Optimizing for Beauty

Driving down Point Lobos Ave toward Great Highway in San Francisco on my way to Andytown Coffee Roasters.

When I’m working from home and jonesing for a change of scenery, I like to go to Andytown Coffee Roasters off of Great Highway. It’s right next to Ocean Beach along the northwestern side of San Francisco, about a six minute drive from where I live. If I go the route recommended by Google Maps, I save about a minute of driving. If I go the “longer” route, I drive a quarter of a mile further, and I have to make a U-turn at a traffic light, but that extra distance is along the coast.

Keep in mind, I’m about to spend an hour or so at a coffee shop with an ocean view, so adding a minute of driving by the water seems like a marginal benefit compared to avoiding the aggravation — small though it may be — of having to make a U-turn into traffic. Not surprisingly, I would choose the faster route with the lesser view.

Sometimes, my partner would tag along, and when we would hop into my car, knowing my usual preference, she would specifically request that we take the route with the view. I would always chuckle at the trouble she would go through to make sure we’d get that additional minute of beauty. I loved this about her, but it all seemed silly to me.

Then, a few months ago, while making my usual drive, I decided that my route was the silly one. I am lucky enough to live in this gorgeous place with easy access to the ocean. Why wouldn’t I enjoy it as much as possible, even if it only amounted to an extra minute? Now I always take the more beautiful route, and I’m always conscious of the choice I’m making.

Years ago, I read an interview of a photographer who admonished people who chose aisle over window seats on planes. “Why would you pass up the opportunity to get a million dollar view?” he exclaimed. I, of course, am a hard core aisle seat person, and while I found his argument compelling, I haven’t changed my preference. I guess not having to navigate past two (often slumbering) people to go to the bathroom mid-flight is worth more than a million dollars to me.

Still, this past week, I was purchasing a plane ticket for my nephew to come out and visit me, and I had to choose his seats. I thought about texting him and asking whether he preferred window or aisle, but I decided to use my uncle prerogative instead.

I bought him — drumroll, please — a window seat! He’s only flown a few times in his life, and this will be his first flight on his own. I want him to be able to marvel at his city and mine and the beautiful land in between from thousands of feet up in the sky, even if he’s done it before. Maybe one day he’ll fly as often as I do and will opt for convenience over beauty and wonder, but I don’t want to nudge him in that direction. It’s a silly habit, and it’s hard to undo, as I’m realizing in small and in large ways.

6 replies to “Optimizing for Beauty”

  1. So true! I’d also like to offer that the experience can be richer when taking the “scenic route” or even the faster way, by being present, in those moments.

    1. That’s an important point, Aaron. I felt a little strange designating the coastal route as the “beautiful” one, as the faster route is pretty beautiful too, even though there’s less ocean. There’s a lot to be said for simply recognizing and appreciating the beauty that is often around us if we would only pay attention.

  2. Team window seat forever, but the scenic route depends on the negating presence of soul-killing traffic.

    1. I think the pandemic sensitized me to where even minor traffic in this very laid-back neighborhood feels soul-killing. I should rent a car next time I’m in Boston to help me recalibrate.

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