The evanescence of vision: a journey in search of sight
June 10, 2013 6:00 PM   Subscribe

Into the Light
Humanity has paused on Jones Street near the summit of Russian Hill in San Francisco. Tourists, businessmen, café workers, the homeless – all seem to have taken a collective breather at this steepest of places, a city peak where stairs are carved into the sidewalks so people don't topple. Only one person keeps climbing, and he's talking, too; he's saying that you can't stop here, that if you just keep pushing, you'll see things no one else will see, that Macondray Lane is just over the hill and that it's the most magical place in all of San Francisco, but you'll never see it if you don't keep pushing, you'll never see Macondray Lane unless you really know how to look.
[via Slate]
posted by Joe in Australia (12 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Fantastic article, thanks for posting.
posted by capricorn at 6:24 PM on June 10, 2013

Nice article. And I'm relieved it didn't have the Flowers for Algernon-style ending I was expecting.
posted by crazy_yeti at 6:53 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Back in the mid-90's I had just moved to San Francisco and also had just discovered Maupin's Tales of the City series with which I had fallen in love. I was living in a little box in a high rise and one evening near midnight something got into me and I had the urge to see if Barbary Lane was real. So I followed the directions in the first book and came across an alleyway named Macondray Lane. There was a stairway there as the book described but it was made of concrete and not wood. It wasn't Barbary Lane but it was where the book said it should be and it was near midnight so I went up the concrete stairs and followed the winding path while a glorious full moon rose behind me.

It was dark and I had just about convinced myself that my midnight venture was in vain when I came across a building that looked like it had a glassed in penthouse and as I was staring at the building in the dark from outside the gate suddenly the motion sensor kicked in, the spotlights came on and there it was for all it's glory - indisputably 28 Barbary Lane, just not on Barbary Lane and I couldn't really see the number.

The next afternoon I went back just to see if I wasn't being over romantic and had fooled myself into believing I had found the actual house the book was based on. There was someone outside doing yard work so I chatted him up and he turned out to be the owner of the house. As I somewhat sheepishly asked about the Maupin reference he told me that back in the 70's, while doing the original Tales of the City articles for the Chronicle, Maupin had indeed lived there - in the penthouse! This was somewhat surprising to me considering which character lived in that penthouse in the story - Maupin's little joke I guess. He also explained that Maupin hated his landlady and so made Mrs. Madrigal, the houses landlord, a transsexual because he knew that the landlady would read the book and he wanted to piss her off.

How mush of all of that was true I don't know but it was a nice and memorable adventure.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 7:51 PM on June 10, 2013 [8 favorites]

The great thing, I think, is that as these surgeries get more routine, there will never be anyone who is blinded at the age of three and has to wait until the age of fifty to get sight back. Now a kid in May's situation can be fixed.

Truly we live in an age of miracles.

Well, assuming you have insurance and can convince it to pay for them. *sigh*

Also holy crap this is making me want to take a few more risks. The ones I've taken have all worked out pretty well so far and made my life pretty cool.
posted by egypturnash at 10:09 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are magical little nooks all over San Francisco. Tiny places to simply get lost.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:18 PM on June 10, 2013

At the salon, for the first time in his life, he saw his own blood, a brilliant red swirl in a stylist's sink.

Time for a new stylist.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:39 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wow! As someone who benefited greatly from cataract surgery, I can relate to the euphoria. That moment when you see leaves very high up, when you get places more easily, all that is beautiful.
I saw where he went to the Sarajevo Olympics as well,
Seriously though, I wonder if some of the depression people have when they regain vision after total blindness, or simply get a huge improvement is that things are expected, maybe you'll drive for example, or take on a new career..
One's own expectations, or those of others can be unrealistic.
I think the down-side is fixable.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:00 PM on June 10, 2013

There are magical little nooks all over San Francisco. Tiny places to simply get lost.

There are. My favorite is this "street" in Telegraph hill that does not have a road, only a stairway. There are tiny houses parked on a cliff, with their doors facing steep stairs and some crazy gardening. If the flowers are in bloom, the smells can be overwhelming. If you're going up you have a marathon of stairs to get you from the bay, then this incredible view in four directions at Union and Montgomery where you are well on your way to be looking down at the downtown skyscrapers. The first time I was there might very well have been the time I knew I was never going to leave.

Fantastic story. I loved the how the tiny little details (like, of course, a practical, blind man would have a beard) that I didn't think of were brought up again. Well written, thanks for posting it.
posted by chemoboy at 1:39 AM on June 11, 2013

Just wonderful. Thank you.
posted by Awakened at 8:40 AM on June 11, 2013

2003 MeFi post on Mike May (just found this): The gift of sight
posted by crazy_yeti at 12:22 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks, crazy_yeti. Most of the links from that post are gone, except for an excerpt from his journal, but that led me to his web page.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:27 PM on June 11, 2013

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