I was almost tricked. The drive down the North California coast was beautiful. Across the California border the air smelled enchantingly sweeter. I was surrounded by things about California I love: the color of the dry landscape and the feel of the sunshine and the scent of eucalyptus trees. Why don’t I live here anymore? Maybe I should move back…
|The Route 1 coast north of San Francisco, as the sun goes down. Stunning.|
|Yeah, I appear in non-selfie pics occasionally.|
But then I arrived in San Francisco. It took forty-five minutes to drive six miles through town from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Mission. I arrived at my dear friend Simran’s house irritated and ready to bitch. It’s a nightmare to drive anywhere, pedestrians and drivers alike are super jerks, the city lacks an effective thoroughfare, and there actually is no parking. Public transport (IMHO) sucks; BART only serves the Financial District, neglecting most of the city. Even when you’re not going anywhere, it’s still horrid; every time I go get my car off the street–which is every two hours to move it–I pray that it won’t have a ticket or its window smashed or both. In the first 36 hours, I got a $62 parking ticket because of freakin’ street cleaning. Street cleaning! I really aught to have known better; I did used to live here. But in Seattle we have something called rain, which means street cleaning and subsequent parking restrictions AREN’T A THING.
|Double whammy–ticket and break-in, just around the corner from my car. Yikes.|
This city is unfriendly to those without money. It is an economic system that assumes all the participants have lucrative tech jobs. The fight between “old” and “new” San Francisco is alive and well, just look at the protests against the Google busses that have raged over the past few weeks. Real estate is a particular problem. In 2013, San Francisco supplanted New York City as the least affordable housing market in the country. Any rent under $2,000/month (for a one bedroom or even a studio) is considered a steal. More people move to the city every day, but the city is resistant to changing to accommodate its growth. Seattle is held up as an example of adapting to the influx of new people, as for 2010-12 it experienced the same increase in residents (12,000) yet issued nearly three times the number of new housing permits (26,000 vs 10,000). Come of SF, admit you have a problem–make that, crisis–and do something about it!
It is no surprise that San Francisco’s cost of life is expensive given the continued economic boom of Silicon Valley, but reentry is a shock to my system. As a traveler on a shoestring budget, I feel constantly intimidated by prices and luxuries taken for granted. And I dig quality. I believe it’s worth it to pay more for a better, more responsible, healthier, etc product. But SF takes it to a whole new level. For instance, the new Big Thing hipster cuisine craze is $4 designer toast. A year ago I probably would have sampled many and had opinions. Now I feel it’s ludicrous. How did I used to think this type of thing was “normal”?!
|I should be all about this, but instead I hate it.|
Sim and I have been largely hunkering down in her apartment together and cooking. One night, we needed a red cabbage and head of cauliflower. If we had a bigger list I would have trekked to Safeway, but as it was only two things I went to nearby Bi-Rite, a famous local grocery known for high quality and prices to match. My two vegetables came to eight dollars. EIGHT DOLLARS. At the register, individual caramel candies–just like the sea salt ones I made as gifts for my couchsurfing hosts, about the size of a quarter–were priced at two dollars apiece. I made pretty kick-ass 50 candies from $4 worth of ingredients. I used to think Bi-Rite was crazy, but now I believe it is downright out of control.
Walking along Valencia Street, everyone looks hip and rich. I feel I have to strut to keep up and express my own coolness. (Yeah, I’m rocking knee high boots with shorts, on purpose, right. It’s alternative.) Looking around, I realized lots of people wear hoodies in SF too–something I’ve come to see as a signature of Seattle–but here they’re brightly colored and expensive-looking or branded with a startup logo. I stopped into Betabrand–a creative hipster company I had seen online–and was immediately propositioned to take a picture with Bigfoot dangling from the ceiling. They handed me a compound bow, snapped a pic, put it up on their site, and emailed me a copy. Flash and dazzle, selling $200 hoodies. I’m ready to go back to Seattle, where people rock the same grey hoodie they’ve had for fifteen years. Legit.
|This photo makes no sense…|
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had an excellent trip here catching up with friends. There are some people in the Bay Area who I completely and utterly adore (you all know who you are! xoxo!). But how can San Francisco as a city, economy, and culture simultaneously have so much that I love and hate? I’m so frustrated.
The whole city is a fucking wreck fighting over an ever-(relative)-shrinking pie of real estate, and real solutions are completely ignored because money can paper over fundamental infrastructure fuckups… at least for now… for a few people.
San Francisco is a broken, romantic city, with it's head in the clouds and up its own ass, miraculously at the same time.
But hey, at least we get an HBO show about us…