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On Pie Charts, Anxiety, Pastries, Sexual Harassment, & High Fives

June 30, 2013

On a whim and a cheap airplane ticket, I spent 4 days in San Francisco last weekend with my brother and it was amazing.

Before my trip I did the exact opposite of my normal Type-A list planning of A Very Tight Schedule To Do All The Things. All of my trip planning amounted to booking the plane ticket and then texting Damon: I'm coming to visit!! I had zero plans and zero expectations besides Being Not At Work, which my brother didn't appreciate much because he knew I would expect him to entertain me.

He jokingly requested some kind of a pie chart showing him what I had in mind for how I wanted to spend my time while visiting. I couldn't resist taking him up on that.

I'm really happy that my time in San Francisco stuck pretty closely to this chart: the majority of my time was spent focused on photography and chilling with my brother and his husband John, I did a little bit of trespassing, got to do a smidge of shopping, went to the movies, had drinks with internet people, and spent some time sitting by myself in the sunshine.

On Saturday morning I had pastries and coffee at b. patisserie with a dear friend who also happened to be in the Bay area. This breakfast required a 10 minute bus ride from Damon's house.

Public transit brings out my anxiety like nothing else. I had downloaded three different transit apps for my phone (each of them telling me conflicting things), conferred with Damon and John (who basically agreed I should take THIS bus and not THAT bus, the specifics of which I had forgotten immediately so all I knew was that one of my options would end in certain death), had maps and GPS and directions and a small little panic attack that turned into a giant panic attack and all of the tears and a certainty of dying on the bus.

And alone.

There is no way to logic me out of this kind of panic attack, especially from three thousand miles away over text. Steve grew up with public transportation, while I grew up with 4-wheelers and snowmachines. Bus routes and train numbers are all second nature to him, and it all seems very mysterious to me: I can't very well ask a bus driver if his bus will take me to the pastries.

The best way for me to avoid the panic attack is to not take public transit alone. If I don't have to make any decisions about routes or directions or lines and I'm just along for the ride then I'm perfectly fine.

But that wasn't an option and I managed to get myself up and dressed and out of the house and to the bus and on the bus and to the pastries without shedding one tear. I guess I had gotten them all out the night previous.

Pastries were wonderful, and I decided to walk back to my brother's house. The spoken reason for walking was so I could take photos of the city. The unspoken reason was so I didn't have to figure out another bus route.

I got some good photos and the 2 mile weekend morning walk was nice, until I got catcalls. Not once, not twice, but three times from three separate groups of men. And then another guy followed me for most of a block while calling out to me. All before 10:00 am in a fairly nice part of the city.

I've read about this kind of sexual harassment taking place in cities, but I've never experienced it before. The worst that I've ever experienced in Alaska is some whistling or the dreaded "why don't you give us a smile?" (Because I'm not here to make you feel better, go away.)

I wanted to say something, but was afraid that doing so would cause an even stronger reaction. The three groups of men outnumbered me and could very easily overpowered me, and what if the man following me hand a weapon, 10:00 am or no.

I tried to wrap my Bitch Shield around me and ignore it. That only kind of worked.

That same afternoon when I was downtown by myself waiting for the underground train (which I find much easier to navigate by myself than the bus system), a man pressed himself right up against me and whispered in my ear about how much he appreciated my shorts. Feeling confident because 1. he was alone, and 2. the station was filled with people, I was able to give him a loud FUCK OFF and then move into a nearby group of tourists.

I was shaken and very ready to return home. If this is the kind of thing that city-dwelling women have to put up with on a daily basis, then I am very glad I do not live in a city. I am very fortunate to never experience this type of harassment where I live.

Just before leaving for the airport I went for a run through The Panhandle park. On my way back to my brother's house, a male cyclist travelling in the opposite direction gave me a high-five.

That single high five reminded me that not everyone in the city are assholes; most people there are actually really awesome. It was a lovely end to my visit, and makes me want to give more people high fives.

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Hi, I'm Valette

I'm a photographer based out of Anchorage, Alaska. I've recently become a wife, a stepmother, and a homeowner. Life is pretty awesome. You can email me anytime. Learn more...

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