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When the City You Love Doesn’t Love You Back

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The late journalist Herb Caen’s writings about San Francisco describe the way many feel about The City now. (Courtesy photo)

This originally appeared in my Broke-Ass City column in the SF Examiner

Back in 2011 I had a travel TV show on IFC that I’d created and hosted called Young, Broke, and Beautiful. It was an incredible experience. I got to gallivant around the US exploring the weird and wonderful in different cities. We visited New Orleans, San Diego, Memphis, Boston, Baltimore, and Detroit. Unfortunately, it didn’t get picked up for a second season and that was that.

Before we got the green light to make the show, we shot a couple sizzle reels – mini 10 minute pilot episodes – to show proof of concept. One was for New York and the other was for San Francisco. Just the other day I rewatched the San Francisco episode, and damn if it didn’t get me right in the gut. Seeing that episode we shot in 2010 brought me back to how enamored I was with San Francisco at the time. It was a love letter to a city I was deeply in enthralled with, a city I described in the introduction as “full of dreamers and believers, seekers and preachers, people who don’t fit in anywhere else, and never wanted to anyways.”

Watching it made me miss San Francisco even though I still live here, and it reminded me of how much we’d lost.

Over the weekend I also re-stumbled upon an old quote from the late journalist Herb Caen that nailed how so many of us feel these days: “The city is cruel to the weak, deaf to those who love it, and subservient only to those who are wrecking it. Like all neurotics, the city hates its friends, and loves its enemies.”

Old Herb wrote that in 1972 about the people he saw while strolling through down and out 6th Street (at least some things never change), but now it makes Caen seem like a prophet. I can’t think of a better way to describe where San Francisco is in 2019.

Back in the 2000s most of the people I knew gushed about San Francisco. They loved this place and wanted people to know it. Sure The City had problems, and there were plenty of folks who came here, tried it, decided it wasn’t for them, and left. But many of the people who had chosen to be here felt they had found home.

That was the underlying theme of the episode we shot. There was Poet Laureate Jack Hirschman talking about how he’d left a professorship to become a North Beach street poet, and transactivist and entertainer Vicki Marlane telling stories about how SF had opened its arms to her, and the circus performers in the Bohemian Carnival who thrived here because of how the community supported them. Everyone we talked to had been saved by San Francisco in some way or another.

I don’t know anyone who talks about San Francisco in that way anymore. I imagine the handful of people at the top making vast fortunes probably glow when they discuss this city. But even the well paid people who work for them, those making six figures and still struggling, complain about the burden that is living in San Francisco. And those who are far less fortunate than them, are doing everything they can just to not end up on the street. Herb Caen was so right. It’s scary. This city is cruel to the weak. It is deaf to those who love it. And it is subservient to those who are wrecking it…just look how the late Ed Lee handed developers and tech giants the keys to the city while he was Mayor.

San Francisco hates its friends and loves its enemies and damn, this place breaks my heart. Nine years ago, SF was quite possibly the greatest love of my life. I know many of you are going to comment along the lines of “Well why don’t you leave then?”

Where can I go when my entire income is based on thinking, writing, and talking about San Francisco?

Plus, maybe deep down inside I still do love this place, even if it doesn’t always love me back.

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

I've been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle , "an SF cult hero": SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York, but to those familiar with my work, I'm just "that douchebag who writes books about cheap stuff and drinks a lot".