Sara, one of our friends from Denver, was visiting over Labor Day weekend - her first trip to San Francisco - so we spent it playing tourist. For me it was like visting San Francisco, as I flew in from Dallas on Thursday and out to Calgary on Tuesday.
The morning fog was still in force after my run on Saturday, so we went to Napa to see some sunshine. Along the way, we went to the Jelly Belly factory. In between the jelly bean pictures of Ronald Reagan, the tour is actually fun. We had time to visit one winery (Domaine Chandon) and we each had a sampler of 3 of the wines. Sitting on the patio in the sun surrounded by the lush gardens - that's the California I was hoping for.
We came back into town and saw Beach Blanket Babylon. This is the second time in a year for us to see the show. It changes slightly every time of course, but I found it a little flatter than the last time. Although it costs more, I think Teatro Zinzanni holds up better through its iterations. Which is to say I'd be more inclined to see it every year than BBB.
Sunday was another "no sun" day. We spent a little time tracing the Barbary Coast walking tour. Some friends in Alameda, where it was sunny, were having a barbeque, so we had a lovely afternoon there.
Monday's big event was the Alcatraz tour. We haven't done it in years, so I guess we were due for a 'refresher'. Fortunately it was the one warm and sunny day of the holiday weekend; which is a good thing since it's always colder on the island. I'm not particularly into prison stories or Alcatraz lore, but I found it mildy interesting. Not something I need to do again for a long time, particularly given the crowds. And I certainly didn't want to stop by the booth where "one of the last Alcatraz prisoners" was hawking a book.
Tuesday John took Sara up to Muir woods, but the fog rolled in by the time they came to the Marin headlands for the classic bridge-and-city picture. I was already on my way to Calgary, where it was already turning to autumn. I just hope we get summer in San Francisco soon.
This entry marks our one year anniversary of living in San Francisco. I thought about what this entry should contain. I keep coming back to the twin themes that San Francisco is a city of extremes and a city of contrasts. Here are some of my observations (in random order).
- Politcally, the word "compromise" doesn't exist here. Here, if you are not a card-carrying member of the Socialist party, you must a right wing radical; there is no room for positions between those extremes.
- This is a small city, yet is has big city problems. It's only 7 miles from side to side, but there have been times when we could not traverse that distance in less than 45 minutes because of the traffic. There are only 700,000 people here, but there are areas that look like Mexico City.
- This is a city very concerned with world events, yet Daly City (which borders San Francisco) was recently described to me as "way too far away to go".
- Even the weather is extreme. When it's sunny here there's not a cloud in the sky. When it rains, you don't see the sun for days.
- The weather has been described as "unusual" since we moved here. It was "unusually hot" when we arrived (I thought it was comfortable, although the loft was hot). Then it "unusually rainy" in the winter and spring. Then the summer was "unusually dry" and now it's "unusually foggy for this late in the season".
- Regardless of how the locals describe it, the weather here is too cold for my taste most of the time and too humid all the time.
- The city bills itself as a gay mecca, but the reality is that there is more grudging tolerance than genuine acceptance. I don't know if the anti-gay incidents I've experienced here are just a seasonal thing (all occurred in a 4 month period in the winter and spring) [09-29 - maybe not - it happened again today], but the fact that they happened at all show that San Francisco isn't the gay paradise that people believe.
- When the sun shines and the streets have been cleaned, this is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Then again, I haven't seen such dirty streets or such rampant graffiti since I left Washington DC.
- The city is known for being cutting edge, but the past looms large here. There are major protests any time someone wants to change anything in town. The newspaper recently refered to some abandoned warehouses as "historic industrial buildings" (though they gave no reason why the buildings would be "historic"). Locations are always given in terms of what was there before - Home Depot wants to go in "where the lumberyard used to be"; a new restaurant was list in the paper as opening "in the former location of Hamburger Mary's ". Someone described another new restaurant as being "where the My Place bar used to be". Much like a sleepy Southern town, I guess you're just supposed to know where everything used to be in the city.
- Political correctness is an art here like nowhere else. One is not "unemployed", one is "career challenged". A broken down recreational vehicle parked in the same spot on the street for months is not a "rolling slum", it simply belongs to one of the "vehicularly housed". I refered to a "panhandler" the other day and was corrected that the person was "homeless" - I replied that I did not know for sure the person was "homeless", but their actions were that of a "panhandler".
- There is a culture of entitlement here like nowhere else. Everyone seems to believe that someone owes them something. When there was a power outage a few months ago, the affected neighbors asked the city what sort of compensation they would be getting for the 7 hours they were out of power.
- John and I know a little American Sign Languate. We've created our own "place sign" for San Francisco that is a pun on the sign for "chip on your shoulder".
- The public art in this city is amazing. I walk by a Kieth Haring sculpture every day; the temporary wood 'temple' constructed out of scrap plywood in Octavia was fabulous. The 'chocolate' mural on 12th is a fine example of a company can advertise and enhance the neighborhood at the same time. The other day I walked by the convention center and stopped for a fascinating short film being shown on the moving Jumbotron outside. And yet, a few blocks away, the sculpture in front of the police station has been vandalized.
- What coffee is to Seattle, medical marijuana is to San Francisco. In my neighborhood, there are more cannabis clubs than Starbucks.
- Perhaps the biggest disppointment has been with gay life here. It's much more bar oriented than I expected. While I like the fact that there's no smoking in the bars, the patios are so full of smoke as to make them unusable. The big outdoor events are way too crowded for my taste, not to mention the high incidence of drunk and/or otherwise impaired people. I've never understood the concept of DJ as star, so the ads for special events at the clubs (e.g. "featuring DJ Jazzy Taul Paul") are lost on me. Interestingly, we've found we have more in common a high percentage of people we've met from the suburbs than people we've met from San Francisco.
- People here seem to have stars in their eyes when it comes to looking at where they live - they ignore the big city problems, the dismal weather, and the high cost of living and instead talk about "how lucky we are to live here". A friend of mine here once described someone I had just met by saying "He believes his own press releases" - in many ways I think this entire city believes the Convention and Visitor Center's press releases.
- I don't want to give the wrong impression - I don't hate it here, I just don't have those stars in my eyes.
This move has been a much more difficult transition than either of us expected. We arrived in San Francisco having been frequent visitors and thought we knew the city well, yet the surprises have been numerous. I have moved to new cities three times in my life. In both other cases, after a year I strongly identified with my adopted city and could picture myself living there for years. After a year in San Francisco, I still think of it as a temporary stage in my life. I know I will miss it when we do finally leave, but so far it's definitely a step down from our lifestyle in Denver. My friends say it takes "a year or two" to get used to living here. Certainly I'm feeling better than I did the first few months.
This seems like a good place to end this blog. There is a logical start, a resonable unfolding of events with a few twists and turns thrown in and if not an end, at least some resonable resolutions. It probably reads more like a Russian play than an American movie, but life is like that. I may create another blog on another subject. I may even add an entry or two to this one once in a while, but let's call this the end for now. Thanks to everyone who has actually read my entries - I hope I have provided you with a bit of entertainment and/or insight into life in this city by the bay.