Living in San Francisco Means…(Redux for 2015)
I originally did this piece for The Bold Italic in January 2015. Shortly afterwards it closed down. And now it’s back open. This piece is updated version of a piece I did in 2011. The incredible illustrations were done by the brilliant Jon Stich.
Living in San Francisco means being torn apart. It means having people you love get evicted. Seeing cultural institutions replaced by trendy cocktail bars. Moving to this city for a job in technology and getting vilified for being the reason for higher rents, even though you can barely afford your own. Reading the news and getting sick to your stomach because the elderly and the mentally disabled and the working class and the creative class keep getting “displaced,” which is a euphemism for “thrown out of their homes in the name of greed.” It means reading the news and being enraged that a 98-year-old lady is getting evicted. It means reading the news and worrying about when you’re going to get evicted yourself.
Living in San Francisco means seeing someone you know in the Planned Parenthood waiting room. Seeing someone you know at the DMV. Seeing someone you know at the grocery, the gym, a sex party, the airport, Vesuvio, Ike’s Place, the Warfield, in Oakland (where you find out they’ve been living for the past two years). It means meeting someone for the first time and being weirded out because you have 77 Facebook friends in common. It means meeting someone for the first time and being even more weirded out because you have zero Facebook friends in common. It means living in the biggest little village in the world.
Living in San Francisco means being matched with a hilarious amount of your friends on Tinder. It means making plans to go on a date with someone you met on OkCupid for Sunday but running into them in a bar on Friday. Realizing how bad the dating scene has gotten for women here. Chatting with someone on multiple dating sites eight months ago, never meeting up with them, but then seeing them at the Independent. Having friends who are just friends but who used to be friends with benefits. Having social circles in which, at some point or another, most people have slept with each other. Knowing it’s impossible to date someone who hasn’t fucked someone you know.
Living in San Francisco means hearing people say that art is dead in the city. It means hearing people say that music is dead in the city. Hearing these things and saying “fuck that” by going out to spray-paint and wheatpaste, hanging weird mobiles from the telephone wires, having shows in your living room, joining flash mobs, organizing new local festivals, and dressing as bananas and handing out PB&J sandwiches to homeless people. It means wandering past the open-mic poetry night at 16th and Mission and smiling because art will never die in San Francisco. It means feistily starting your own business doing the thing you love.
Living in San Francisco means being enamored by the legend of Emperor Norton. It means seeing Frank Chu and telling him, “Give ’em hell, Frank!” Wondering when Omer, a.k.a. “Bum Jovi,” stopped playing horrible guitar on Valencia. Being terrified of the Filipino guy with the megaphone screaming about “honoring your mother and father!” at the cable-car turnaround. Mourning the death of the Bushman but not being sure which one died. Realizing that the death of the Brown Twins is really the end of an era. It means being absolutely gutted when you heard about Robin Williams, because he represented San Francisco at its very best.
Living in San Francisco means knowing that local politics are completely crooked. It means knowing that Willie Brown still runs this town, even though he hasn’t been mayor since 2004. Well, he and Rose Pak, anyway. It means knowing Ron Conway and Reid Hoffman are trying to buy this town, and that Ed Lee is giving it to them. Knowing that the David Chiu’s backroom deals with Airbnb were shady. Worrying that SF isn’t as progressive as it used to be. Worrying that all the new people who moved here won’t vote or care about local issues. Worrying that “San Francisco” will no longer represent an ideal but will now just be a place. It means crying into your keyboard when you heard the San Francisco Bay Guardian had shut down.
Living in San Francisco means thinking that jaywalking while smoking a joint and drinking a beer in front of a cop is totally normal. It means seeing a men’s knitting circle in a café in the Castro and thinking it is totally normal. Seeing Deep ride by on his trike blaring Prince and thinking it’s totally normal. Seeing people walking around dressed in bondage gear and thinking it’s totally normal. Seeing people wearing strange costumes at any hour of the day on any day of the year and thinking it’s totally normal. It means seeing 13 people sleeping on the sidewalk during your walk to work and, unfortunately, thinking that’s totally normal too.
Living in San Francisco means knowing someone who worked someplace that got acquired or went public or some other shit and became rich. It means always wondering just how rich they really got. Having friends at some of the most powerful tech companies in the world who can actually help you when their technologies don’t work how they’re supposed to. Being a guinea pig for every imaginable app that launches. Having six different ways to call cars to get home. Being able to order Thai food, a plumber, toothpaste, booze, smoothies, and never even have to pick up the phone. Wondering if you’re losing the ability to actually talk to people in person. It means coworking, ridesharing, renting your car out by the hour, renting your extra room out by the night, and renting your couch out by the week. It means knowing that the “sharing economy” isn’t a movement; it’s a business plan for companies who don’t want to pay their taxes … but fuck, it makes life easier.
Living in San Francisco means having a tattoo of the Golden Gate Bridge or Sutro Tower or a California bear or a California poppy or the city’s skyline, but definitely not one of Coit Tower. That would look too much like a dildo. It means hearing “Nobody’s got it better than us” and really believing it. It means cringing when people say “San Fran,” and actually, kinda, maybe warming up to the name “Frisco.”
Living in San Francisco means knowing your neighbor’s schedule, even though you’ve never met them. Using the word “hella” as often as you breathe air. Being excited for pumpkin and strawberry It’s-Its. Having long-standing arguments about which is the best taqueria. Having conversations wondering when this bubble is gonna burst. Having conversations about weird guys in the park who make giant bubbles. Having a bike you love stolen. Having a bike you don’t even like that much stolen. Knowing at least seven people who’ve been hit by cars while riding a bike. It means words like “scaling” and “pivoting” and “disrupt”are part of your vocabulary, even though you work in a restaurant. It means knowing a remarkable amount about wine varietals and cooking techniques, even though you work in tech.
Living in San Francisco means acting like you never have to get old but worrying that you really are. It means being in your thirties, and all your friends are now married and having kids, while you still live with three roommates you found on Craigslist. It means being in your twenties and hopping from job to job, trying to find something you actually believe in. It means being in your forties and doing work that you believe in but still worrying about paying your bills. It means starting to consider what it would be like to actually move out of San Francisco. Considering Portland or Oakland or even LA – yes, really, LA – but knowing how much it would break your heart to leave the city you’ve given so much of yourself to.