I’ve lived in San Francisco for a little over a month now, but I haven’t spent much time in places that don’t lie on the N-Judah, because as far as I can tell, you can get to just about anything you would ever want to on that line, including my apartment and my office. Occasionally, though, I will have to run an errand that takes me off my beaten path, and so I sally forth into new and exciting parts of the city. (Also, I want to get my exploring in while I can, because work is conspiring to pile up and suck me back into the nights-and-weekends grind of development that I’ve gotten so good at avoiding over the years.)

Being new to town, I’m still learning interesting little facts about San Francisco geography. For instance: Let’s say you’re trying to get from Duboce Park to 24th Street and Noe. You could go two blocks over, hop on the J-Church and be there in a couple of minutes, but that would be too easy, and besides, it’s a lovely day for a walk. Why not just take a stroll down Noe or Sanchez, and get a taste of the neighborhood, maybe check out some yard sales?

It starts out fine, but after you pass Market, the slope of the ground ratchets up sharply. No biggie; it is San Francisco, after all. A few blocks later, the street tilts up a little more, then more again. Next thing you know, you’re no longer walking in Noe Valley, you’re climbing Noe Freaking Mountain and tumbling down the other side, where the trendy locals can all stare disapprovingly at your sweaty ass as you stagger around, trying to catch your breath and cry, “I just wanted to buy a bottle of conditioner!” It’s not a pretty sight.

I grew up in Portland; we have plenty of big, steep hills-cum-mountains there. We just don’t run streets straight up them without warning and expect people to carry crampons in their wallets. Instead, we name them Mt. Whatever and turn them into parks, because we turn everything into parks. In San Francisco, you apparently have to learn to recognize which hills are just hills, and which hills may turn into rock climbing walls at any time, without notice. And now I know: don’t look a gift light-rail car in the mouth, just get on it.