It’s so pretty in San Francisco right now. All the clouds coming in above the blue and pink lights of the 500 Club. There’s the tattoo parlor and the laundrette and close by the bar with the bike rack and Adobe Books where they once organized all the books by color.
It’s cold and blowing and someone in Los Angeles said San Francisco is a city that doesn’t want to admit it’s cold. Others talk about the lack of seasons, how time passes, the summer of love, the speed addicts, Altamont, the sexual revolution, the pro-sex feminists. Lots of people have said San Francisco will make you soft and nobody ever disagreed with that. It’s a gentrified city, the city of Vesuvio and City Lights, though North Beach has become touristy and overpriced. It’s a white city with a huge Chinatown, a one time banking capital, the tip of the dot-com needle. See Leland Stanford’s orange bricks, the Southwest architectural style, the Mavericks looming over Half Moon Bay. All the parks and pastels. Whatever happened here? Everything and nothing. It’s a quiet town at night. The “hipsters” ride up and down the Mission on fixed speed bicycles. People drink single origin medium roasted coffee brewed by the cup. There are mid-priced restaurants that don’t serve anything not grown within thirty miles. The personal is political, gay marriage is a given, relationships have rules but they’re never what you expect. People celebrate naked and don’t wear much makeup. The clubs don’t make you wait to get in.
It’s a colder city than we care to admit. Soon they’ll close down all or some of Dolores Park for renovations. It’s a small place, seven by seven miles, made larger by the hills, but easy to bicycle because every hill has a valley. Only 800,000 people live here but the population density is high. It’s the center of the fifth largest metropolitan area in the country.
I’ve been here 12 years but have only ever gone to one museum. I was fighting with my girlfriend at the time and she asked me not to say anything so we walked around the de Young holding hands, looking at paintings without speaking.
Once the cloud cover’s complete the rain comes. It’s a city with high rents and small apartments. The population is over-educated, teaching jobs are hard to come by. The major newspaper is said to be on the verge of bankruptcy. There are perhaps more well known writers than any city other than New York. It’s a literary town, an art film town. They play a Wurlitzer pipe organ before showings at the Castro Theater. There are hundreds, thousands of places in city limits with views so stunning they steal your breath. The weather is worse than we think but the public transportation is better than we give it credit for. The food is generally good.
When the rain stops the sun comes out glaring across the wet streets. Sometimes I forget we’re on the edge of the country, or why I came here. I remember the first time, when I ended up buying a slice of pie on Union Street and noticing how clean the air was blowing in off the ocean. And the second time with my fiance when the car ran out of gas on the Oakland Bay Bridge. And the third time when I didn’t leave and parked above the Castro wandering down to 18th to hustle drinks. It could have worked out differently, but I didn’t have anywhere better to go at the time.
San Francisco recycles more than any other city in America. The grocery near my house charges upward of $2 an apple. There’s a lot of art and a lot of galleries. It’s expensive, and hard to find an apartment, but it’s an easy city to live in. You don’t need a car, everything’s close by. It’s the birthplace of Burning Man and burner culture and the Folsom Street Fair. Perhaps where I’m going with this is obvious, but not to me. There’s only the east end of the city, below the ball park, the last place left for any real development. It’s the times. They’ve added a muni track and passed propositions and sold off the land. There’s always provisions for below market rate housing, but it doesn’t work so well, though we probably try harder than most other cities would. It’s almost beside the point. Anyway, over time, if you allow yourself to forget, you can stop noticing how beautiful the city is. And it’s so easy to forget in San Francisco, because there are no seasons. If there’s no revolutions or earthquakes and if nobody burns down your apartment, and even then, time just passes without markers. I guess what I’m saying is it’s hard to keep track.