AdviceArts and CultureSan Francisco

San Francisco isn’t Neverland, it’s Laterland

Updated: Oct 11, 2023 20:26
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image by Kevin Edwards (Flickr, Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0)

This originally appeared in my Broke-Ass City column in the San Francisco Examiner.  

I’m currently sitting in my parents’ kitchen. It’s hot in San Diego. Hell, it’s been hot all over the state this past week, and I’m so glad that places in SoCal have air conditioning.

Visiting San Diego is always different for me than what, I imagine, it’s like for most other people. The majority of folks view San Diego as a beautiful city to vacation in: hit the beach, cruise the Gaslamp Quarter, gawk at the zoo, look at fancy people stuff in La Jolla. For me, it’s where I come home to have a smaller, quieter life. In fact, I don’t really have much of a life here. I have a huge one in the Bay Area, but in San Diego it’s rather tame.

A large part of that is because I left San Diego for UC Santa Cruz when I was 18, and I haven’t really lived here since. The other part is that all my friends who are still here, or those who’ve left and come back, live very different lives than I do. Most are married and/or have kids. They’ve got mortgages and early morning schedules and can barely fathom the idea of being out past 10 p.m. other than for special occasions.

As for me, at 36, I’m not quite old, but I’m certainly not that young. Living in The City, though, creates a completely different relationship with time. San Francisco isn’t exactly the Fountain of Youth, but it might be the recyclable water bottle of it that we’ve all made sacrifices to drink from …

San Francisco allows us — or maybe forces us, depending on how you look at it — to be young longer, at least in terms of lifestyle. We rent and live with roommates and don’t own cars, because our lives both facilitate and require it. We postpone things like marriage and children because we’re busy with our careers, or ’cause we really enjoy being single, or we still need to get some shit our of our systems.

There always seems to be more time down the way. I’d use the Neverland analogy, but it’s gotten tired. Let’s just call San Francisco “Laterland” instead. In Laterland, time moves slowly, and space is something we all lack.

The funny thing about Laterland is that, when you exit, even just for a few days, you understand how insulated it actually is. It’s like refrigeration. You leave, and suddenly the aging process speeds up. You visit your hometown, and seeing your parents grow older makes you realize that you are, too.

Experiencing the lifestyles of your peers, with their planning and playdates and procreating, makes you think about what you’re not doing with your life and where you want to be. And then you start wondering if you want what they have … until you head back to Laterland and that dream fades the more you try and grasp it.

Life in Laterland is superb. I don’t make much money, but I also don’t have many responsibilities. No wife, no kids, no mortgage, no car payments, no pets. I can pretty much do what I want, when I want. And for now, living in Laterland sounds just about perfect. I love my life. It’s magnificent not just because of the lack of responsibility, but because of the wide and wonderful experiences that lack of responsibility allows me to have. But every time I return to Laterland, I come back with the question: “What happens when that changes?”

Laterland doesn’t stop time, it just slows it. And the answer is something we all have to figure out for ourselves. I just hope that my answer comes with air conditioning, because it’s way too hot right now.

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Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero":SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.