Since then, we've crisscrossed the Bay Area in search of free--or at least very inexpensive--adventures. Our most memorable adventures included pretending we were Chagall in the Family Art Studio at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; renting kayaks and paddling to McCovey Cove for a wet and wild Giants game; stargazing--and making too many Uranus jokes--at Chabot Space Center in Oakland; letterboxing on scooters in the Presidio; and rocking out at Glide Memorial Church. (See "Archives" for complete stories.)

But I think our favorite adventure was when we walked from the top of 24th Street to Potrero Avenue.

On that day, we visited shops and loitered on the sidewalk chatting with friends. We sampled food on nearly every block, and we discovered lots of things that go overlooked as we rush about our daily lives.

The thing I liked most about that walk was seeing 24th Street through the eyes of Miles and his friend Jane. They dashed into Just for Fun, Phoenix Books, and the Ark to see what was new, and begged for donuts from Happy Donuts when we suggested fruit from Jim & Sons. They lingered over dusty knickknack-filled windows, pointed at familiar dogs who suddenly had buckets on their heads, and eyed new boxer shorts in the window at Ocean Front Walkers. As we made our way through the Mission, we had to stop at Big Mouth for shakes, detour through Balmy Alley to look at the murals, and stare at the candy display at the St. Francis Soda Fountain.

For the kids, 24th Street was a big back yard--fun, familiar, and yet filled with tiny mysteries.

We've done our 24th Street walk a few more times since then, and the best part for me is watching Miles move through Noe Valley with the comfort that comes from feeling at home.

Now Miles is out in the world--riding his scooter too fast down the hills and forgetting to call when he's arrived at a friend's house. He still feels the pull of Just for Fun and Good News, but he also looks at the older kids getting on the 48 bus with some envy, and swings in to Streetlight Records to flip through CDs and say hi to the guys behind the counter.

He's happy to find adventures in Noe Valley, but it won't be long before he's pushing against the boundaries of the neighborhood and setting out into the city on his own. When he's ready, he'll do it without me to hold his hand. From now on, unless he writes them himself, his adventures will go unrecorded in this space.

So I'll sign off, with special thanks to this column's adventuring companions--Zoe, Jesse, Alex, Chris, Sam, Nick, Sadie, Ari, Jules, and especially Jane. Thank you as well, Voice readers. It's been a blast.

Rosie Ruley Atkins is working on a book tentatively titled "Playground Poetry and other Dirty Ditties," a compilation of the naughty rhymes that kids have loved to recite since Susie first got that Steamboat. She will continue to contribute the occasional feature story to the Voice.